Monday, December 29, 2008

Recovering from the Holidays

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. I enjoyed time with friends and family. I always have a hard time waiting for Christmas because I want my family to open the gifts that I bought them. The anticipation of watching them open gifts drives me crazy. I badgered my husband so much that he finally relented and opened a couple presents before Christmas morning. Of course, he made me open one for every one that he opened. We'll be married 22 years in May, and it is starting to show. We are beginning to think alike. We both bought each other a CD. We both bought each other books. The funniest thing is the big gift that we got each other. He got a Harley Davidson motorcycle back in August. He's been wanting a HD leather jacket, but they're very expensive. So, I started looking around and found one on eBay for less than $200 with free shipping/handling. It was new with the tags. So, of course I ordered it for him and couldn't wait for him to open it. Little did I know, but he had done the same thing. He ordered the exact same coat (except mine is a woman's) for me. Both of our boys knew what we had gotten each other and couldn't wait to see us open our gifts. It was pretty funny. The boys got me a beautiful piece of pottery and a digital picture frame. Of course, the best part was all being together -- happy and healthy. I'm looking forward to a great 2009! I wish everyone the same thing.

In case you're curious, the books that I received for Christmas are:

If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino
Serena by Ron Rash
Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman
The Gravedigger's Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I've started If on a winter's night a traveler. I really don't know what to expect from this one. It sounds so very strange. However, there is a really nice introduction that has helped somewhat. I love the idea of this book, and I hope I'll actually enjoy reading it, as well.

I finished Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier and really enjoyed it. I"ll be posting a short review soon. I also hope to catch up on my blog reading over the next couple of days. Right now, I'm off to clean out a couple of closets.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Christmas Letters by Lee Smith

This is a novella by the North Carolina author who wrote On Agate Hill and The Last Girls to name just a few. It tells the story of three generations of women through the annual Christmas letters they write to friends and family. I always enjoy reading books that are told through letters and/or diary entries. This is a new take on that format for me. It really worked well in this case. You'd think that you couldn't convey all that much about a family in a relatively short annual letter; however, Smith manages to paint a vivid picture of these characters and how their lives are intertwined over place and time. It begins with Birdie writing home to her family as she is spending her first days away from home with her in-laws while her new husband is away fighting in WWII. Smith captures the excitement and the fear in the young bride's words without being overly sentimental. Birdie describes how much she loves taking care of her new baby, Mary in subsequent letters.

It's this same child that takes up writing Christmas letters for the family years later. Mary had always been a very intelligent girl and dreamed of going to college. However, she quits school to elope. The children soon begin to come and life takes over as it often does. The reader sees the passage of time in society as well as in the family as the letters continue throughout the years. Just as in real life, there are joys and heartbreaks along the way.

It's Mary's daughter Melanie who takes up the post to write the Christmas letters when she comes of age. Though things have changed in many ways, they are still a family. As always, Lee Smith does a great job portraying these characters as real people that I easily identify with. This is a book that I'll probably revisit often at Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fleece Navidad by Maggie Sefton

I know it's hard to believe, but I actually finished this book. It's been lingering in my 'currently reading' sidebar for what seems like ages. Again, I have to blame it on the furious knitting activity that has been taking place at my house. I've finished two scarves and four hats in the last couple of weeks. That may not seem like a whole lot, but combined with work and getting ready for Christmas, it's pretty good. I wrapped my very last gift last night, and now I can get back to reading!

This book is part of the Knitting Mystery series by Maggie Sefton. I've read all of the previous five books and have enjoyed them. However, this one was kind of a let down. I don't think it is actually the book itself. I just think I'm tired of the series. I begin to lose interest with the same set of characters, same setting, and similar plot lines after several books. The biggest draw for me in the beginning was all the references to knitting -- descriptions of new projects, luscious yarns, etc. However, I don't think even that can keep me interested much longer.

Kelly Flynn, CPA and part-time sleuth, gets involved in another mystery in the small Colorado town of Fort Connor when a woman is killed in a hit and run. At first it appears to be an accident, but it soon turns out to be something more sinister.

I am not usually a very astute reader. I don't normally look for the clues in mysteries. So, even though I may have some idea about who dunnit, I'm not usually sure about it until close to the end of the book. However, in this case, it was blatantly obvious early on. Again, it's a fun read, but I think I need to take a break from the series, at least for a while.

One thing I did like about this one is that it contained more than the usual one recipe and one knitting pattern. Instead, it contained five knitting patterns and seven recipes.

I'm beginning Lee Smith's Christmas Letters today and look forward to something with a little more substance.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Secret Santa has Arrived!

I got home from work yesterday and had several packages waiting on me. One contained several things I ordered for my husband for Christmas and the other was from my Secret Santa. It turns out that my Secret Santa is Lisa C. from BooksListsLife in South Dakota. My box contained a Ruth Rendell Inspector Wexford Mystery, End in Tears. It also contained a package of lovely bookplates and an adorable cloth jewelry bag. I know I should really post a picture, but I forgot my camera. It's always so exciting to receive gifts in the mail, especially when they're as nice as this one. Thanks, Lisa! Another nice surprise is the fact that I've discovered a new book blogger that I didn't know before.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Read Your Name Challenge

O.K., I think I can handle this one, too. Victoria is hosting the Read Your Name Challenge 2009. The idea is simple -- read books that begin with the letters of your name. For me, this will only require four books! Visit Victoria's challenge blog for all the rules. Here is my list:

L = Love in the time of Cholera (overlap with What's in a Name Challenge)

I= Icy Sparks by Gwyn Rubio

S= The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

A = Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout OR Anna Karenia by Tolstoy

Once again, these are all books that I already own. So, I'm not buying new books, and I'm whittling away at the tbr mountain.

Let's Try this Again!

I don't consider myself all that great at finishing reading challenges; however, that doesn't mean that I don't like signing up for them and deciding which books I want to read. It's fun to look through all the books I have patiently waiting to be read and try to match them up with these creative reading challenges. I will try not to sign up for too many in 2009, but I'm not going to make any hasty promises. The first one I'm signing up for is one that I haven't attempted in the past -- What's in a Name? Go take a look at Annie's blog for the official rules.

These are my choices for this challenge (so far):

What’s in a Name Challenge 2009

  • A book with a profession in its title: The Archivist by Martha Cooley OR Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
  • A book with the time of day in its title: The Curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon
  • A book with a relative in its title: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger OR The Good Mother by Sue Miller OR The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards OR The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
  • A book with a body part in its title: One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash
  • A book with a building in its title: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
  • A book with a medical condition in its title: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

We'll see how this one goes. I'm excited about my choices for this one. To make it even better, all of these are books from my own personal stacks, so I'm not buying new books.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Year End Reading Wrap Up

I know 2008 is not technically over, yet. However, I know how busy I'm going to be for the remainder of the year. So, I'm going to go ahead and do my end of year wrap up. I guess I was semi-successful with the reading challenges that I participated in this year. At least I was more successful this year than last year. That's progress, right? I completed the following challenges:

Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge

Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge

Carl's R.I.P. III Challenge

I almost completed Andi's Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge. I finished every book through September. If I could have managed to read The Human Stain by Philip Roth, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and a short story collection, I would have completed this challenge. But, I did read nine of the twelve books for this challenge. So, that's pretty good.

I did terrible with the Orbus Terrarum Challenge. There were nine books for this one, and I think I read four.

I also set myself the challenge to read 52 books this year. I know that isn't a huge number compared with some of you that I see in the book blogging world. But, with my schedule, that's a reasonable number -- one a week. I'm happy to report that I have actually surpassed that goal this year. As of right now, I have read 62 books! I know I will complete at least one more. I'm hoping to read three more before January 1. Either way, I'm happy with this number.

Some statistics just for fun:

Fiction: 59
Non-Fiction: 3
YA: 9
Poetry: 1
Classics: 6
Southern Literature: 6
ARC: 4
Graphic Novels: 2
Books in Series: 11
Own: 55
Borrowed: 7
Mystery: 3
Gothic: 4

Nothing really very surprising here. I always read a lot more fiction, and I love the classics and Southern lit. As you can tell, I also buy most of my books. The only time I borrow a book from the library or from someone is when it is for a book club and it's not something I would want to read otherwise. I guess the biggest surprises would have to be the graphic novels and the YA lit. Maus I and Maus II were actually the first two graphic novels I've ever read. I wasn't sure how I would like the experience, but I was pleasantly surprised.

I tried to come up with a top 5 for 2008, but it is absolutely impossible. So, I'm choosing a top 10 instead. I don't finish books that I don't like so I like everything that I read. Of course, I like some more than others, but it's still a difficult task to choose.

Here is my top 10 list for 2008 in no particular order:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Speaking of Love by Angela Young
Light in August by William Faulkner
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

I like looking back over what I've read throughout the year. Thinking about a book I've read takes me back to the time and place when I was reading it. Now, I'm looking forward to the holidays, some well deserved time off work, and planning what I want to read in 2009!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Book Club 2009

One of my book clubs met Tuesday night for the last time in 2008. We had a really nice time. For something a little different, we had a book exchange. We all brought a book that meant something to us. The books were all nicely wrapped and looked really pretty sitting in the middle of the table. The books were numbered and we each drew a number to determine who got which book. Then, we each went around the room and showed the book that we received, and the person that brought that book explained why she chose that book and why it is special to her. It was really neat. I received One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash. The person who brought it explained that this is one of her favorite authors, and that this was his first book. She is currently reading his latest book, Serena, which she says she can't put down. An extra bonus is that he's a North Carolina author.

I took To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This is my all-time favorite book. It's the first book that I remember reading that made a huge impact on me. I was 14 years old, and I read it on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Autumn. I read the entire book while laying in a hammock in our side yard. I've reread it many times since that day. A couple years ago, my husband found me a first edition copy on eBay for our anniversary. I learned later that he had searched for months. Needless to say, this is one of my most treasured books.

We also set our reading calendar for 2009. Surprisingly enough, I haven't read any of these books. However, I do have several in the stacks at home. Here's the list:

The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
by John Boyne
Three Cups of Tea
by Greg Mortenson
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines
Cold Sassy Tree
by Olive Ann Burns
The Camel Bookmobile
by Masha Hamilton
The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard
Run by Ann Patchett
Tortilla Curtain by T.C Boyle
One Book/One Community (tba -- we'll participate in the county reading program)
Nickel & Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
The Christmas Letters by Lee Smith

I'm pretty excited about most of these. The only one I probably wouldn't read on my own is Nickel & Dimed simply because I don't usually read that type if non-fiction. But, I'll probably read and may even like it. That has certainly happened in the past. That's one of the great things about a book club. It sometimes forces you to stretch your reading horizons a bit.

I'm still only reading little bits here and there -- certainly not like I normally read. But, I've finished a couple of the items I'm knitting for Christmas and hopefully will have more time to read soon. I'm starting to have some serious withdrawals.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Therese Raquin

I finished this book a while ago and just haven't had time to post about it. I've been busy knitting desperately trying to get some Christmas presents done. I really haven't been doing much reading at all. I have started a 'knitting novel' for one of my December book clubs, though.

This novel by Emile Zola apparently caused quite a stir when it was first published in 1868. The novel tells the tragic story of Therese and her lover Laurent and the lengths that they go to in order to be together. For the time, the sex scenes were quite explicit, and the author was actually accused of pornography. I personally didn't think they were that explicit and don't think most people today would be offended by them. The Penguin Classics edition that I read contains a preface in which Zola defends his work against these accusations.

Therese is taken in by a woman after she is orphaned and is raised with the woman's sickly son, Camille. It's just assumed by all that the two will marry one day, which they do. The three live a relatively happy life until Camille brings a young man home with him one day. Laurent awakens feelings in Therese that she has never experienced before. The two begin an affair and become obsessed with possessing each other. This is not a sweet story of a forbidden love. Instead, it quickly turns into a very dark tale, and Therese and Laurent find themselves in a living nightmare.