Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Once Upon a Time II

Yes, I'm joining another challenge. I know it's kind of like watching a train wreck. I haven't been very successful in the past, but I just can't seem to help myself. They all seem like so much fun. So, I'm joining the Once Upon a Time II challenge hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings. It runs from March 21 to June 20 and the rules are:

  • Quest One: Read five books from any category or combination of category (myth, folklore, fairy tale and fantasy).
  • Quest Two: Read one book from each of the four categories.
  • Quest Three: Choose EITHER Quest one OR two AND also read Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
I'm choosing Quest Three in which I'll read five books from any category and A Midsummer Night's Dream on June 20. I'll choose five out of the following:

  • The Secret Garden
  • Dream Angus
  • Coraline
  • Penelopiad
  • Transformations
  • Son of a Witch
  • Mirror, Mirror

Orbis Terrarum

I've decided to join this challenge because I'd like to read more books by authors outside the U.S. The rules for this one are simple:

  • Read 9 books between April 1 and December 20
  • Books must be by 9 different authors from 9 different countries
  • Overlaps with other challenges are allowed

Here are the ones I've chosen so far, although I may change my mind later. Believe it or not, these are all books that I already have on my tbr pile, so I didn't have to buy anything for this one.

  • Mosaic Crimes (Italy)
  • The Book Thief (Australia)
  • Alias Grace (Canada)
  • Lolita (Russia)
  • Love in the Time of Cholera (Colombia)
  • Love Over Scotland (Scotland)
  • Secret Lives of People in Love (England)
  • Shadow of the Wind (Spain)
  • Picture of Dorian Gray (Ireland)

Want to join me?

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A friend gave me a nice 'gift' edition of this book several years ago for my birthday. She said it was one of her favorites from childhood. It's one of those books that I somehow missed growing up. I wasn't as avid a reader as I am now, but I did read more than most kids I knew. But, this one slipped through the cracks. I'm so glad my friend gave it to me, and I'm glad I finally pulled it out of the middle of one of the teetering towers of books taking over my house. I loved it. Most of you reading this will have no doubt read this book, but in case there are still those who haven't read it, it's basically a story about two children who are thrown together through a series of circumstances beyond their control. Mary Lennox is a spoiled, willful, 10-year old child living with her parents in India. She's given everything a child could possibly want, except love and affection. She has little contact with her parents and is raised by her Ayah, a nursemaid. The reader learns how Mary came to be the spoiled, unhappy child that she is on the first page of the book.

"Her father had held a position under the English government and had always been busy and ill himself, and her mother had been a great beauty who cared only to go to parties and amuse herself with carefree people. She had not wanted a little girl at all, and when Mary was born she handed her over to the care of an Ayah, who was made to understand that if she wished to please the Mem Sahib she must keep the child out of sight as much as possible. . . She never remembered seeing familiarly anything but the dark faces of her Ayah and the other native servants, and as they always obeyed her and gave her own way in everything, because the Mem Sahib would be angry if she was disturbed by her crying, by the time she was six years old she was a tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived."

During a terrible cholera outbreak, both her parents are stricken and die suddenly along with many of the servants. The few servants that remain flee to escape the epidemic, and Mary is forgotten and left alone. When she is discovered, it's decided that she'll be sent to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven at Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire, England. Mary soon learns from the housekeeper that her uncle and his home are both eerily strange.

" It sounded like something in a book and it did not make Mary feel cheerful. A house with a hundred rooms, nearly all shut up and with their doors locked -- a house on the edge of a moor -- whatsoever a moor was -- sounded dreary. A man with a crooked back who shut himself up also!"

Mary is given two rooms in which she is allowed to live and is told not to go poking around the house. But, Mary soon discovers that there's more to this house than meets the eye. She hears a mysterious cry in the night several times and begins to investigate. She stumbles upon a hidden room in which there is a little boy alone and crying. She soon learns that Mr. Craven has a son who lives a life similar to the one Mary had lived in India. Colin is given anything he wants and knows that the servants must obey his every command, which has made him a very disagreeable little boy. Colin's mother died giving birth to him, and his father hasn't had much of anything to do with his son since. He secretly blames the child for his mother's death and is also afraid that the child will become a hunchback because he's such a sickly, feeble child. Neither Mary nor Colin have ever had a friend, but they find a kinship in their similar circumstances and slowly build a friendship.

Colin is not the only discovery that Mary makes. She stumbles onto a secret garden that has been neglected and locked up for the last ten years (since the death of Mrs. Craven). With the help of a robin, she discovers the hidden key and enters the garden. Mary becomes obsessed with restoring the garden. It's obvious even in its present state, that it was once a very beautiful place with a air of magic. She enlists the help of Dickon, a local village boy with the ability to 'talk' to animals, in helping her bring the garden back to life. The garden begins to work its magic on Mary and Colin and finally plays a role in changing the lives of everyone in the story forever.

This is one of those books that should be read aloud. The language is beautiful. I have no doubt that I'll read this book again at some point. Hopefully to my future grandchildren!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

"You cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames."

I love this quote from Mister Pip, which takes it's title from the main character of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. The story unfolds slowly as the reader begins to piece together what's happening. The author doesn't feel it necessary to explain things to the reader, which is quite nice. I often lose interest in a book when an author spends the better part of a book just laying the groundwork for the story. The book is set on an island off the coast of New Zealand, which is caught in the middle of some type of civil war or uprising for control of the copper mines. When the trouble begins, all of the island's white inhabitants flee, except for Mr. Watts. He is married to a black woman who grew up on the island, and for whatever reason they stay. The couple is very aloof and remains somewhat of a mystery to the rest of the island population. The only time the couple is seen is when they appear on the beach with Mr. Watts pulling his wife on a trolley as if they are in a parade. They act as if there is no one else in the world, and they don't speak to each other or anyone else. To make the scene even more strange, sometimes Mr. Watts will wear a red clown's nose during these processions. The children, of course think they are crazy and have nicknamed him Popeye because of his appearance.

Out of the blue, Mr. Watts announces that he will reopen the island school for the children in the absence of their teacher. He explains up front that he's not an educator by trade, but that he'll do his best to stimulate the children's minds. His main way of doing this is by reading Great Expectations aloud to the children. In the midst of all the turmoil of their young lives, this gives them an opportunity to escape to another world, at least for a short time each day. Matilda is especially fascinated by this foreign world. She doesn't always understand what she hears, but she comes to care deeply about Pip. It's obvious to her that this story has a special meaning for Mr. Watts. We don't find out until much later the significance of the book and the other questions regarding Mr. Watts and his wife, such as the "parades" and why they didn't leave when they had the opportunity -- before the fighting comes all too close to the village.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

80 Online Resources for Book Lovers

As many of you who visit here know by now -- I like lists. I know they don't make for great reading, but I like passing them along when I feel others may find something useful. I found this one at iLibrarian who got it from Zigmas Bigelis' Blog. Many of the sites on the list you may already know about, but there may be a few gems you haven't yet discovered. Check it out here.

Best Last Lines from Novels

The American Book Review published a list of the best last lines of novels. I've reprinted the top 10 here without the title or author so you can give it a guess if you'd like. Some of them are pretty obvious. You can take a look at the entire list here to see if you guessed correctly.

Top 10 Last Lines from Novels:

1. must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on.

2. Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?

3. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

4. ...I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

5. But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can't stand it. I been there before.

6. "Yes," I said. "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

7. He loved Big Brother.

8. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

9. The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky -- seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.

10. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.

What do you think is more important or makes a bigger impression in a novel -- a great first line or a great last line?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Weekend Reading Update

I had a nice relaxing weekend full of reading. I finished John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things and The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley. I thoroughly enjoyed both of these books, but they couldn't be more different. The only other experience I've had with Connolly is his book of short stories that have remained in my "Current Reading" for quite a while now. I've read probably three or four of the short stories but haven't written about them, yet. I'm trying to complete the Short Story Reading Challenge, but I'm not sure if I'll do it or not. I like the stories that I've read, but for whatever reason, I just don't pick it up very often. I guess I'm pretty much a monogamous reader -- it's one at a time for me.

The Book of Lost Things tells the story of 12-year old David who loses his mother to illness. David is absolutely lost when she dies, and he only finds solace in his books -- the books that he and his mother had shared. Things become worse for David when after a short period his father announces that his new girlfriend is pregnant and they'll soon marry. Oh, and if that's not enough, they must move from London to his new stepmother's house in the country. This is during the worst years of WWII, and the Germans have begun to drop bombs on the city. On the same night that a German plane crash lands in David's backyard, he finds his way into another world in a desperate attempt to find his mother. He thinks that he hears her voice calling to him for help. David encounters a world that defies description. He meets a few inhabitants that try to help him along on his search -- the Woodsman and Roland, but he meets many more inhabitants of this strange world who wish him harm -- the trolls, the harpies, and the loups (part wolf, part man).

Connolly uses familiar fairy tales with his own special twist to tell David's story of loss and fear. The fairy tales in David's new world are a little darker and in some cases a great deal darker than the ones we remember as children. But, David becomes stronger and better able to adjust to his new situation through each challenge.

In the back of the paperback edition that I read is an interview with John Connolly and "Some Notes on The Book of Lost Things." Connolly gives some background information on each of the fairy tales that's represented in the book. He begins each section with a quote from the book referencing the fairy tale and then gives information on the origin of the fairy tales, as well as the sometimes many different versions of the tales. Then, he reprints the best-known (usually Grimm's) version in its entirety. I found myself enjoying this part of the book almost as much as the novel.

I read The Haunted Bookshop in a couple sittings over the course of Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. It was written in 1918 by Christopher Morley and is set in Brooklyn, New York just after the end of WWI. The book is about Roger Mifflin, a secondhand bookstore owner, who has lofty ideals regarding the book trade. In fact, he believes that it's not a profession, but rather a calling. He also adheres to the school of thought in which it's believed that booksellers and librarians have a responsibility to put only the best literature into the hands of the people. This is a debate that was prevalent in the country during the early part of the century when the book was written. Today, of course, most librarians and booksellers simply attempt to give people what they want to read. But, I'm sure there are still some out there who would like to prescribe the appropriate reading material for the unknowing public. The shop described in this book is old and dusty -- full of stacks of books and tobacco smoke. Roger doesn't have a cash register and is happy when people come in to browse the shelves and end up reading for hours even if they don't ever purchase anything. The important thing is that they're reading 'good' books. Like most people who aren't familiar with this book, I assumed by the title that the bookshop was haunted. However, the title refers to the fact that the shop is

"haunted by the ghosts of the books I [Roger] haven't read. Poor uneasy spirits, they walk and walk around me. There's only one way to lay the ghost of a book, and that is to read it."

The book is full of literary references -- authors, book titles, and quotes abound. There is however a mystery to be solved in the story, which includes a German pharmacist (remember WWI just ended). However, in the end the book is meant to be read and enjoyed as a book about books. For me, the book is even better because of where I found this particular edition. There's a small bookshop in my area that more than resembles the bookshop of the novel, except for the fact that it's run by a woman named Lillian instead of a man named Roger. The shop is old and messy. The books aren't arranged the way they'd be in a library. There are stacks on the floor as high as five feet in some places. She doesn't sell books online. In fact, she doesn't even keep regular hours. You do well to call her at home before you stop by the shop. Yes, she gives out her home number. She doesn't do it for the money, obviously. She does it because she truly loves books and wants to share them and talk about them with others. I think somehow that Roger would approve of Lillian.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Secret Life of Bees

One of my favorite books is being made into a movie! The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd has been adapted for the big screen and will be released this summer. The movie will star Dakota Fanning as Lilly, which I think is spot on casting. Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson and Queen Latifah also have starring roles in the film. You can read more about it here. I'm not usually crazy about movies, especially movies adapted from a book that I love, but I'm anxious to see how this one turns out.

Many of you have probably already heard about BlogTalkRadio, but I hadn't until I saw it today over at BookClubGirl's blog. Here's the blurb from the site:

BlogTalkRadio is the social radio network that allows users to connect quickly and directly with their audience. Using an ordinary telephone and computer hosts can create free, live, call-in talk shows with unlimited participants that are automatically archived and made available as podcasts. No software download is required. Listeners can subscribe to shows via RSS into iTunes and other feed readers. Our network has produced tens of thousands of episodes since it launched in August of 2006.

There's a wide variety of topics on the site, including politics, current events, business, comedy, entertainment and a whole lot more. The category for 'books' currently has 726 episodes available. Jennifer, aka BookClubGirl, used the technology to record and post an author interview in which book club members phoned into the show with their questions.You can listen to Jennifer's interview with author Jamie Saul here.

You can sign up to be a host or a listener or both. I haven't had time to do anything more than simply listen to this one post, but I can definitely see the value of this technology. This is just one more way for readers to connect with the authors and books that they love.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Website for The Translator

After receiving a copy of The Translator by Daoud Hari from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program, I reviewed the book here and also sent a copy of the review to Random House. I received a nice e-mail thanking me for taking the time to read and review the book. Random House has a website for the book, which will be in bookstores on March 18. Of course, the site has information regarding the book -- an interview with the author, pictures, an audio clip from the book, as well as a reader's guide and a teacher's guide is promised soon. What makes the site for this book special is the fact that there is useful information regarding the genocide in Darfur and ways in which we can help. Please take a moment and go check it out.

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood

The only experience I've had to this point with Atwood is The Handmaid's Tale, which I absolutely adore. When I read it last year, I couldn't believe how relevant it is to today's political climate, having been written in the 1980s. But, I think that's part of Atwood's considerable talent. Cat's Eye has some of the same elements -- women and relationships, the power people have over others, faith or the lack of faith, and regret over what might have been.

Cat's Eye is the story of Elaine Risley who was born and raised in Toronto in the years following WWII. Elaine is now a moderately successful artist (although she prefers the term painter) living with her second husband, Ben and her two daughters in Vancouver. She returns to Toronto for a retrospective of her work and must face the demons that she has failed to exercise since leaving the city. Through flashbacks, Elaine recalls the challenges she faced as a child. From all appearances, she had a very typical childhood. In one way, the things she describes seem like the sorts of things we all went through as children -- being teased and left out. However, there's something more sinister about the way Elaine is treated by her 'friends' -- Carol, Grace and Cordelia. At one point, she is actually buried in a hole at night by the other girls. On the way home from school one day, she falls through the ice of a creek and almost dies. The other girls run off (I don't think they knew she had fallen in) and tell her mother that she had gotten in trouble and had to stay after school. Thankfully, her mother sees through the girls and goes to look for Elaine. The entire middle portion of the book contains situations such as these. It becomes almost too much for the reader at times. It sounds heartless, but at times I wanted to shout at the adult Elaine to just get over it. It's in the past. We all go through terrible things. But in the next few pages, I would find myself almost at the point of tears. Elaine is very gullible and naive, and her 'friends' take advantage of this. I actually remembered some things that happened to me as a child while reading this book. Oh, nothing quite as horrible, but still it was bad at the time.

I often found myself wondering why Elaine's mother didn't do something. After all, she had to know that Elaine was miserable. Didn't she? But, I don't guess that's fair. Elaine didn't tell her parents anything about what went on among the girls. Again, looking back there are things that happened to me that I never said anything about to my parents, either. Towards the end of the book, Elaine has a conversation with her mom who is now quite elderly and ill. As they're going through things from an old trunk, her mother tells her that she knew 'those girls' were giving her a hard time. She wanted to protect her, but she didn't really know how. Sometimes intervening in situations only make things worse. But, then again she didn't know how far things had often gone.

Elaine loses contact with Carol and Grace when they go to high school, but Cordelia remains a constant in Elaine's life. They consider themselves best friends, though it's not ever a healthy relationship for either of the girls. Elaine begins to see that Cordelia has demons of her own. She lacks the security of a healthy home that Elaine possesses. She also lacks Elaine's considerable intelligence and talent, as well. When Cordelia begins to self-destruct, she reaches out to Elaine. However, Elaine isn't able to help her. She doesn't know how; she doesn't really want to. Not because she's cruel or hates Cordelia. It's just too much for her. Elaine will carry this guilt with her throughout her life.

This book made me glad all over again that I had boys. Girls can be so ruthless and heartless in their treatment of each other. Yes, boys fight, but it's violent, quick, and then it's over. They're friends again. They don't hold secret grudges. They don't talk about each other behind their backs. They sometimes perpetrate superficial physical wounds, but girls often inflict emotional wounds that last a lifetime, which is certainly the case with Elaine Risley.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Reading Recap for January and February 2008

The following are the books that I've read for the year thus far. I think it's quite a diverse list (for me, anyway). It contains a couple classics, some genre fiction, some nonfiction, a couple arcs and some YA literature. Some of the books have been in my tbr pile, but others were chosen because they were part of reading challenges or for book discussion groups. Just for fun, the breakdown looks like this.
  • Total number of pages: 5,194
  • Number of fiction: 15
  • Number of nonfiction: 2
  • YA Literature: 4
  • Reading challenge books: 2
  • Book club/discussion group books: 3
  • Arcs: 3
  • For class: 6
  • Books reviewed: 13 (links are to the original review)
The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks
The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis
Perelandra (Space Trilogy, Book 2) by C. S. Lewis
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Last Battle (Chronicles of Narnia) by C. S. Lewis
The Magician's Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia) by C. S. Lewis
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia) by C. S. Lewis
The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari
They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The Essential C. S. Lewis edited by Lyle W. Dorsett
Pushing Up Daisies (A Dirty Business Mystery) by Rosemary Harris
The Uncommon Reader: A Novella by Alan Bennett
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
The Tin Roof Blowdown (A Dave Robicheaux Novel) by James Lee Burke
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

This weekend I'll finish up Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood for the the third installment of the Year of Reading Dangerously. I'm enjoying it so far, but I think I still like The Handmaid's Tale better. I have an Anchor Books edition, which is full of typos, which is driving me crazy. I'm also reading Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters, which will probably take a while since I'm just dipping into it here and there. It's interesting to see what he was like as a little boy and what influenced him as a writer. It's kind of weird to be reading personal correspondence. I don't really write many letters, but if I did I'm not sure I would want them published after my death. There is something about it that seems wrong in a way. I don't know, maybe it's just me. I'm not very far into this collection of letters. Right now, Doyle is still a young boy away at school. He had a very annoying habit of writing entire letters without capitalization or punctuation, which makes them a little difficult to read. I've skipped ahead and found that he does indeed begin to use punctuation a little more later on. Thank goodness!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Read an Ebook Week

I'm not a big reader of Ebooks. I've tried reading books through Project Gutenberg. I've tried reading books through DailyLit. But, if I'm reading for pleasure, I want to hold the book in my hand. I know there are many of you out there who have no problem with reading via computer monitors or handheld devices, such as the new Amazon Kindle; however, I just can't. I can see some of the benefits of E-books, especially for technical writing -- textbooks, reports, etc. So, I ran across this at iLibrarian and thought I would share it in honor of Read an Ebook Week, which runs March 2 - 8.

Edited to include: I inadvertently left out NetLibrary as a source for Ebooks. NetLibrary is a good source for technical books and fiction. NetLibrary also now provides access to a number of audio books, as well. Pfeiffer students can access NetLibrary titles through the library's home page. Once there, click on "Find an Article" and then click on "NetLibrary" in the list of "Commonly Used Databases." If you're off campus, you'll need to provide authentication information. Most public libraries have access to a collection of Ebooks and audio books either through NetLibrary or another vendor.