Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Friday, February 26, 2010

Alias Grace

Alias Grace
by Margaret Atwood
480 pages

*** About the Book ***

The facts: In a small town near Toronto in 1843, two people are murdered. Two other people are accused and stand trial. One is convicted of murder and hanged. The other is convicted as an accessory and sentenced to life in prison, despite her claim that she remembers nothing of the day in question. That person is 16 year old Grace Marks. For the next 30 years she is kept in prison, with occasional visits to the insane asylum. Then she is released and there are no further records of her life.

The book: Atwood takes the few facts of the case that are available and fleshes out a story explaining one possible way that Grace ended up accused of murder. She creates a fictional doctor who visits Grace in an attempt to reconstruct her memories of the murder. Did she do it? If so, was she the mastermind or an unwilling victim? Was she in her right mind or was she insane? This book presents some possible answers but leaves much to the interpretation of the reader.

*** Why I Read It ***

This is my book club’s pick for February. I’d heard great things about it so even though it isn’t one I would have ever chosen to read on my own, I was excited to read it.

*** My Thoughts ***

Wow, Margaret Atwood can WRITE! Regardless of my thoughts on the story itself I have to admire her for the beauty and flow of her writing.

That said, I did really like this book. I was afraid that it would be too graphic (I really don’t enjoy reading about murders) but it was not at all; the book was less about what actually happened to the murder victims and more about what Grace remembers about all of it.

I loved the period detail included in the book: the current state of medical thought including the emerging field of psychoanalysis, the state of the prison system, political unrest in Canada (about which I was completely ignorant), the daily functioning of a household and it’s servants, and so on. There was just so much here!

There are still things that I don’t understand about parts of the story, and of course there are many unanswered questions simply because the true facts are unknown. But I think this book will be an excellent one to discuss with my club and I’m very glad that I read it.

And I have to say that it was a bit odd doing two Atwood books in the same month (I reviewed the other book yesterday) ... I'm still not sure how I feel about that. I'm finding myself comparing them too often, so I don't think I'd do two such different books by the same author so close to each other again.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Have you read this book? Or any others by Atwood? Do you like books that fictionalize true history?
  • things mean a lot says this is her favorite by Atwood and gives a very thorough review
  • my book club discussed this at our last meeting
  • other reviews? post your link in the comments and I'll add it here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Handmaid's Tale (a group read)

The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
audiobook: 11 hours

*** About the Book ***

In a world of declining birthrates, a new version of society is established in which women are strictly categorized. Those who are considered the most fertile become handmaids, a sort of concubine to powerful, married-but-childless men. This is the situation of the main character, known to the reader only as Offred, meaning "of, or belonging to, Fred". This is her story, or at least part of it.

*** Why I Read It ***

This book won the 1985 Governor General's Award and the first Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987, and it was nominated for the 1986 Nebula Award, the 1986 Booker Prize, and the 1987 Prometheus Award. For those reasons, it counts toward the Mind Voyages Reading Challenge. It also counts toward the 1% Well Read Challenge, the Audio Book Challenge, and the Support Your Local Library Challenge.

*** My Thoughts ***

This is the first dystopian book I’ve read in a very long time. Other than 1984 and BRAVE NEW WORLD, it may be the only dystopian book I’ve ever read. This seems odd to me because I absolutely love dystopian movies, but I’m just not that interested in the books. I’m still not really into them after listening to THE HANDMAID’S TALE, although I did enjoy it. Dismal futures are just not a topic I want to read about all that often.

This book has been on my radar for a long time so I’m very glad that I read it. It was my introduction to Atwood’s work and I’m sure I’ll be reading more by her. I just can’t say that I loved it, or that I’d really want to read/listen to it again.

*** My Group Read ***

When I mentioned that I was going to listen to this book, two bloggers commented that they’d like to read along with me. After we read we decided to each come up with questions for the others to answer. I had a lot of fun doing this and already have plans for more group reads in the future.

Below are the questions I asked Dreamybee and Anna. My Q&A has some hints about what happens in the story but nothing that I'd call a spoiler, so feel free to read on without risk.

You can also visit Subliminal Intervention (Dreamybee) and Diary of an Eccentric (Anna) to see my answers to their questions as well - I do hope you'll drop by!

~ Q & A ~

Though at first it bothered me, in the end what made this book so appealing to me was that the main character, Offred, was “nothing special”. She wasn’t a heroine in any sense of the word, her life “before” wasn’t necessarily something to be proud of (she was dating a married man, even though he later married her). Her normalness is what really struck me; if this could happen to her, it could happen to anyone. Did this strike you in the same way? Or did this fact not impact you?

Dreamybee: I didn't actively consider this while I was reading it, but I think that's exactly what makes this story so effective. I never thought, Well, of course she found herself stuck in this situation, she was a _________(insert extreme stereotype of a woman here). She was just an everywoman, someone with an education, a job, and a family, living in a world with a shocking resemblance to our own when everything went so wrong so fast.

Anna: The fact that Atwood told the story from the point of view of an ordinary woman struck a chord with me as well. We never know Offred’s real name; she could be anyone. Like Offred, I’m a wife and a working mom, so when she begins to lose everything – her job, access to money, and her family – I couldn’t help but think about myself in her shoes.

Perhaps the creepiest part of the book for me was that, in a (twisted) way, the new system seemed to make sense. I could completely imagine the scenarios that would lead to a society’s acceptance of this system over a relatively short time. How did you feel about this? Could you empathize in any way with the designers of the new society, or at least understand where they were coming from? Did it make sense to you?

I understand exactly what you mean. While it seemed far-fetched and ludicrous on the surface, it was not unimaginable, possibly because we have seen similar changes in recent history. At the time of writing, Atwood was probably watching Iranian women lose their rights and freedoms. Today, Iraqi women are trying to recover from a similar loss of freedom. The only difference between Atwood's Gilead and our Iran and Iraq seems to be the reigning fanatical culture. Offred says that Islamist fundamentalists were *blamed* for the attack on the U.S. Immediately after the attack, numerous anti-feminist constraints were put into place, presumably by the attacking party. The conclusion that I came to was that the U.S. ran in the opposite direction, embracing Christianity (although the historical notes at the end mention the "Krishna and Kali elements in the State Religion of the Early Gilead Period", which would indicate a Hindu influence-this part still has me a little confused) and a society where women are respected, not diminished. At the same time, there is the fear of a declining population (women were resorting to extreme measures like artificial insemination, surrogacy, and fertility clinics). This fear along with the fanatical embrace of the "correct" religion resulted in a society where women are revered and sacred and protected, so much so that society can't risk them doing anything that would endanger themselves or their potential offspring. Here is where they are given Aunt Lydia's highly revered "freedom from"-freedom from decisions, freedom from temptation, freedom from religious ambiguity-at the cost of "freedom to"-freedom to think, freedom to choose, freedom to learn, freedom to condemn one's soul. So, while I couldn't exactly empathize with the designers of this society, I could definitely see how it got to where it was.

Anna: Some of the events that transpire seem plausible, and that made the book scary in a way. I can understand why some people would want to take a stand against things they believe are immoral and want to change things for the better, but I can’t understand the ways in which they enacted change. As I was reading, I kept thinking to myself how crazy these people were to believe these things – and how sad because I’m sure if these events were to transpire for real, these people would exist.

The epilogue provided a framework for the novel. Although it didn’t answer all my questions, it did provide a resolution to the story that I appreciated. And the fact that it was set in Nunavut, with the native population hosting the conference, was a bonus for me. What is your opinion of the epilogue? Did it add to the story or detract from it? Would you have preferred the story to end with it?

I was glad for the epilogue. When the story ended, I was like, "What!? That's it??" Then I realized that the "Historical Notes" were part of the story. I definitely appreciated this additional background information. The Nunavut part of it didn't really strike me during the reading, but that does add an interesting bit to the story.

Anna: I though the historical note at the end was interesting and answered some of the questions I had while I was reading, but it left many questions about how Gilead came to be unanswered. The actual ending to Offred’s story was unsatisfying to me. I wanted more closure, to know what happened for sure. I think I would have been disappointed if the historical note/epilogue hadn't been included.

I had a lot of fun reading this along with Dreamybee and Anna. Thanks ladies!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Two Awards

Doesn't it seem that EVERYONE is ALWAYS tardy when it comes to acknowledging blog awards? You can count me in that group as well ...

Thank you to Ryan at Wordsmithonia for giving me the Super Comments Award.
These bloggers leave awesome comments – they make you laugh, think, and offer encouragement and support. In other words, they’re freaking awesome.
Thanks to my wonderful readers, I get lots of great comments on many of my blog posts. I've acknowledged many of you before so I this time I'll choose a few who I know I haven't mentioned in the past.
These were no directions on how many people to choose for this award so I just went with three. There are so many more of you who comment regularly and I do appreciate each and every one of you ... I'm sorry I can't include all your names here.

Thank you also to The True Book Addict for the Honest Scrap Award.

This award is for those bloggers who write from the heart. The rules are to pass it on to 7 deserving bloggers and write 10 honest things about yourself.

Let's start off with the ten things about me:

  1. I’ve been best friends with my best friend since we met in kindergarten at age 4.
  2. I always, always, always try to make the best of any situation. Things are never as bad as they could be, and they can always get better.
  3. I come across as in-control, organized, and calm when speaking in front of large groups.
  4. In reality I’m terrified that I don’t know what I’m talking about and will make a fool of myself.
  5. I love to be the center of attention.
  6. At the same time I can be extremely self-conscious.
  7. I hate to clean my house (and so does hubby) so it is regularly a complete disaster. Then I get fed up and spend an exhausting month making it barely presentable. It’s a vicious cycle…
  8. I don’t like talking on the phone and would rather hear from most people by email.
  9. I get very chatty and can share WAY too much info after several glasses of wine …
  10. I once attended a bachelorette party that took place at a strip club (in the afternoon before the club opened) where a stripper taught us how to pole dance. It was a lot of fun, but most of us - me included - looked completely ridiculous!
Hope you enjoyed that! And now, here are 7 bloggers who I feel write from the heart:
  1. Sheri @ A Novel Menagerie - be it book/tv reviews or something else entirely, she's always got something heartfelt to say
  2. Florinda @ The Three 'Rs - whatever the topic, she gets to the heart of it
  3. Rebecca @ Rebecca Reads - her reviews are thoughtful and relevant to her life
  4. Amy @ Brave and Bittersweet - honest thoughts about her Christian faith
  5. Regina @ Tales from a Leakey Faucet - amazingly insightful posts relating pop culture and other randomness to her Christianity
  6. Alex @ One Day at a Time - using her blog to remember important moments in her family's life
  7. raych @ books i done read - her completely irreverent reviews are nothing if not sincere (and usually hilarious)

To those I've passed awards on to, please don't feel obligated to post about it or pass it on to anyone else - just know that I think you're great. :)

And to those I didn't include, I appreciate each and every one of you. THANK YOU for reading my blog.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lovely Links #21

Here are some of the wonderful or interesting things I've found around the blogosphere lately ...

  • If you haven't checked out ZooBorns then you are missing your daily dose of cuteness. This is a site dedicated to baby animals in zoos all over the world. Subscribe to their blog and your Google Reader will make you smile every day.
  • SciFi meets Sesame Street in this fabulous series of videos.
  • The world's oldest cookbook has some, um, unique recipes ...
  • The world's smallest library fits in a phone booth!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Irish Reading Challenge - I'm in!

I'm not really back ... this is just a quick post to say that I'm signing up for The Irish Reading Challenge (details here).

I'm going for the Shamrock Level and plan to read two books by Frank Delaney - Ireland: A Novel, and Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show. I own the first book so it will count for my TBR challenge as well, and the second book I've received for a blog tour. You gotta love doubling dipping when it comes to reading challenges!

[As a side note, Hubby is out of the hospital but can't go back to work for 10 days. I had a great weekend with my cousin, and she left this morning (rather than Wed., due to a change in plans). I've asked for help with many of my responsibilities this coming week so now I feel like I'm starting to get a handle on my life again. I'll be back to blogging by the end of the week I'm sure.]

Friday, February 19, 2010

Don't miss me while I'm gone ...

because I'll be back shortly!

I need to step out of the blogging world (and away from my computer) for a few days. Hubby was admitted to the hospital on Thursday for his staph infection. At this point they are keeping him until Saturday, possibly longer. He'll be ok, and I'm not really worried about him, but it is stressful. Kiddo can't go see him because his feeding tube is technically an open wound and the drs don't want to risk him getting the infection. Kiddo is ok with that; he's used to being in and out of the hospital, so he's not particularly worried about dad.

My cousin arrives from Georgia in just a few hours and will be staying with me until Wednesday. Kiddo has hockey on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, plus we have church on Sunday. Add in all the family visiting that we'll be doing since my cousin is here, and I've got a VERY busy few days ahead of me.

So I won't be around much, either here or at your blogs, but I'll be back as soon as I can. I've got a review planned for 2/25 so you'll hear from me then for sure. In the meantime, don't anybody post anything so my Google Reader won't get overloaded! ;)

The Golden Ass (or, my first DNF of 2010)

I’ve wanted to read THE GOLDEN ASS (TGA) by Apuleius for quite a while. I first noticed it on the list of 1,001 Books To Read Before You Die. When I read CS Lewis’s TILL WE HAVE FACES I found out that the original story of Cupid and Psyche is included in TGA and that made me want to read it even more. And since it fit perfectly into the Really Old Classics Challenge I figured that was just the push I needed to read it.

I downloaded a few chapters from Project Gutenberg (PG) and started reading excitedly. That was just after New Years. It is now late February and I haven’t gotten very far.

The problem is not the story, at least I don’t think it is. The problem is the translation. The version on PG includes a note by the translator stating his reasons for doing the translation; it is dated 1566. According to PG, “The original spelling, capitalisation and punctuation have been retained.” Yikes.

To give you an idea of what this translation is like, here is the first paragraph of the first chapter:
As I fortuned to take my voyage into Thessaly, about certaine affaires which I had to doe ( for there myne auncestry by my mothers side inhabiteth, descended of the line of that most excellent person Plutarch, and of Sextus the Philosopher his Nephew, which is to us a great honour) and after that by much travell and great paine I had passed over the high mountaines and slipperie vallies, and had ridden through the cloggy fallowed fields; perceiving that my horse did wax somewhat slow, and to the intent likewise that I might repose and strengthen my self (being weary with riding) I lighted off my horse, and wiping the sweat from every part of his body, I unbrideled him, and walked him softly in my hand, to the end he might pisse, and ease himself of his weariness and travell: and while he went grazing freshly in the field (casting his head sometimes aside, as a token of rejoycing and gladnesse) I perceived a little before me two companions riding, and so I overtaking them made a third. And while I listened to heare their communication, the one of them laughed and mocked his fellow, saying, Leave off I pray thee and speak no more, for I cannot abide to heare thee tell such absurd and incredible lies; which when I heard, I desired to heare some newes, and said, I pray you masters make me partaker of your talk, that am not so curious as desirous to know all your communication: so shall we shorten our journey, and easily passe this high hill before us, by merry and pleasant talke.
So, what did you think of that?

I’ve tried, really I have, but this is simply taking too much effort to read right now. I think I might enjoy the story if I had a different translation, but at the moment I’m tired of the whole thing. I’m calling it quits on this one.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mom & Son Movie Review: The Lightning Thief

Kiddo and I loved reading the first Percy Jackson book together so we were very excited to go see the movie on opening night (Feb. 12). What did we think of it? You'll have to check out my guest post at 5 Minutes for Books to find out!

Hop on over there to see what we thought, then leave a comment either there or here letting me know what YOU think. Have you seen the movie? What did you think of it? Do you plan to see it? Have you read the book? I want to know!

A Rambly Post ...

Today I bring you a rather rambly post, simply because my brain is still refusing to work …
  • Feb. 5 was the last day Kiddo was at school due to the snow, and that was a half day. He finally went back on Feb. 17, but Wed-Fri are all half days. I love my child but I need a break!
  • I’ve had to use up several precious vacation days to stay home with Kiddo. Not that he isn’t worth it, but I’d rather have used them to do something fun, you know?
  • Hubby thought he got bit by a spider, possibly a brown recluse, so he went to the doctor yesterday. No, it isn’t a spider bite, it is a staph infection. A STAPH INFECTION! How the heck did he get it?! And did I mention that it is a very aggressive staph infection, and possibly resistant to antibiotics? And that the side effects of the infection are that he feels like he has the flu (minus the actual vomiting, thankfully). And that he used up his leave from work dealing with the snow, so he isn’t getting paid until he can get back to work? Oh, and that there is a chance he’ll end up in the hospital if the medicines don’t work? (I’m sure there is something here to be thankful about … give me a few days and I’m bound to come up with it!)
  • My cousin is coming to visit on Friday and is staying until Wednesday. I’m very behind in my house cleaning (yet again, due to the snow), and will likely be further behind now that Hubby is sick. Ugh.
  • My reading has really slacked off this month. Here again I blame things on the snow, but there is another reason as well – two of the books I’m trying to read aren’t holding my attention. I’ll have another post about them soon, probably saying that I’m giving up on them. Sad.
  • My book club has had some growing pains recently. After a spate of emails I think we have finally settled on the direction we want to go in the future. I’m sad to say that we lost a few members, but I hope that all our members – present and past – are content with the decisions we’ve each made.
  • The Olympics have been another time suck for me lately. I LOVE watching the events but they are simply SO LONG. We’ve mostly been watching Ice Hockey (Kiddo is rooting for Russia because Ovechkin, Semin, and Malkin are playing for them) and snowboarding this time around. I am also really enjoying learning things about Canada, just as I do about the Host Country during every Olympics.
  • With all that is going on, I completely forgot to watch LOST on Tuesday night. Oh the horror! I’m hoping to watch it online late one night this week …
That’s all I’ve got for now. Hopefully I’ll be back to a more normal posting schedule soon … but don’t hold your breath – I’m not making any promises!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

3 Books That Make Me Long For Warmer Weather

Every week Lost In Books chooses a new topic and asks bloggers to chime in with three books that fit. This week's topic really caught my attention since I'm quite sick of all the snow and cold weather we've had in Maryland.

3 Books That Make Me Long For Warmer Weather

  1. Dune, by Frank Herbert - This book, set on the desert planet of Arrakis, always makes me appreciate the way that people (even made-up ones) can adapt to any environment they find themselves in. I have fond memories of this book from my growing-up years and I'm hoping to do a re-read this year.

  2. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson - What is not to love about this rollicking pirate adventure? It makes me want to be marooned on a tropical island ... albeit without the pirates. I read and reread this book many times in my middle school days.

  3. O Jerusalem, by Laurie R. King - This book is part of the Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series that I love so much. It is set in the Middle East and really made me appreciate the climate and the cultures of the area.
That's my list ... which book would YOU choose? Feel free to share in the comments or hop over to Lost In Books and join in there.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Join our read-a-long of The Sparrow!

Have you heard of THE SPARROW, by Mary Doria Russell? Have you read it? If you answered "no" to either of those questions, listen up!

Florinda, Rebecca and I are hosting a read-a-long of this amazing and thought-provoking book and we invite you to join us.

Go to Florinda's blog today to check out the details - she'll tell you what the book is about and why you should read it with us. On March 16th I'll post some discussion questions here and encourage you to blog about them. And on March 30th Rebecca will recap our read-a-long and invite you to link to your reviews.

I do hope you'll consider joining us! What say you?

(PS. Rebecca is giving away a copy of the book - you can enter at this link. The winner will be drawn on Tuesday.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snowfall Update

Just letting you all know that we're surviving the blizzard here in Maryland. Between the snowfall we got over the weekend and what we got last night/today, there is now about 40" of snow on the ground here. That is so far out of the norm for us that it isn't even funny. Baltimore (10 minutes north of us) is in a stage 3 state of emergency which means that only emergency vehicles are allowed on the roads. Snowplows were pulled off Maryland roads today due to the whiteout conditions. THIS IS CRAZY! We're very thankful not to have lost power at all (yet!) and to be safe, warm, and healthy at home.

I haven't had much time on the computer because I've had to find things to keep Kiddo busy inside (it's too cold and windy to be outside for long). And it looks like we'll have more of this soon - there's supposed to be another storm arriving on Monday/Tuesday. Oh joy.

I'll try to post pictures soon, and maybe some video as well. Honestly I haven't been outside much yet. But it looks like we may be taking a family walk up to 7-11 later today, just to get out of the house for a while ... we'll see how it feels outside, then we'll decide. If we do head out I'll be sure to take lots of pictures to show you all the craziness that's going on over here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ace of Cakes

Ace of Cakes
by Duff and Willie Goldman
307 pages

Have you ever seen the Food Network show Ace of Cakes? If not, you are missing something amazing. Check out this video and you'll get an idea of what I'm talking about.

I live just outside of Baltimore and I'm quite familiar with the show, so when I was offered a review copy of a book about Ace of Cakes I jumped at the chance to check it out.

It did not disappoint.

The book, written by bakery founder/owner Duff Goldman and show creator/Duff's brother Willie Goldman, starts by telling the story of how Charm City Cakes (the bakery) and Ace of Cakes (the show) came to be. The central portion of the book focuses on profiles of each member of the bakery staff and the production team ... and most of these people are hilarious! The final section is an episode guide summarizing every episode of the show's seven seasons. I really enjoyed reading that part, remembering the cakes and the hi-jinx that went along with them.

And there are pictures upon pictures. Close-ups of cakes - both finished and in progress; fold-out pages showing every cake created over the show's seven seasons; special cakes and the stories behind them; and much, much more. The book is a joy to look at and a pleasure to read.

Duff and his team do AMAZING work and they are a blast to watch. Here are a few examples (videos) of cakes they've done:
I have only one complaint about this book: it needed a better editor. There are just a few too many typos to be easily overlooked in my opinion.

But still, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and have already passed it on to my husband to read, as he is a fan of the show as well. (And honestly? I don't think he'll notice the typos.)

This book is a must for any fan of Ace of Cakes (the show). It's one I'll enjoy keeping on hand to share with friends and family.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Eye of the World

The Eye of the World
Book 1 of The Wheel of Time
by Robert Jordan
audiobook: 30 hours

*** About the Book ***

In this first book of the Wheel of Time series, three farm boys and two young women are ripped away from the quiet life of their village when creatures out of myth attack in the night. They are guided by an ageless woman with mysterious powers and her quiet protector. The group ventures out into the world with one goal in mind: to evade the evil forces that continue to track them. They encounter new friends and new enemies on their journey and learn some unsettling facts about themselves as well.

The series is based on a cyclical notion of time and the idea that everything has happened before and will happen again.

Of course, it is really hard to summarize epic fantasy so just go with, ok?

*** Why I (re)Read it ***

I've read this book at least twice and listened to the audio version at least three times. A while back I gave away a copy of this book in a contest. Nicole won it and was excited to read it. When she asked me to be a guest on her blog talk radio show she said I had to pick a book to discuss with her. This seemed to be the perfect thing, and she agreed. So I had to revisit it to prepare for our discussion.

*** My Thoughts ***

As difficult as it is to summarize an epic fantasy novel, it is far more challenging to share my thoughts about a book that is so familiar to me. I love this book and have loved it for so long that I really don't know what to say about it.

Ok, I'll give it a shot ...
  • The characters in this book are wonderful. They are kind, cruel, smart, stupid, tormented, conflicted, loving ... in short, they are REAL.
  • There is Adventure! And who doesn't like Adventure?!
  • This is a new world but it isn't all that different from our own (albeit in an older time period) so I can imagine things quite clearly.
  • Jordan is a master of description; he's been compared to Tolkien in case that helps you get an idea of his writing style.
  • The plot is exciting and unpredictable - no guessing the ending ahead of time with this book/series.
  • There are things you learn as side notes in this book that become important plot points later in the series. In fact, I seem to find more and more of these every time I revisit this book.

*** Your Thoughts ***

I posted some discussion questions for this book yesterday in preparation for my interview tonight on That's How I Blog! - be sure to check them out if you haven't already. I'm thrilled by the response I got when I encouraged people to read this book for the show. If you did read it, THANK YOU for trusting my opinion and I hope I didn't let you down.

Here are some other reviews you might like to check out:
  • It's All About Books - read it for the show
  • One Day At A Time - I dared her to read and she ended up liking it
  • My Two Blessings - was surprised that she hadn't read this before
  • and I KNOW that more of you have read this book so please link to you review in the comments!
And don't forget to listen or call in to the show tonight!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Discussion Questions for That's How I Blog (The Eye of the World)

I'm going to be on the blog talk radio show That's How I Blog tomorrow night at 10pm EST.

You can get the details of the show (including how to listen in and the call-in number for the book discussion) in my post from last week and also on the show's home page:

If you’ve read THE EYE OF THE WORLD (aka TEOTW) I hope you are planning to discuss it with me during the Book Club portion of the show.

For those who have read, check out my list of questions below. These are some of the things I want to talk. You can post your thoughts in the comments of course, but what I’d really like is to have you share them with me on the show.

***Warning: Do not read any further if you are still planning to read the book – there ARE spoilers! ***

Discussion Questions for TEOTW, or “Things I want to talk about” …

  • Are you an epic fantasy reader or is this your first venture into the genre?
  • Did the book turn out to be what you expected it to be?
  • When I first read the book, the prologue confused the heck out of me. It didn’t really make sense until I got farther into the series. How did you feel about it?
  • I read this book for the first time in the early 1990s. I STILL remember the creepy feeling I got when I read about Rand seeing the black rider on the road, with the cloak that didn't move in the wind. *shudder* THAT is when I knew this book would be good. Did that scene affect you in the same way? Or was there another scene that made you REALLY get into the book?
  • My favorite characters in this first book are Perrin (and the wolves – yay! If you remember, I’ve always had a thing for wolves) and Nyneave. On my first reading, Matt was my least favorite character; he really irritated me, especially with the whole knife thing - STUPID, MATT, very stupid!!! After reading the series so many times, the only character I really dislike at this point is Padan Fain (side note: Does he remind anyone else of Gollum?). Which characters did you love? Hate?
  • There are a few scenes whose creepiness stuck with me through the years … Shadar Logoth, the swarm of ravens killing the fox, and Machin Shin (the Black Wind) in the Ways. It is one thing to read about the Machin Shin and quite another (and much, much creepier!) to hear the Wind's words read aloud. *shudder*
  • There are also scenes that I love, such as the story of Manetheran, first meeting Loial, learning about Lan’s tragic past, Lan and Nyneave’s declaration of love, Loial singing to the Green Man's tree, and so many others.
  • What did you think about the final big climax of the series? On my first read I was very confused (but I was also pretty young- middle school maybe?) but it makes complete sense to me now. How did it come across to those of you who read it for the first time?
  • I can't believe that I forgot where this book ended. I kept thinking that there was more coming, but all the exciting things I'm remembering must happen at the beginning of book 2 ... which makes me want to continue on with the series yet again. :)

About the rest of the series (spoiler free!) …
  • A big theme in this series is the fluidity of truth over time and space – how a story that is passed from person to person will change the farther it gets from the physical location where it happened and the time in which it happened – add this to the cyclical nature of time in this series and you have a wonderfully complicated web/wheel of myths and legends continually changing and repeating themselves.
  • There are characters, plots, and tidbits of info introduced in this book that become very important later in the series (sometimes MUCH later); it is so much fun to reread this series because there is ALWAYS something else that I catch that I’d missed before. A few things that become important later include: the story of Artur Hawkwing, the woman who tried to kill Rand and Matt, and the death of Hopper, the Green Man's comments to Rand, and so on.
  • And just as a side note, the trollocs are really creepy in this book but so much happens in the rest of the series that the trollocs become almost laughable as time goes by.
  • I read most of the series as it came out and got very frustrated with several of the more recent books; it seemed like things were going nowhere and taking forever to get there. However, reading the books straight through (rather than with a year or two in between) has made me love the series more than ever. Things really ARE going somewhere and it really ISN'T taking that long when you read the books one after the other.
Do you have any thoughts on the things I've posted? Maybe you have other questions you'd like to discuss? Post your thoughts and questions in the comments, then tune in to the show to discuss it all with me!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

January '10 Recap

Welcome to the end of the first month of 2010 ... and I can't believe I just said that. Here's what I was able to accomplish book-wise this month:

Books - 5 (1,827 pages)
  • Volsungasaga - 120 pages - a rather unique ancient Norse epic
  • Warbreaker - 592 pages - fantastic stand-alone fantasy novel
  • Out of Africa and Out of Africa - 462 pages - beautifully written short stories about 1930s Africa
  • Shanghai Girls - 336 pages - about the relationship between two sisters who escape China during WWII and settle in San Fransisco
  • The Cruelest Miles - 317 pages - true story of the 1925 Serum Run dogsled relay in Alaska

Audio Books - 3 (32.25 hours)
  • Half Broke Horses - 8 hours - a prequel of sorts to THE GLASS CASTLE, but not as good
  • Isak Dinesen - 21.5 hours - biography of the interesting life of the famous author of OUT OF AFRICA
  • The Pearl - 2.75 hours - I was not a fan of this Steinbeck story at all

Other Stats
  • Kiddo turned 8 this month and he was also featured in our local newspaper in a story about playing ice hockey despite health problems.
  • I celebrated my 2nd blogiversary this month and also posted goals for the upcoming year.
  • My dare-ees are progressing nicely on their reading and movie watching ... at least, those who are still up for the dare are!
  • Kiddo and I haven't been reading much this month at all ... maybe a chapter or two of THE TITAN'S CURSE, but that's about it. Between family health issues, school, hockey, birthdays, and snow, our schedule has been go go go all month. Hopefully February will allow me more time to schedule in some reading together.
  • Oh, and I finally took my Christmas decorations down on January 23. Sad that it took me so long, isn't it? It was getting rather embarrassing ...
That's all I've got for this month. Hope your January was a good one. :)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Quick comment on LOST

For those who don't know, I am a huge fan of the TV show LOST. I've also been helping to run the LOST Books Reading Challenge for about a year. The challenge has it's own blog - which you can check out here - where we recap the episodes, link to other recaps, and share our thoughts on the books mentioned in the show.

Even if you are not part of the Challenge I'd love for you to check out the blog, link to your own recaps, and chime in with comments whenever you have something to say!

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea
by Ernest Hemingway
audiobook: 2.75 hours

*** About the Book ***

An old Cuban fisherman has been on a long unlucky streak; he's gone 84 days without catching a marlin. After 40 days without a catch, his young helper was forced to go to another boat and the old man had to fish alone. On the 85th day the old man's luck returns and he hooks the largest marlin he's ever seen, larger even than his little boat. The man struggles against the fish for three days - will he succeed in hauling it in? If he does, how will he get it back to shore? Will it be the fish or the man (or both) who loses a life?

*** Why I Read It ***

I've had this book on my TBR list for years. A while back I got a copy from the library, read a few pages, and promptly lost the book; it never turned up. I didn't think I'd really enjoy Hemingway but I knew this was a classic story and that I'd have to give it a shot. When I noticed it was available on audio at the library I decided now was the time. Plus I found out that it counts toward the 1% Well Read Challenge.

*** My Thoughts ***

Can I tell you how much I LOVED this story?! It was ... um ... amazing? heart-wrenching? beautiful? incredible? I can't decide how to describe it, I just know that I loved it.

I'm sure you are wondering what it is that is so great about this book. I loved the way the old man talked to himself, had conversations between his spoken word and his thoughts, while he was out at sea alone. I loved the physical contest between the old man and the marlin, and the respect the old man had for the fish and the ocean. I loved the way the story unfolded, even though I can't tell you more because it would spoil it for you. I loved the simple yet powerful language Hemingway used. And I even loved Frank Muller's narration (even though I disliked his work in the past); his storytelling style was different than I'd heard him use previously and it worked very well here.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Are you a Hemingway fan? If so, tell me if this story is like any of his other works. Which ones should I try out next? If you are not a fan, I'd love to know why not.

If you'd like more opinions on this book check out these reviews:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

THIB: Details of my show, and a request

Did you remember that I'm going to be on the blog talk radio show That's How I Blog next week? Mark your calendars for Tuesday, Feb. 9 @ 10pm EST and be sure to tune in!

You can get the details of the show - including the call-in number for the book discussion - at this link:

*** Request: If you have any questions you'd like me to answer during the show please email them to the hostess, Nicole, at nicole [at] linussblanket [dot] com - don't leave me hanging, email some questions! ***

My East Coast pals might be wondering why the show is starting so late. There are two reasons. First, I wanted to give the West Coast people a chance to join us. Second, and more importantly, LOST is on at 9pm EST and I simply cannot miss it!

For those who are new to the THIB show, here's how it works, step by step.
  • On the night of the show go to:
  • At 10pm, click on the link that says "Heather J. of Age 30+ ... A Lifetime of Books dishes on books, blogging and book blogging" - this brings you to the show itself.
  • If you can't hear anything you may have to refresh your page.
  • You can simply listen in or you can join the conversation in the chat room or on the phone.
  • To join the chat room, scroll down the page until you see the comments being posted. There is a way to join in but don't remember exactly how at the moment. It should be fairly self-explanatory though!
  • If you want to call in, either during my interview or during the book discussion, dial the phone number near the top of the page (it's to the right of the title of the show).
  • The interview will last for about an hour, I think, then the book discussion will begin. We'll be talking about Robert Jordan's epic fantasy, THE EYE OF THE WORLD. I'd love to have lots of you to chat with so please do call in!
I'm working on a list of discussion questions/topics for the book discussion - I hope to have it posted over the weekend so you have time to think about your answers.

I can't wait to chat with Nicole and the rest of you - this is so exciting!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Book Blogger Con + A Top 10 List

Guess what? I’M GOING TO THE BOOK BLOGGER CONVENTION IN NEW YORK IN MAY!!! Can you tell I’m excited?! I didn’t think this would work out but it has and I’ve already registered – woohoo!

Book Blogger Convention

(The next step is to find a roommate (actually, I need 3 of them) and book my hotel. Is anyone else looking for a roomie? Please comment or email me ASAP!!!)

In honor of the convention being in New York City, Fizzy Thoughts is hosting an NY-themed reading challenge. The challenge is open to everyone whether or not you are attending the convention so do check out the details.

February’s challenge activity is to make a list of things I love about NYC so here goes …

The Top 10 Things I Love About New York
  1. My mom’s Brooklyn accent – Even after being away for 30+ years, she still has it. Here are a few examples: Heather = HETH-ah, water = WWA-tah, here = HE-ah, coffee = CWA-fee, sophomore = SOUTH-more, whore = WHO-ah
  2. L&B’s Pizzeria and Spumoni Garden – just around the block from where my aunt used to live in Brooklyn, they have THE BEST pizza I’ve ever tasted – we used to buy 2 full-size Sicilian pizzas (you need 4 huge boxes for this) and drive back to Maryland with it to share with all our family here
  3. Italian Pastry Shops – they make THE BEST 7-layer cookies – I used to get a box just for myself anytime we visited
  4. Fresh Bagels – if you get up early enough (or make someone else do it) you can have a big paper bag of freshly made bagels with an assortment of spreads that you can linger over all morning long
  5. Family History – several of my aunts and uncles still live where they did when my mom was growing up – visiting them, I get a look at what it was like for her when she was growing up with several sets of cousins within a 5 block radius
  6. Sitting on the Stoop – my aunts would bring lawn chairs outside their apartment entrances and people watch all day long, putting their noses into everyone’s business up and down the block – I thought this was hilarious when I was a kid
  7. Around the Block – it seems like everything you need is just “around the block” – there’s no need to drive somewhere, you can just walk
  8. Street Music – especially around the tourist areas there are always musicians and performers on the streets, and some of them are REALLY good
  9. Ellis Island – this is a must-see for everyone – the history of this place is amazing, and there are so many heartwarming and heartbreaking things to see
  10. Lady Liberty – if you haven’t been to the Statue of Liberty then you are really missing out – yes there are lines and yes there are a LOT of steps but it is all worth it
Those are the things I love about New York. What do YOU love? And if you're planning to go to (or considering) the convention please let me know!

Robin Maxwell on Juliet and Romeo

Today I'm featuring a guest post from Robin Maxwell, author of the new novel O, JULIET.

First let me tell you a bit about the book:

Before Juliet Capelletti lie two futures: a traditionally loveless marriage to her father's business partner, or the fulfillment of her poetic dreams, inspired by the great Dante. Unlike her beloved friend Lucrezia, who looks forward to her arranged marriage into the Medici dynasty, Juliet has a wild, romantic imagination that takes flight in the privacy of her bedchamber and on her garden balcony.

Her life and destiny are forever changed when Juliet meets Romeo Monticecco, a soulful young man seeking peace between their warring families. A dreamer himself, Romeo is unstoppable, once he determines to capture the heart of the remarkable woman foretold in his stars.

And now a few words from Robin on why she chose to write about Juliet and Romeo.
A lot of readers have asked me why, when I've always written about historical figures, did I decide to tackle literary figures, and particularly ones immortalized by Shakespeare. I think the actual light bulb moment came when I read that another author had written an historical fiction called LADY McBETH. I thought, “Hell, what an amazing idea!” I had loved another fiction using a literary figure — AHAB’S WIFE — and my mind zip-zipped to that before coming back to Shakespeare. It was hardly a moment before I realized that “Romeo and Juliet” had never been written as a novel. I couldn’t believe my good luck. I whipped out a brief proposal which everybody — agents, editors, publisher — adored, and got right to work. Shortly I discovered that Romeo and Juliet were “in the ozone,” with the second “Twilight” movie (“New Moon”) filled with references and themes from the Bard’s play; Pop star Taylor Swift’s award-winning “Love Song,” about the famous couple, “Letters to Juliet” (a modern day romantic drama to be released in May); and a more-contemporary-than-medieval novel called JULIET being published in August.

Was I nervous about appropriating two of Shakespeare’s most beloved characters for my own? How could I not be? One device I used to make a literary distinction from the master was to make Romeo and Juliet not only amateur poets themselves, but to both be devotees of Dante (the middle ages’ greatest “rock star”). I used Dante’s beautiful (but little known) love poetry liberally in O, JULIET. My detractors are having a field day repeating that “Ms. Maxwell is no Shakespeare,” but DUH…who in their right mind would ever attempt that? I was also, according to my critics, “attempting to fix what was not broken.” But my purpose was simply to shed some light on the lives of everyones’ favorite star-crossed lovers, and I must say, I’m very pleased and proud of my efforts.

Other readers wonder how it was to be writing about a fictional woman and what were the qualities that made her as strong a heroine as the women in my previous novels. I would say that all my heroines are the “strong-willed-woman-ahead-of-her-time-who-is-looking-for-a-marriage-for-love” — everyone from Anne Boleyn and the young Elizabeth (SECRET DIARY OF ANNE BOLEYN, VIRGIN, MADEMOISELLE BOLEYN) to Grace O’Malley (THE WILD IRISH), to Princess Bessie of York and Nell Caxton (TO THE TOWER BORN), to Caterina da Vinci (SIGNORA DA VINCI). Even though Juliet’s accomplishments may seem minor compared to Anne’s (the Reformation), Elizabeth (the English Renaissance and conquering the Spanish Armada) and Grace O’Malley (pirate, gun-runner, troop transporter and “Mother of the Irish Rebellion”), Juliet’s courage in defying her family and repressive society in order to be with the man she loved was HUGE. This was a girl (daughter of a merchant) who, from the time she was born, would have been barely allowed to leave her father house (except to go to confession and the occasional social gathering) until the day she married her parents’ choice of a husband, after which she would have continued to remain cloistered in his house till the day she died. Relatively speaking, what Juliet accomplished with her rebellion was enormous.
Thank you, Robin, for sharing that with us. I hope you all enjoyed hearing from Robin!

I've heard great things about O, JULIET - have you read it yet?
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