Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Monday, October 31, 2011

Dueling Monsters: Dr. Moreau Recap

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Dr. Moreau portion of this year's Dueling Monsters read-a-long! I hope you enjoying getting to know Moreau - he certainly gave me the creeps ...
Be sure to check out all the reviews and see if others had the same reaction to the book that you did. And if I forgot to include your review here let me know in the comments.
  • Nick @ Lions and Men - "the novel was a fun ride through a haunted house of grotesque beasts and even more nefarious men"
  • Trisha @ eclectic/eccentric - "the main premise in this short novel is about playing god"
  • Bev @ My Reader's Block - "hands down, Wells writes a nightmare like nobody's business"
  • Erin @ Erin Reads - "Moreau [...] should appear next to this particular meaning of “monster” in the dictionary"
  • SFP @ Pages Turned - "Doctor Moreau is, in short, as psychopathic as they come"
  • Jill @ Fizzy Thoughts - "Wells managed to create a character utterly lacking in morals"
  • and mine - "The cruelty of humanity scares me more than just about anything else in this world"
One of my favorite podcasts, Guys Can Read, also read and discussed Moreau this month. You can check out their fascinating take on the book in their two part review.

Thank you to everyone who participated! I hope you had a good time with this year's monsters! Now to figure out which ones we'll pick in 2012 ...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Call of Cthulhu - quick thoughts

by HP Lovecraft
50 pages

In this short story, a classic of the horror genre, a young man discovers references to a creepy cult in his deceased uncle's paperwork. The cult has apparently been around since the dawn of time and it's followers are quite creepy and violent. Others who come into contact with the cult - or the god behind it, Cthulhu - often go crazy and may even commit suicide. The god hails from the distant stars and personifies creepiness and chaos.

[Cover]The book is basically a summary of the information the young man has compiled about the cult. There isn't much of a storyline here. Cthuhlu is creepy, yes, but that's about all there is to it. It is a quick, rather dry, story, and I can't say that I felt strongly about it one way or the other.

I read this for part of this year's Dueling Monsters challenge. Check out Fizzy Thoughts on 10/31 to see what others thought of this tale.

The Island of Dr. Moreau

by H.G. Wells
audiobook: 5.25 hours
narrated by Simon Prebble

About the Book

Edward Prendick is rescued from a life raft at sea by a ship ship carrying an odd cargo that includes myriad wild animals and two unusual men named Montgomery and M'ling. After a series of confrontations between the crew and the two odd men, the captain arrives at their destination, a solitary island in the middle of the sea. The captain is only too glad to rid himself of the animals and the men, and forces Edward to leave the ship at well. Once on the island Montgomery introduces him to Dr. Moreau, a scientist who uses the island as the base for his experimentation. Over time Edward learns the details of Moreau's experiments on the other inhabitants of the island and he must decide for himself whether Moreau is brilliant or insane.

Why I Read It

I chose this book as my side of this year's Dueling Monsters challenge because H.G. Wells fascinates me. I don't always love his writing but I am constantly amazed by the ideas in his stories.

My Thoughts

This is one CREEPY story. From the very first time Edward steps on board the rescue ship I had the feeling that things were Not Right even though I couldn't put my finger on what exactly was wrong. Once on the island things got even weirder for Edward, and for me as the reader. I had an idea of what Moreau was up to before I started this book but I didn't have the details right.

*** SPOILER ALERT #1 ***
I didn't realize that Moreau was experimenting on animals and turning them into people. I had thought he was grafting animals parts onto human bodies. Although both are horrible, Moreau's actual experiments were worse than what I thought ahead of time. The idea that he could CREATE humanity - and that he does so with some success - is so beyond what I can accept that I had a hard time with this part of the book. Still, the issues it raised are valid ones: At what point is someone considered human? Can one loose one's humanity? If animals could communicate in our language, would we grant them humanity? 
*** END SPOILER #1 ***

As Edward learned the details of Moreau's experiments I became more and more horrified. For me it wasn't the actual experiments that got to me - it was the abject cruelty involved.

*** SPOILER ALERT #2 ***
Moreau performed vivisection on his subjects with no anesthesia, and continued his experimentation for weeks on end, sometimes until the subject died. His justification was that the more evolved one is, the less pain matters. 
*** END SPOILER #2 ***

And that, for me, is the scariest part of this book. It isn't the creatures that Moreau creates that scare me. Rather it is the fact that Moreau can literally torture other living things without a single care. He has no greater purpose - not that it would justify his actions - and he doesn't see anything at all wrong in what he is doing. The cruelty of humanity scares me more than just about anything else in this world.

I can't say that I'm a huge fan of Wells' writing style and my experience with this book didn't change that. However I am fascinated by the issues he raises and will continue to read his books as they always give me a great deal to think about.

Your Thoughts

If you read this book for the Dueling Monsters Challenge this year be sure to link up to your review here. I'm posting a list of all the reviews on Halloween so don't miss out!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Song of the Nile

by Stephanie Dray
398 pages

About the Book

From Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra's daughter is the one woman with the power to destroy an empire... Having survived her perilous childhood as a royal captive of Rome, Selene pledged her loyalty to Augustus and swore she would become his very own Cleopatra. Now the young queen faces an uncertain destiny in a foreign land. The magic of Isis flowing through her veins is what makes her indispensable to the emperor. Against a backdrop of imperial politics and religious persecution, Cleopatra's daughter beguiles her way to the very precipice of power. She has never forgotten her birthright, but will the price of her mother's throne be more than she's willing to pay?

Why I Read It

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Stephanie's previous book, LILY OF THE NILE, and have be anticipating the release of this new book for months.  Stephanie was kind enough to hand me a signed copy when I saw her at the Baltimore Book Festival last month, and needless to say I dove right into it.

My Thoughts

This book completely surprised me. Based on events in the previous book I had a very clear idea in my mind of the direction the story would take in this book. I WAS SO VERY WRONG! I spent the first several chapters arguing with Stephanie in my head, insisting that she had done it all wrong. *smile* That's not to say that this book didn't make logical sense based on previous events. It is more that the story could have gone in several directions, and way it went was not the one I expected. (I realize that this all sounds rather cryptic but I don't want to say a great deal about the story - I'd rather you experience it for yourself.)

Once I adjusted to the plot of this book I began to enjoy all the characters again just as I did the first time around. I especially enjoyed Selene - she is so bright and independent!  Most of the characters introduced in this book weren't all that developed, though they didn't really need to be in order to move story ahead. Many "old" characters played important parts and I enjoyed getting to know them in different ways.

There were a few things in the book that bugged me, but not enough to dampen my enthusiasm for this series. Although I didn't expect or necessarily want the story to go where it did, Stephanie made sure that every event followed logically from previous events - I really appreciate that. So though I didn't love this book as much as I did LILY OF THE NILE, I am still highly anticipating the next (final?) book in Selene's tale!

*** Please check out the guest post that Stephanie did for me yesterday. There's a link to a really fun quiz that tells you which "bad girl" of ancient times you are most like. I'd love to hear which ones you end up with and why! ***

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Which Bad Girl of the Ancient World are you?

Please welcome author Stephanie Dray to my blog today. Stephanie is a local author who I had the great fortune to meet at the Baltimore Book Festival. I was already a fan of hers after reading LILY OF THE NILE last year, and I was super excited to have her hand me a copy of her latest book, SONG OF THE NILE. Check back tomorrow for my review of her new book!

Which Bad Girl of the Ancient World are you?
Stephanie Dray

One of the favorite presentations I give is entitled Bad Girls of the Ancient World. I love to give this talk, because most of the powerful women in the ancient world have some sort of relation to the heroine of my novel, Cleopatra Selene.

Selene wasn’t, herself, a bad girl. At least, she was never vilified the way her mother before her had been. She had a nearly unblemished personal reputation, in spite of some of the provocative things she did--many of which I explore in my new novel, Song of the Nile.

But just because she doesn’t come down to us as one of the bad girls of history doesn’t mean she was a pushover. And thinking about how they may have inspired her began to inspire me to think about who I might have been like in the ancient world.

To that end, I’ve created this fun little quiz specially for this guest blog appearance, and I’d love to discuss the results with your readers. So, here you have it. WHICH BAD GIRL OF THE ANCIENT WORLD ARE YOU?

[Heather's Note: Ends up I am Cleopatra VII - what fun! Please share your results in the comments and let me know if you think they are accurate!]

Stephanie graduated from Smith, a small women’s college in Massachusetts where–to the consternation of her devoted professors–she was unable to master Latin. However, her focus on Middle Eastern Studies gave her a deeper understanding of the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion.
Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra’s daughter has become the emperor’s most unlikely apprentice and the one woman who can destroy his empire…

Having survived her perilous childhood as a royal captive of Rome, Selene pledged her loyalty to Augustus and swore she would become his very own Cleopatra. Now the young queen faces an uncertain destiny in a foreign land.

Forced to marry a man of the emperor’s choosing, Selene will not allow her new husband to rule in her name. She quickly establishes herself as a capable leader in her own right and as a religious icon. Beginning the hard work of building a new nation, she wins the love of her new subjects and makes herself vital to Rome by bringing forth bountiful harvests.

But it’s the magic of Isis flowing through her veins that makes her indispensable to the emperor. Against a backdrop of imperial politics and religious persecution, Cleopatra’s daughter beguiles her way to the very precipice of power. She has never forgotten her birthright, but will the price of her mother’s throne be more than she’s willing to pay?

Berkley Trade October 2011 (Trade Paperback)
# ISBN-10: 0425243044
# ISBN-13: 9780425243046

Purchase Info
Constellation Books (Heather's Note: This is our local indie!)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dueling Monsters: Dr. Moreau Link-up

Are you reading The Island of Dr. Moreau for this year's Dueling Monsters read-a-long? When you post your review, leave a link to it in the comments on this post. I'll be recapping the challenge on 10/31 and including links to all the reviews - don't get left out, or I'll have to sic Dr. Moreau on you!


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book club recruiting

Over the past year my book club got smaller and smaller due to changes in the ladies lives.  We had our last meeting in May and decided to take the summer off. Then Fall came and a few die-hard members emailed me to ask when we were meeting again. The thing is, I think we need more ladies in order to make a viable group.

Because of this I'm issuing an open invitation to female readers in Maryland between Baltimore and Annapolis (or the general area) to join us for a trial meeting on Oct. 22 at Arundel Mills Mall. We'll be discussing THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie. If you are interested let me know and I'll email you the details!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Piano Teacher (mini review)

Cover image for The Piano Teacher

by Janice Y. K. Lee
audiobook:10.75 hours
narrated by Orlagh Cassidy 

From my library's website: 

In the epic tradition of The English Patient, this gripping tale of love and betrayal is set in war-torn Hong Kong. It is 1942, and Will Trusdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, has fallen headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But when WWII strikes, Will is sent to an internment camp, while Trudy remains outside. Trudy is forced to form dangerous alliances with the head of the Japanese gendarmerie, whose desperate attempts to locate a priceless collection of Chinese art lead to a chain of terrible betrayals. Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong and meets the enigmatic Will. As long-buried secrets start to emerge and she begins to understand the true nature of the world she has entered, Claire learns that sometimes the price of survival is love.

My Thoughts 

I'm torn about this book. On the one hand I really, really liked Will's story. Once it got started it completely sucked me in. This part of the book is what I was hoping for from Heart of Lies. The characters were so real and their lives often so unexpectedly (to them) tragic that I did not want to stop listening. On the other hand, Claire's story, though somewhat interesting, seemed superfluous. It was merely a vehicle to bring out Will's story, and in my opinion Will's story could easily stand on it's own.

So, overall a really good book BUT you have to wade through Claire's story off and on to get there.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dueling Monsters Kickoff: Go Dr. Moreau!

And so begins the Duel!

If you are joining in on the side of Dr. Moreau (or are at least giving him a chance) let me know in the comments.

The read-a-long starts today and you can post your review any time this month. On Oct. 15th I'll put up a call for reviews - post your link in the comments there whenever you get your review up.

And if you want to be a traitor and side with Jill and Cthuhlu (boo! hiss!) you can sign up at her blog today.

Go Moreau!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Love Times Three

by Joe, Alina, Vicki, and Valerie Darger with Brooke Adams
audiobook: 9.25 hours
narrated by Jamie Lurie, Eliza Foss, Kathleen McInerney, and Karla Kendrick

About the Book

Joe is Independent Fundamentalist Mormon and he has three wives. Together they wrote this book to help counteract the often incorrect assumptions about their culture and way of life.  Told through four perspectives, the book gives a look at the reasons behind their decision to live a polygamous marriage and the challenges and blessings that are part of their everyday lives.

Why I Read It

I was a huge fan of the HBO series Big Love and am fascinated by people who can make polygamous marriage work. This book sounds like a realistic look at a successful family; I wanted to see how they do it.

My Thoughts

One of the first things that caught my attention was the fact that this family was part of the basis for the HBO series Big Love; series creators pulled lots of details from a magazine article that profiled the Darger family anonymously. Apparently the show included quite a few situations that were taken directly from the Darger's life. Of course there were lots of other situations that were purely created for the show (and Joe was quick to point those out).

Another interesting part of the book for me was the actual relationship between Joe's wives. Alina and Vicki were cousins who both became interested in the same man. Knowing that they wanted to be part of a plural marriage they decided to pursue Joe as a pair. About ten years later, after the collapse of her own plural marriage, Vicki's twin sister Valerie became Joe's third wife. An usual situation in so many ways.

The "everyday" part of the book was the most fascinating to me, dealing with sister wives and loads of children and sharing a husband. And of course there were the logistical challenges of a family with 24 children (5 in diapers!). Since I have just one child this was the craziest part of the book for me - I can't imagine dealing with a family that large, let alone sharing my husband with other wives.

This book was a quick and easy listen. It gave me a lot of insight into a culture, religion, and lifestyle that I am not all that familiar with.  I found it well written and well narrated, and definitely worth listening to.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Hum and the Shiver (and giveaway)

Alex Bledsoe

by Alex Bledsoe
352 pages

About the Book

from the author's website:
No one knows where the Tufa came from, or how they ended up in the mountains of East Tennessee. When the first Europeans came to the Smoky Mountains, the Tufa were already there. Dark-haired and enigmatic, they live quietly in the hills and valleys of Cloud County, their origins lost to history. But there are clues in their music, hidden in the songs they have passed down for generations…. 
Private Bronwyn Hyatt, a true daughter of the Tufa, has returned from Iraq wounded in body and spirit. But her troubles are far from over. Cryptic omens warn of impending tragedy, while a restless “haint” has followed her home from the war. Worse yet, Bronwyn has lost touch with herself and with the music that was once a part of her. With death stalking her family, will she ever again join in the song of her people, and let it lift her onto the night winds?
Why I Read It

Come on now, didn't that summary intrigue you in the least?! It completely captured my attention and I immediately agreed to be part of the PR by the Book book tour.

My Thoughts

Once I got halfway through this book I COULD NOT put it down - I stayed up until 2am on a weeknight because I simply HAD to know how everything would turn out. If that isn't a great recommendation then I don't know what is!

But seriously, this is a fantastic book. Take a wounded female Iraqi War veteran, toss her into a music-filled mountain culture, and throw in a bit of old-world mystery and magic and you get a wonderfully original story.  The poor girl finally makes it home after being shot and partially blown up only to have her mother tell her that a ghost has been hanging around waiting to give her a message. Say what?!?! This mix of modern and magic may make you think of Urban Fantasy but the book is anything but Urban and it doesn't fit with my idea of UF. Not sure what exactly I would call it, but it's good!

The Tufa people were created by the author but  based on a real group of people whose origins are unknown. You can read about it on his website if you are interested. The fact that the idea for the Tufa came from real people made me love this book even more - the world, though magical, seemed all the more possible.

This book is meant to be the first in a series about the Tufa. I'm excited about that because I definitely want to get to know these characters better. That said, for those who don't want to be sucked into a series, this book also works as a stand alone novel. Although there is an overarching storyline that will continue into the next book, the plot of this book comes to a satisfying conclusion by the end; no cliffhangers to torment you until the release of the next book (I'm thinking of you, Maggie Steifvater!).

I hope many of you will give this unusual book a shot - I'm thinking it may be one of my top reads this year!


Thanks to PR by the Book I have one copy of this fantastic novel to give away.

The Rules:
- This giveaway is open to the US/Canada.
- To enter leave a comment on this post.
- If your email address is not easily accessible via your blog, please include your email in your comment.
- A winner will be chosen randomly on Oct. 11 and will be contacted by email.
- The winner must reply to my email within 48 hours or a new winner will be chosen.

Thanks and good luck! I hope that the winner enjoys this book as much as I did!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

to my NOVA blogger buddies ...

For all my Northern Virginia blogger buddies, I don't know if any of you are interested but Kiddo's ice hockey team plays in your area several times this season (in one of the 36 games between now and February).  I, of course, would love to meet up with other bloggers, and Kiddo, of course, would love more people cheering for his team at away games. :)

He'll be playing in the following cities:

  • Ashburn
  • Reston
  • Ft. Dupont
  • Charlottesville

If you are interested in coming to a game, let me know and I'll get you all the details. And if you are in MD/DC area, he'll also be playing in these cities:

  • Frederick
  • Hagerstown
  • Laurel
  • Chevy Chase
  • Rockville
Man, I'm going to be exhausted after this season, not to mention the mileage I'll be putting on my car. :)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand


by Helen Simonson
audiobook: 13 hours
narrated by Peter Artschuler

From my library's website:

You are about to travel to Edgecombe St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside filled with rolling hills, thatched cottages, and a cast of characters both hilariously original and as familiar as the members of your own family. Among them is Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson's wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, Major Pettigrew is one of the most indelible characters in contemporary fiction, and from the very first page of this remarkable novel he will steal your heart. The Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?

My Thoughts

At first this book bored me. I got through one or two discs and almost gave up. I didn't like the Major - he was opinionated and stuffy - and nothing else about the story captured my attention. But then. I don't know exactly what it was that happened but something caught me and I fell headlong into this story. Turns out that I really did like the Major after all, in spite of his flaws, and I was rooting for him to overcome his own prejudices and those of his neighbors. But then. Say what?! Things at Mrs. Ali's house went a bit batty to say the least. And in my opinion the bit of violence that occurred only served to reinforce stereotypes about Muslims. (Did anyone feel that way? I'm talking about what the aunt did ...) But then. I got into the story again and was rooting for the Major and Mrs. Ali.

And it bugs me that the book brought up a very important issue then simply brushed it aside: can a mixed religion marriage really work? The Major's minister brings this up in conversation at one point. He complains that parishioners come to him asking for his blessing on their marriage to someone of a completely different religion and they are hurt when he questions their decision. The minister wants to know if he is supposed to deny what he believes to be true, or if the couple is each going to deny what they believe in order to be happy together. The conversation ends there and the end of the book doesn't give any better of an ending to the discussion in my opinion. I mean, if people are nominally religious and marry outside their faith, that shouldn't end up being an issue in the marriage. But if people are true followers of their religion then the fact that their spouse believes something totally different will cause huge issues, even if those issues are never openly discussed. (Am I alone in thinking this?!)

So on the whole I did enjoy this book but it also had some flaws. I'm glad I kept listening to it as I really enjoyed parts of it, but at the same time the ending - though I thought it fit the story and was beautifully done - will continue to bug me for reasons mentioned above.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Doc (the latest by Mary Doria Russell)

by Mary Doria Russell
416 pages

About The Book

Using the best historical documentation available, Mary Doria Russell brings to life John Henry Holliday, the man behind the overblown myth of Wild West gunslinger Doc Holliday.  From his childhood in antebellum Georgia and his dental education in the North through his diagnosis of tuberculosis and his move West, the reader learns about the real John - the talented dentist who above all things loved his mother. If you think you know Doc, you've got another thing coming!

Why I Read It

First off, it's by Mary Doria Russell. I would read a GROCERY LIST if that woman wrote it! Seriously, she is the author of some of the best books I've ever read: The Sparrow, Children of God, A Thread of Grace.

Second, it's Doc Holliday! Who doesn't love Doc Holliday?! Especially when played by Val Kilmer in Tombstone:

My Thoughts

This book was not exactly what I expected but once I got past that I really and truly loved it. I thought I'd see Doc's adventures in Tombstone told from a new perspective; when the book ended prior to that I was a bit shocked. So just know up front that the OK Corral and the whole Tombstone story aren't included, and you'll be fine.

Otherwise, LOVED this book. As always, Russell's writing is gorgeous and she sucked me into the story from the very beginning. She doesn't just tell Doc's story in straight narrative format. Rather she adds in asides from time to time that touch on later events or the myths that grew up about them. Imagine someone telling you a story and occasionally interrupting himself to throw in a related bit of info - it's like that. I found it fascinating, and it didn't pull me out of the story in any way.

One of the things that always troubles me about historical fiction is this: how much of the story is true? Russell addresses that in the front of the book with an extensive character list and in the back with a detailed authors note (which I read before starting the actual book). The character list shows actual historical figures in regular print and any fictional characters in italics; very few characters are italicized. The author's note explains what liberties Russell took with the story and where she stayed with historical fact. Basically what she did was create a fictional character who knew Doc and the Earps and she killed that character off. The investigation into his death allows Russell to bring in real historical figures and events and show who Doc really was.

As I said, I really and truly loved this book. I recently expressed disappointment in another book dealing with the Earps and Doc Holliday - comparing that one to this book shows what a brilliant author like Russell can really do.

Oh, and I definitely heard Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday in my head as I read this book - what a treat!

Your Thoughts

Are there any authors who are to you like Mary Doria Russell is to me?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Wherever You Go

by Joan Leegant
253 pages

About the Book

Yona, Mark, and Aaron don't know each other but their lives will soon intersect in a very dramatic way. Yona is in Israel to try to heal the broken relationship with her sister and put her own life back together in the process. Mark is returning home to Israel to teach a college course while reevaluating his religious beliefs. Aaron is adrift in Israel after his plans fall apart, but he finds purpose in life when he joins a group of settlers building a new community. An act of terrorism and the resulting explosion will affect these three very different people and turn each of their lives in a new direction.

Why I Read It

The author pitched this book to me and I was intrigued by the summary. The topic and setting were out of my normal reading habits yet they captured my attention.

My Thoughts

I loved this book! It was one of those where I wanted to read it non-stop until the end, but since I couldn't do that I had to sneak in a few pages whenever possible. So, so good!

Each of the three main characters, Yona, Mark, and Aaron, felt to me like real people. Their personalities, actions, and motivations all made sense. Their relationships (most of which were broken in some way) also felt real - a parent's disappointment in an adult child for choosing a different life, a sister's anger over a personal betrayal, a son's opinions forced aside by an overbearing parent, and so many, many others.

I could understand how each character got to his/her place in life, and each subsequent action made sense based on that character. This is important to me - I really don't like it when a character behaves in a way that doesn't make sense with what I know about him/her.

I'm so glad I had the opportunity to read this book. I really, really loved it and will be lending my copy to some local friends very soon.

A Side Note

In reading other reviews of this book I saw that Ryan @ Wordsmithonia has an issue with the portrayal of one of the secondary characters. I kept this in mind while reading as I wanted to see if I had the same reaction. I didn't. I see Ryan's point, but in my mind this particular character was not completely stable (not sure if he was mentally ill or not, but something was definitely not right with him) and his actions were a manifestation of that.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dueling Monsters 2011: H.G. Wells vs. H.P. Lovecraft

It's that time of year again,
time for Dueling Monsters! 

In this third year of our reading challenge, Fizzy Thoughts and I are delving into some early science fiction/horror stories as we pit H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau against H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu.

Fizzy Thoughts will host the Cthulhu side and I'll host the Dr. Moreau side. The challenge officially begins on October 1, and you'll see posts at each of our blogs that day announcing the kick-off.  You can choose to read one or both of the books - whatever works for you. 

Sometime during October you will post your review of your chosen book(s) on your blog and provide us with the link (we'll each have a post on our blog for that specific purpose). On Halloween Day, October 31, I'll recap all the Dr. Moreau posts on my blog and Fizzy Thoughts will recap all the Cthulhu posts on her blog.

You don't have to officially sign up now, just start thinking about it. If you do decide to join us feel free to grab a button or two or three. 

I'm looking forward to this duel and I hope you are too!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

BEA Book Review: The Beekeeper's Lament

by Hannah Nordaus
288 pages

About the Book

The subtitle of this book is "How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America" and that is really what the book is about. The author profiles one of the largest (and most interesting!) beekeepers in the US and shows how vitally important bees are to each and every one of us. She also presents the myriad problems facing beekeepers and their bees in today's world.

Why I Read It

This book was in the swag bag I received at the Harper Collins cocktail party at BEA earlier this year. The title and the cover intrigued me so I was excited to bring it home with me.

My Thoughts

I LOVED this book! Who knew bees (and their keepers) could be so fascinating?! And I honestly had NO CLUE about the massive numbers of bees being moved around the United States in order to pollinate all the farms that stock all the stores across the country.

I was marking pages left and right as I read this book. Here are some of the tidbits that fascinated me:

  • About 20 years ago a bee disease killed off almost all of the feral bees in the US - today there is approx 2% of the pre-1987 feral bee population, and those 2% are likely escapees from beekeepers' hives.
  • Due to various diseases in the current bee population, the Western honey bee would not survive without the intervention of beekeepers.
  • Most farms and orchards WILL NOT produce crops if they don't contract with beekeepers to pollinate their fields/trees. The country's mono-crop landscape cannot support wild pollinators, even if there were enough in the local area to do all the pollinating. And the addition of pesticides makes this an even larger problem.
  • Did you know that, by US Postal Code, the Postal Service is required to deliver live bees by mail? Fascinating!
If you have any interest in agriculture, insects, quirky people, strange businesses, or little-known topics, you should definitely give this book a try. It is well-written and fascinating non-fiction and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Getting to know amused, bemused and confused

BBAW 2011 - Graphic (300px wide)

I haven't participated in BBAW this week simply because I haven't been blogging as regularly as I used to. That said, I knew I didn't want to miss out on Interview Day so I made sure to sign up. I love interviewing other bloggers and always enjoy this part of BBAW the most. So without further ado, allow me to introduce Lyndsey from amused, bemused and confused!


So, since your blog address is, what is your favorite kind of tea?
English Breakfast. But at all times of day, not just breakfast.
Now that we've gotten that cleared up, give me three books that you recommend to just about everyone.
Ooooh. Just three?! The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood - I'm a huuuuuge Atwood fan. I'm very big into biographies (and am currently studying for an MA in Life Writing) and one of my favourites is The Mitford Sisters, by Mary S. Lovell. And a book I've read and loved recently is How To Be A Woman, by Caitlin Moran. Definitely get this, even if (especially if?) you are a man :)
How has becoming a mom (congrats on that by the way!) changed your reading? Are you making/finding time to read? Are you drawn to some books more than others? etc.
HAHAHAHA SO MUCH! Mostly because it's totally slowed down. But I've got an iPad now which means I've got my reading back on. Before I was just struggling with trying to hold book open and not drop it on the nugget's head. Now I can actually concentrate on the book. I need to find things which are easy to pick up and put down again - so I just re-read Emma, which was ideal. I am reading a lovely book called How Mothers Love, by Naomi Stadlen, which is based on what real women say about how they develop a relationship with their child. It's extremely gentle and reassuring.
Are there any not-to-be-missed bookish events in London? (Or, if you haven't attended any, which author do you wish would do an event near you?)
The events at Foyles are always worth checking out as are those at Daunt Books. Nicole Krauss was here earlier in the year and I wanted to go SO MUCH, but couldn't
I'm a huge fan of audiobooks. What are your thoughts on them? If you are a fan, do you have any narrators you particularly enjoy? If you are not a fan or haven't tried them much, why is that?
Argh, audiobooks, you are my nemesis! Well, not nemesis exactly, but I feel like we should get along better than we do. My ears are just not able to stop my multi-tasking brain from multi-tasking. If I start to listen, I almost immediately start to think about something else. That said, I do like them for the car - and Tina Fey saved my life earlier in the year when I was painting my house.
Is there a particular author that you love so much that you would read anything he/she wrote, including a grocery list?
Virginia Woolf. Erm, I may have read every single biography of her that exists in print. And some that are out of print. Her Writer's Diary is just extraordinary.
What books are you most excited to share with your daughter when she is 4? 10? 16? 25?
Ooooh, we've already started :) She's currently reading The Tiger Who Came To Tea with her Dad. Four - maybe Narnia? Seems young, but my five year old niece loves them (I think she may have a crush on Aslan). Ten - The Exiles, by Hilary McKay. My sisters and I laughed hysterically at this. There are four girls who are obsessed with reading and their Grandma tries to break them of the habit by making them entertain themselves, so they are forced to resort to things like fishing in a bucket. 16 - I hope she'll be into the classics by now - Jane Eyre, The Woman in White, and Jane Austen. And 25 - I hope she'll be sharing books with me by then, so I know what the cool kids are reading when I'm old :)
If you were a Muppet, who would you be?
Beaker. My voice is kind of high pitched and squeaky ;)

I hope you all enjoyed getting to know Lyndsey as much as I did. Her blog was new to me but it is now a part of my Google Reader!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

BEA Book Review: 9/11: the world speaks

Excerpt from the back cover:

Almost two million people from across the United States and around the world have come through the museum galleries of the Tribute WTC Visitor Center since it opened in September 2006 across the street from the World Trade Center site. Many of these visitors have written their poignant reflections about the impact of September 11 on visitor cards collected in the Center's final gallery. To date, the Center has collected 200,000 cards written in 48 languages by people from 120 countries.

Why I Wanted This Book 

Back in 2001 my husband was a firefighter/paramedic in the Baltimore City Fire Department.  After the attacks in New York and DC (this was before we knew about PA) my husband wanted to drive directly to NYC and help out. I had to use all my energy to convince him to come back in the house - there was nothing he could have done to help because he had dislocated his shoulder and was on heavy pain medication while he waited for surgery to be scheduled. As the days wore on we found out that he knew several of the firefighters who were killed in New York, and also two people who were on the planes.  Today my husband is not the same person that he was on 9/10/11; the events on 9/11/01 changed him forever.  They changed me as well, but not in the same way. I was 5 months pregnant with Kiddo, and I grieved for the world that he would grow up in.

My husband and I watch the 9/11 programming every year, and we have DVDs of many of the memorials, newscasts, and movies related to it.  I want to visit the place where the World Trade Center once stood (my husband was there on the 6 month annivesary of the attacks) and see the Tribute Center across the street. This book features notes from the Tribute Center, and I think they are important to share with the world.

My Thoughts

This is a book that with both make you proud and make your heart hurt. The majority of the messages included are from people outside New York reflecting on how 9/11 affected them. Most of those are inspiring to read and made me optimistic about the future of the world.  Some of them expressed such compassion and love that it literally made me cry.  Other messages are from people who lost loved ones in the attacks and those broke my heart.  One particular message was from a child who was born two months after his father died in one of the towers. All I could think about was how that child could have been Kiddo.  Quite a few of the messages included drawings that expressed more than words could ever say.

My husband started reading this book but he didn't get too far - some of it was just too painful for him. I think he'll continue reading though, and I think it will be good for him.  I read some of the messages to Kiddo to help him understand the enormity of the tragedy - it isn't as real for him, and I think personal notes like this will help with that.

A Book from BEA

I wish I could remember which publicist at which BEA booth handed this book to me. I remember talking to a woman about several books at the booth and getting very excited when she showed me this one, but I can't remember anything other than that.  If anyone knows which booth this book came from please let me know - I'd love to thank the person who gave it to me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dueling Monsters is coming soon!

Dueling Monsters Round 3 is coming in October! Details will be announced on Sept. 17. Any guesses as to what we'll be reading this year? Hint: Check out the button below.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mini Reviews: 4 books

I'm still behind on reviews so here are a few quick thoughts on some of my recent read/listens. For a summary of these books please click on the title.

Bonesetter's DaughterThe Bonesetter's Daughter, by Amy Tan - audiobook (11.9 hours) - narrated by Amy Tan and Chen Joan Tan - I enjoyed THE JOY LUCK CLUB year ago and haven't read anything by Tan since then. This was available for download from my library so I decided to give it a listen. And it was ok. Not great, but ok. Parts of the book were very moving and other parts were very intriguing, but the story as a whole didn't capture me. I think in part this was because I didn't identify with the relationship between the mother and daughter main characters.  Still, it was generally enjoyable to listen to, even if it won't stick with me long-term.

Heart of Lies: A NovelHeart of Lies, by M.L. Malcolm - 352 pages - I've had this book since BEA in 2010 - sad, right?! I met the author and really enjoyed chatting with her, so I was definitely looking forward to reading this. Unfortunately I didn't end up loving the book. The story is strongly based on the love between the two main characters, but I wasn't convinced of that love so the story didn't really work for me. I picked up the follow-up book, Heart of Deception, at BEA 2011 and I still plan to read it, but I'm not in any hurry to do so.

Click image to view full coverThe Gunman's Rhapsody, by Robert Parker - audiobook (5.3 hours) - narrated by Ed Begley, Jr - This is a retelling of the Wyatt Earp story. Although it was well-written and I enjoyed listening to it, I can't say that it gave me any new insight into the story or the people involved.

Click image to view full coverThe Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, by Pat F. Garrett - audiobook (5.5 hours) - narrated by Daniel Luna - Alright, I have to admit that I didn't finish this one.  My husband and I started listening to it on a long drive and we made it about halfway through. Once we got home, we never got around to listening to the rest of it. It wasn't bad but it didn't really pull me in either, so I didn't feel like I was missing out on much by not finishing it.
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