Monday, April 29, 2013

Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future."

Review:  Based loosely on the Cinderella story, Cinder reminds me more of a young Anakin Skywalker for some reason, echoing a Star Wars-esqe landscape.  Set in the future, at a time when humans and machines live side by side, the idea of our main character being a mechanic doesn't seem so far fetched.  With her talents as a mechanic, she comes in contact with Prince Kai, and helps to repair machinery for the prince.  The two become friends, but he is a prince and Cinder a low-ranking mechanic.

As far as retellings go, I really worried about this one.  I didn't really want to have a step by step retelling, and Cinder really managed not to simply retell, but to re-envision.  I liked Cinder a lot and found her sweet, unassuming, and brave.  Her mechanical talents were interesting and added a certain, "I can do it on my own" sort of flavor to her personality.  Prince Kai recognizes this independence in her, which only seems to enhance her inner beauty.  Let me now forget to mention, however, that Prince Kai seems like a pretty swell guy himself.  He not only sounds handsome, but is generous and humble.  What's not to like in a person in power who seems to have missed it all going straight to his head.

The twists in this story are different enough to make it feel like a new tale.  I liked the interesting conflict that the illness that was running amok in the society created, along with the intergalactic characters who arrived to add to the tension in the story.  This really isn't what you're expecting and was pretty entertaining overall.  I really would recommend it to anyone, boy or girl, young or old.  Luckily, we can all go read the next installment, Scarlet, which is supposed to be a play on Little Red Riding Hood.  I have high hopes! 

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the novel.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Great Gatsby Read Along: Chapters 3 and 4

Thanks for your patience this last week.  Midterms and prom really kicked me in the behind.  I don't think life is going to slow down much until the end of May, but this last week was just a bit crazier than normal, so thanks again for waiting on me!!!

Let's talk Jay Gatsby!  We know that he is the central character of this novel, and yet we don't learn much about him until Chapter 3.  It seems to me that authors usually like to introduce that main character to us much earlier than we see here.  In some ways, holding off until this third chapter added this element of mystery that has been built around him.

Right off, I have to say that I loved the descriptions about the party.  Maybe it's the foodie in me, but I love some good food references along with the style, fashion, and mood of the scene.  The mention of the oranges, the baked meats, and varied liquor all gave it that extra luxurious feel.  Fitzgerald didn't have to tell us Gatsby was rich, he SHOWED us in the most alluring ways. 

The one thing I noticed outside of the visuals created by the party was the references to colors, "his blue gardens" (39), "yellow cocktail music" (40), and "a uniform of robin-egg's blue" (41).  These interested me mainly because I couldn't quite put together why certain colors matched what it was describing.  I can see the uniform being a blue color, maybe as a certain stand out color, but gardens that are blue or music that is yellow?  I've been mulling that one and have only determined that they lend a certain tone and interest factor to the scene.

What descriptions most stood out to you as you read these chapters?

Gatsby definitely has charisma and charm, which is reflected in chapters 3 and 4.  One moment in chapter 3 especially made me want to understand Gatsby, and that is after he initially introduces himself to Nick and admits that he is not the best host.  He gives Nick a look:
He smiled understandingly--much more than understandingly.  It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance over it, that you may come across four of five times in life.  It faced--or seemed to face--the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.  It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, hoped to convey. (48)
I loved this description of Gatsby, and have to say that besides feeling somewhat sad for him for not being involved in his own parties, I also can see how his actions and descriptions like this make us want to know Gatsby's background so we can understand him better.  What kind of sadness lurks behind a facade like this? 

So, what is Gatsby's story? He pulls Jordan Baker aside, which Nick later learns has to do with her connection to Daisy.  He hears rumors of Gatsby being a bootlegger and a German spy.  Then, in chapter 4 Gatsby, himself, introduces Nick to Mr. Wolfsheim--the guy who fixed the 1919 World Series?!?  All of the stories, and Gatsby's own "side-eyed" account of his life at Oxford, in the Great War, and awarded a medal of honor from places like Montenegro, all seem too colorful to believe.  If true, what a colorful and interesting character.

Once again, I find Nick an interesting observer in all of this.  Is Gatsby's interest in Nick just because of his connection to Daisy, and the fact that he is Gatsby's next door neighbor?

 My favorite part of the reading for this last section was Jordan Baker's reminiscences and story.  We finally get to hear about Daisy's early connection to Jay Gatsby prior to the war, followed by her marriage to Tom--who cheats on Daisy within a week of their marriage.  After telling Daisy's story, Jordan reveals her sympathy for all Daisy has put up with in Tom and tells Nick, "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.  And Daisy ought to have something in her life" (79).  In other words, she wants Nick to host Daisy at his home so that she can look onto Gatsby's property. 

These are interesting turns in the story, and I really was left wondering how Nick is supposed to feel about all of this.  Isn't he being pulled into a drama that can only be bad news?  These are high-rollers he's associating with, who are "cheating" in their personal and public lives.  At this point in the story, let the drama ensue!

We're obviously setting the ground work for additional drama to come.  Here are just a few questions I wanted to pose and have been considering:
  1. What do you think of Gatsby's absence from his own parties?
  2. Is Gatsby a character you feel sympathy or cynicism towards?
  3. Are we supposed to feel for Daisy as Jordan does, and if she really wanted to meet up with Gatsby again, wouldn't she already have done it?
  4. Is there anything else that stood out to you or you questioned?
Please share if you would like!  Whether you've drafted up a blog post with your thoughts (which I hope you'll link), or you share some of your thoughts in the comments, I hope you jump in.

Just as a reminder, the next couple of days we'll be reading Chapters 5-6.  Happy reading!  I hope to see what you're thinking!

Dewey's Read-a-Thon: Final Survey

Well, I lasted about fifteen minutes after I posted that final blog post.  I put the laptop away, grabbed my book, and literally faded into sleep.  Talk about a quick transition!  I still think it was successful day all-round, for all that I was able to read and get accomplished.  Besides, it's nice touching base with so many other great bloggers and readers.

Here's my final survey, before I head off to catch up on our Great Gastby ReadAlong post for this last week and I can maybe even get a couple of reviews written for this week!
  1. Which hour was most daunting for you?  1:30 am, after Prom.  I just couldn't do it!
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?  I always recommend you break things up with a great graphic novel.  For me, it gets me going.  Outside of that, I just started Cinders and Sapphires by Leila Rasheed and absolutely love it.  I literally think I'll be up this evening finishing this one up, and I just started it!
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?  Nope.  I think they are so well run.  Thanks to everyone who puts so much time and effort into these!
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?  Everything. It's like a well-oiled machine by this point, to those of us on the outside.  Nice job!
  5. How many books did you read?  1 1/2--but I only was able to read for about 5 1/2 hours or so?
  6. What were the names of the books you read?  Relish by Lucy Knisley, and about another 200 pages in three other novels.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most?  So far, Cinders and Sapphires.
  8. Which did you enjoy least?  None of them.  I would have tossed them aside if so!  :)
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?  N/A
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?  I love participating in these.  They do tend to be tricky for me, as they are always during the school year, so I do the best I can.  I'd love to host another challenge again though.  That was really fun a year ago.

Dewey's Read-a-Thon: Hour 21--Dying on the Vine

I just got back from chaperoning the prom and am feeling like I want to take a stab at an hour or two of reading.  I might just end up with the lights on and a book on my face, fast asleep, but I'm going to try for a bit. 

I have to say that the prom was fun!  I'm kicking myself that I didn't climb the steps in the capitol building to take a picture of the crowd.  It was pretty impressive.  We had over 900 kids attend, and it was a mad house of sequins, tuxedos, and sweat.  After standing all evening on marble floors, my poor feet probably hurt worse than the ladies with the six inch heels I saw tonight.  It was fun though, and I loved seeing so many of my students there.  I'm hoping they can focus better now that prom and midterms are behind them!  We have five weeks of school left and a big AP test looming in less than two weeks.  Crazy!

Anyway, I'll get back to reading for a bit.  I can't say how long I'll last, but I'll give it a try...

Thanks for all the great cheers from our cheerleaders, and also the fun comments from my fellow book blogging friends.  Thanks guys!  You really are keeping me in it.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dewey's Read-a-Thon: Off to Prom!

I know it's a little odd to have someone say they're headed to the prom, but that's what I've got to gear up for now!  I'm helping out as a chaperone, with a group of other ladies I work with at school.  It's actually really fun, so I'm looking forward to it.  That does mean, however, that I have to take a time out from the readathon.  Here are my stats...

Books Read:  1 Graphic Novel, and rotated 30-40 pages through 3 other books
Hours Spent:  5 hours
Unintentional Naps:  One teeny 30 minute nap that side-swiped me.
Snacks:  Strawberries all gone!  Yes, that was healthy, but the two Diet Dr. Peppers, not so much.  :)
Challenges:  None yet, but I'd like to when I get back.  I really wanted to do a chunk of reading before I left.

All right.  I'm off to get ready!  Hopefully I'll be back for part of the final stretch.  Good luck to everyone!

Dewey's Read-a-Thon: And So It Begins

Yes, I'm finally off and running now.  I was up at 6 am to get started, but will admit that I fell back to sleep for another hour.  That will probably ensure I can stay awake later, right?  Anyway, I'm a bit of a Saturday flutter-bug, so I had to clean the kitchen and eat my breakfast first thing.  Now that it's all taken care of and I have a load of laundry in, I'm ready to roll!

Introductory Questionnaire

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?  Salt Lake City
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? 
Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella 3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?  Strawberries!  I bought a beautiful pack of strawberries, and I'm going to enjoy to my heart's content.  When they're gone, I have some yummy real fruit juice pops.  Yum!  (Yes, do you sense I'm on a fruit kick right now?  I think I'm ready for summer or something.) 4) Tell us a little something about yourself!  Hmm.  I think I'm a bit of an open book on my blog, but will say that I'm a bit of a book rotater, so readathons tend to stress me out when it comes to numbers.  Because I rotate, I sometimes don't finish a book from cover to finish.  Oh, something kind of fun is that for retirement, I told my financial planner that we have to save/plan so that I can spend my summers on a Greek island when I retire.  Serious.  It's one of my favorite places on the planet, so I see myself sitting in the sun outside a beautiful blue and white stone home, looking out over the Mediterranean.  Ah!  I destress just thinking about it!  :) 5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?  I always seem to be traveling or have something big happening on the day of the readathons.  I now try to just enjoy whatever part of it I can join in on!  Tonight I have to chaperone our school's prom, so I'll be taking a huge chunk out of the readathon to join up with a bunch of ladies I work with. I'm going to take my iPad along with me and just jump on when/if I can and then use it as a nice unwind later tonight.

Well, I better get to reading.  I have the books stacked and ready, so off I go!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dewey's Readathon: Last Minute Decision

I know it's Friday night, and the bi-annual Dewey's Readathon starts in less than 12 hours, but I've decided to throw my hat into the ring and join up.  Besides the fact that it was midterm this week, I'm chaperoning the Prom Saturday evening, so I didn't think I should join.  Who am I kidding though?  The readathon will give me a good excuse to sit down and read my morning away and maybe sneak a read after the ticket sales fade away at the door.  I'll just read before I go and when I get home.  I might only get a handful of hours in, but I think that would still be really nice.

Well, let's see if I can get up to start reading in the morning!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Quick Great Gatsby Read Along Update

I expected to have our next discussion up and ready to go for the read along, but work is kicking my butt!  This week is midterm, so that should say it all.  I'll try to be back tomorrow or Friday with our chapter 3-4 discussion!

Before I leave, I have to share part of a paragraph in chapter 3 that I read several times because it was so densely packed with goodness.  In describing the celebrations at Gatsby's house:
 "The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher.  Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word." (40)
That language just really jumped out at me.  Anyway, happy reading!  I'll be back ASAP!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Review: Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill

Weekend before last, I had a chance to dive in and finish Lauren Morrill's fun teen romance, Meant to Be.  To put it mildly, I loved it.  Maybe I'm a huge sucker for European getaways or locations, but this book really made me happy.  In short, it was just a fun, short read that checked all the boxes.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Meant to be or not meant to be . . . that is the question.

It's one thing to fall head over heels into a puddle of hazelnut coffee, and quite another to fall for the—gasp—wrong guy. Straight-A junior Julia may be accident prone, but she's queen of following rules and being prepared. That's why she keeps a pencil sharpener in her purse and a pocket Shakespeare in her, well, pocket. And that's also why she's chosen Mark Bixford, her childhood crush, as her MTB ("meant to be").

But this spring break, Julia's rules are about to get defenestrated (SAT word: to be thrown from a window) when she's partnered with her personal nemesis, class-clown Jason, on a school trip to London. After one wild party, Julia starts receiving romantic texts . . . from an unknown number! Jason promises to help discover the identity of her mysterious new suitor if she agrees to break a few rules along the way. And thus begins a wild goose chase through London, leading Julia closer and closer to the biggest surprise of all: true love.

Because sometimes the things you least expect are the most meant to be."

Review:  I can't say that I was Miss Mature-Beyond-My-Years when I was in high school, but I can say that I definitely related to the desire to achieve and keep the rules that we find in Julia.  Here she is on a spring break school trip to London, and of course, gets paired with the most obnoxious guy in her class, the guy who clowns around in every circumstance and seems to break every rule--Jason.  Why did she have to get paired with him for all of their excursions?

On their trip in London, they see plenty of famous sites, but it's what is going on in the side story that makes the trip fun.  Julia keeps getting pulled into crazy situations by Jason, breaking rules and staying out late for parties and late-night jaunts around London.  All Julia wants is to do well in the class while maybe getting noticed by the guy of her dreams or this new guy she met at a crazy party that Jason drug her to.  Why does Jason take such an interest in her love life though?  

We see a fun relationship open up between Jason and Julie, that unfolds over the course of her own interest in an anonymous texter she supposedly met at the party.  Between the flirty texts, crazy advice, and even crazier jaunts Jason takes Julia on, we start to get the hint that Jason might not be all that he puts on.  Morrill does a great job of making Jason grate on our nerves, and yet turn around and be endearing in the next breath.  He's a fallible character for sure, which matches the insecurities and unfulfilled desire to be recognized that are in Julia.  These two feel real and very much like kids you might run into on a school trip.  Because of their different strengths and weaknesses, they really help one another to grow over the course of the novel, which was fun to watch.  I wanted to see Julia gain the notice of the cuties she admired, and I wanted Jason to get to the root of what made him feel like he needed to act out.

In short, I loved this young adult read.  There is a fun storyline, relatable characters, and a bit of growth along the way.  If you want a great escape read, with characters and locations that you'd like to visit, then I really recommend you give this one a try!

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the novel. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This last year I caught all the buzz about Gillian Flynn's latest novel, Gone Girl.  I'm not much of a "thriller" reader, but I was intrigued by the review I read, so I gave it a try.  Admittedly, I got sucked into the story, because this really is a highly emotional story of possible murder and intrigue.  However, a good read doesn't mean I liked it, and it's that part of my own response that almost prevented me from posting my thoughts.  People online really came down on me pretty hard for DARING to admit that I didn't end up liking the book.  Somehow that made me less of a reader from the hard core fans of the novel.  Listen, I still think the book is really well written, but have every right to say that this was just "not my cup of tea."  Why don't I brave the criticism and share my reasons, in the hope that I don't give the story away...

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Marriage can be a real killer.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?"

Review:  The basic premise for the novel is the disappearance of the wife, Amy Dunne.  As is the case in most crimes, the police look close to home for the answers in her disappearance.  Was her marriage happy?  Did she and her husband have a fight?  Does the spouse show signs of distress or displeasure in their marriage or partner?  The questions abound in a case like this.  Flynn then takes the story line and bounces from chapter to chapter, between the present and the past.   We see how Amy felt and the development and then slow decline of her marriage to Nick.  Like and innocent lamb, we're led to believe and trust in the plot points we've been given, until WE are the slaughtered victim in the reading! 

Things take a dramatic shift part way through the novel.  You learn things about both Amy and Nick that make your head spin.  As with all crime stories, is Nick completely at fault?  Was there any outside involvement in her disappearance?  Was Amy innocent in the story?  All of these questions seem to go from a few predicted ideas to sometimes the opposite of what you expected.  In that way, this story is masterfully crafted to send your head spinning!  The story never feels predictable, and the characters are anything but cookie cutter.  For that, I give Gillian Flynn high kudos, because I never knew what to expect or where we were going next.

Although the story is exciting and well-written, I found myself absolutely hating these characters.  I know.  I get it--willing suspension of belief.  Listen, I don't need to see myself in every story that I read or expect characters to act of behave how I would, but these two were just not likable!  I wanted to get why they did what they did, where the passion and anger came from, but I couldn't.  I felt a little set up to hate Nick, and I definitely did.  For me, there was no turning back there.  In Amy's case, she just felt so completely unreliable as a character, that I started to not care about anything she did or if she was alive or dead.  In short, these two crazies meant very little to me and I couldn't escape my own judgment of them; I hated them both, and I hated the way they treated one another (and others).  So, by the end of the novel, my exclamations of, "What the...," were so often and frequent, that when it ended, I felt relief!

In some ways, I'm speechless where this novel is concerned.  Great thriller and unpredictable read, but one that made me realize that you don't have to like them all.  I definitely get the buzz and why people love it.  This was not a predictable novel, and it is shocking and fascinating on so many levels; however, just from my own perspective, I really hated these two and their crazy choices.  Plenty of you will disagree with me whole-heartedly, and I get that.  Can we just agree to disagree?  I get why you like it, and I agree that the story is good.  I didn't like it, because I didn't like the characters.  Enough said.  If you haven't read it, you'll have to be the judge!  And I promise that I won't judge your reaction to it!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday Blatherings

Not much to report here.  I'm still hanging on by a thread and trying to finish the year strong.  We're 2 1/2 weeks from the AP test, so the countdown is on!  Every AP teacher is in full alert, I'm sure.  Test scores are relied on so heavily, that you're always thinking about what else you need to focus on and how best to help students succeed.  Admittedly though, students can have one bad night, a fight with a parent, or a nasty break-up the night before (or moments before) the test, and there goes their test score.  I realize all of this and just want to get these test out of the way so I can chill out a bit!  :)

Outside of work, I've mainly been trying to gather up as much energy as I can when I'm not there.  About a month ago I broke down and went to the doctor for a B12 shot, because I was so desperately fatigued.  It helped a little, but the fatigue has just gone on and on.  Yes, I know I have low vitamin D levels (like most of the population) and a touch of anemia, but I have resigned myself to the fact that this is more about mentally needing time off, and not so much about anything physically being wrong.  Like most of us, I just need a time out, which will come in June--I hope.

Well, I'm off to write and post a review today. I've been dying for the time to write up a quick review of Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill, which I mentioned I was reading last weekend.  It's a cute, fast read, and I'd like to post a review today.  Beyond that and a stack of tests I HAVE to finish grading today, here's what I'm off to read:

The newest Sharon Lathan novel.  I love her creativity in this tale of Mr. Darcy's uncle.

I'm bound & determined to be caught up in the series and ready for the last in the series that's coming out soon!

And, of course, I'm reading the AMAZING Great Gatsby for my own Read Along.  Such a great read!
All right.  There's my Sunday and week in a nutshell.  The sun is shining and calling my name.  I think a short, meandering stroll and then a nap might be in order today.  Thank goodness for weekends and Sunday!  I hope you've had a good one.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Great Gatsby Read Along: Chapters 1 & 2

The opening of novels is all the same--establish setting, characters, and situation.  Sometimes that opening feels like it drags along, especially if you have to learn a whole new language of sorts, like when I read a dystopian novel and have to figure out the rules of the world.  In the case of The Great Gatsby, we are obviously introduced to West and East Egg, as well as a complex collection of characters who start to build their back story so we can catch up with the present.

For our first two chapters, I wanted to look at what we ran across and get your own two cents and feedback.


Set on Long Island--West Egg and East Egg, to be precise.  Separated by a "bay" of water, West Egg was the poorer, less socially affluent side of the bay, while East Egg supported the richer, more connected side of society.  Our narrator, Nick Carraway, lives on West Egg in a small rental cottage between two larger mansions.  One of these mansions is owned by none other than Mr. Jay Gatsby.  The other main characters, Daisy and Tom Buchanan, live in East Egg in a giant mansion of their own.

What is the significance of this setting?  Is the proximity to New York City significant to the tale?  How do the size of the homes and location all play into the social hierarchy being used by Fitzgerald?

Obviously, at the end of Chapter 1, we see that Gatsby must be yearning for whatever is across the bay from him--at the Buchanan's mansion:
"...--fifty feet away a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbor's mansion and was standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars...I didn't call to him, for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone--he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling.  Involuntarily, I glanced seaward--and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock..." (20-21)
I loved this conclusion to the first chapter, since I kept reminding myself that Nick was the narrator, so everything is filtered through his own sense of curiosity.  His lack of omniscience here adds a nice foreshadowing and a longing that echoes through this conclusion.

Also, I think that you can never quite discount the social divides that are set up in a novel.  Knowing who has money and where those with money live or don't live is important to keep in mind.  As always, money talks.  It doesn't always say very sensible things, but the desperation of folks either not having it or having too much of it can make for a tricky and interesting side narrative.


Point of View--We know that Nick Carraway is telling the story.  What do we really learn about him?  He comes from a "Middle Western city," where his family was of some prominence.  After WWI, Nick moved to the East to study the bond business.  In some ways, Nick sets us up to believe he is a humble, young character; he is living in a humble little cottage of sorts and is not set up like his neighbors.  And yet, isn't he also able to easily mingle in rich society pretty easily and quickly?  His relation to Daisy Buchanan might be part of it, but even that might suggest he comes from at least enough money to set him on the path that others might only dream about.

Should we question our reading of the characters in the novel since Nick is the narrator?  Aren't we getting everything filtered through Nick's point of view?

Tom Buchanan is Daisy's ex-football hero husband, said to have had his glory days playing his football, only to find he could never reach those heights again.  He is described as being almost a brute of sorts: "supercilious manner," "shining arrogant eyes," "a cruel body," and "his speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor" (7).  Then, he seems to say to the reader and to Nick:
"Now don't think my opinion on these matters is final, " he seemed to say, "just because I'm stronger and more of a man than you are."  (7)
 Um, can we say he's kind of an arrogant pig?  He not only can't live down his glory days, but he also has to continue to prove he's a bigger and badder man than anyone else around him.  Nick notices how he interrupts Daisy continually throughout their first night when Nick comes over, and we end Chapter 2 with Nick's introduction  and night in the city with Tom and his mistress.  Maybe a thing of the times, and maybe Daisy needed a break, but we have to see Tom as a pretty puffed up character who it will be easy to want to see fall from his high horse!

Daisy Buchanan is Tom's wife and Nick's cousin.  Nick describes her as having, "a conscientious little laugh," and that she laughed, "as if she said something very witty," with a "low, thrilling voice."  He also added depth to his descriptions by showing that, "Her face was sad and lovely, with bright things in it," and that, "...there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget" (9).

Does this mean that's how she really was, or just how Nick perceived her?  Is Daisy this flirting, trilling little character that is laced with a certain amount of sadness?  Well, it would certainly seem so by our introduction to her and Tom in these opening chapters.  Tom spends his time cutting her off, and it is suggested that she knows about Tom's mistress, Myrtle.

There's so much we could talk about in these chapters!  I could go on and on!  I don't even want to dabble in the bit with the mistress just yet, mainly because I keep mulling over our main characters and their lives.  I think that one of the most famous, and poignantly sad moments comes when Daisy tells Nick what she felt at the time of her daughter's birth, saying:
"She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. 'All right,' I said.  'I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she will be a fool--that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.'" (17)
 These lines really strike me, because they say a lot about Daisy and the head space she is in here.  This doesn't seem like a flippant comment to me, but one from a place of despair and personal experience maybe?  I think Daisy understands her world a bit too well.

Okay.  Enough from me on these opening chapters!  I can't say enough how much I'm loving this reread.  It's been way too long since I last read The Great Gatsby, so I've forgotten so many key details!  Now it's your turn.  Share with us!
  1. What role(s) do you see for the setting in the novel?  Do you like this setting, and does it affect the way you read the story?
  2. Since Nick is the narrator in this story, do you think it's possible he might be setting us up to like or dislike certain characters?  Do you trust his retelling?
  3. What do you think of Tom, Daisy, and Myrtle?
  4. What else stood out to you in these opening chapters?
 Please share if you would like!  Whether you've drafted up a blog post with your thoughts (which I hope you'll link), or you share some of your thoughts in the comments, I hope you jump in.

Just as a reminder, this coming week we'll be reading Chapters 3-4.  Happy reading!  I hope to see what you're thinking!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday Blatherings: The Reboot Edition

One week back after Spring Break and you quickly feel like you're back to where you were before we were off.  It's craziness!  We're prepping our students for state testing, which I shouldn't fret about, but with as "high stakes" as things have been the last few years, I do fret.  I know we've all worked really HARD, so my hopes are always that the test actually show the hard work going on in the classroom.

Anyway, this weekend has been about  "rebooting" so I can be my best at work.  Dare I admit that I feel more and more like my age lately?  It's scary, and something I'd prefer not to admit.  People say it, but I don't know why I didn't ever think about it.  Well, here it is.  :)  I've had to redouble my efforts to take my vitamins, eat well, sleep well, exercise, and all that stuff that you could get away without completely thinking about when you were in college, staying up all night studying--or talking to a roommate.  Now, I look at the clock around 9 pm and start to get ready for bed, for fear I won't get in enough sleep and wreck my day the next day!  Kind of makes me laugh.  I've always been the night owl.  Not anymore.

Okay, on a less whiny note, one of the thing I love about the weekends is that I get to be the master of my domain.  Yes, I love taking care of my house!  What's not to love about changing your sheets so you have lovely, fresh linens?  Or, how nice is it to do all the laundry and see the linen closets filled with beautiful, clean towels?  I love it.  That's the other reason I know I might be putting myself in the "adult" category, because I find myself shopping for lovely bedding and towels sometimes more than I do anything else.  My own lovely addiction.  I love it.

Well, here's what up in my world...

What I'm Gnoshing:  A couple of years ago at our local farmer's market, there was this awesome food truck there with authentic Mexican tacos.  The food was so simple, but completely D-elish!  They served simple grilled or braised meats in a corn or flour tortilla of your choice, and then you could serve yourself from a variety of toppings like white onion, pickled jalapenos, diced peppers, cilantro, and shaved cabbage or lettuce.  You didn't see a speck of cheese, sour cream, or salsa anywhere (and I love that stuff), so these were a revelation to me. 

Needless to say, I think I finally mastered one version of my own.  These lovely tacos are made from some pork ribs that I cooked in the oven in an apricot & jalapeno jelly I purchased, that I then mixed with a touch of honey and minced garlic.  They came out sticky and caramelized in the most delightful way, so they made the perfect taco filling, topped with just a little white onion and cilantro.  I will definitely be making these again and then sharing them! 

What I'm Watching:  Thankfully, Call the Midwives Season 2 is back on.  The Christmas special was pretty good, but nothing that made me dying to keep watching.  That was until I started in on Season 2.  It's so good!  I really love it.

I also, finally, started watching The Walking Dead and have to say it's pretty freaky!  I can't watch it late at night, but I can see why it has been so addicting.  It's definitely not like anything I've ever seen before. 

What I'm Reading:  What am I not reading?  Obviously, I'm reading The Great Gatsby for my own "The Great Gatsby Read Along," but also rereading Brave New World  and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children for two of the classes I'm teaching at school.  It's good stuff!

Outside of that, here are some of what I'm enjoying at the moment:

Just finished this one today!  Good stuff.

I need another vacation so I can just read this in one sitting!

Always love a Sophie Kinsella novel.
 What have you done to "reboot" this weekend?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Great Gatsby Read Along: Starting Line!

Today we're starting off on our reading of The Great Gatsby.  If you missed signing up or just want to join, here's the link, and here is the reading schedule:
  •  4/10 to 4/17  Chapters 1-2  (40 pages)
  • 4/17 to 4/24  Chapters 3-4 (47 pages)
  • 4/24 to  5/1  Chapters 5-6  (34 pages)
  • 5/1 to 5/8  Chapters 7-End (72 pages)
  • 5/10 --Go see the movie!
In preparation for today, I went to find my old, annotated copy of the novel on my bookshelves.  To my horror, it was nowhere to be found!  I tore through all my shelves at home, went through my books at work, and back through any closet or work bag I owned, but couldn't find it anywhere.  I'm so sad that I couldn't find it.  Losing an annotated copy of a novel kind of feels like losing a journal! Thankfully we had a textbook company send us an extra permabound copy at work, so our librarian was nice enough to give that one to me so I can start over.  It's time to "re"annotate, as well as reread!

Well, to get us going today, I thought I'd post a link to F. Scott Fitzgerald's Biography from  The site includes a nice video about Fitzgerald and some great pictures that I thought you might be interested to check out.

Finally, to get started, I'd like to know about your background with The Great Gatsby.  Below are some initial questions about Fitzgerald and the novel:
  1. When did you first read The Great Gatsby
  2. What was that first reading experience like?
  3. Have you read any of Fitzgerald's other works?
  4. Similar to other famous authors, why do you think Fitzgerald's work received more attention and acclaim after his death than before?
Respond in the comments below, or if you have a post up, post a link to your blog post so we can drop by!

For this first week we have a pretty easy read of just the first two chapters.  Start reading and drop by if something cool stands out to you!  I'm going to get reading and might be back to post an update or respond to my own questions.  :)  Good luck, and happy reading!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Review: Mob Daughter by Karen Gravano

First off, please don't forget to check out The Great Gatsby Read Along I'm hosting, starting on Wednesday the 10th.  Even if you can't start on the 10th, I think the easy 40 pages a week shouldn't be too hard to jump in when you can. I'll be posting some initial information on Wednesday to get us started, and then have some questions to consider.  Please come join in! 

Now, let me take a pretty odd segue here with a review on an autobiography about the mob.  Yes. Odd.  You can't tell me you don't have strange interests that intermingle from time to time.  :)

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Karen Gravano is the daughter of Sammy “the Bull” Gravano, once one of the mafia's most feared hit men. With nineteen confessed murders, the former Gambino Crime Family underboss—and John Gotti’s right-hand man—is the highest ranking gangster ever to turn State’s evidence and testify against members of his high-profile crime family.

But to Karen, Sammy Gravano was a sometimes elusive but always loving father figure.  He was ever-present at the head of the dinner table.  He made a living running a construction firm and several nightclubs.  He stayed out late, and sometimes he didn’t come home at all.  He hosted “secret” meetings at their house, and had countless whispered conversations with “business associates.” By the age of twelve, Karen knew he was a gangster.  And as she grew up, while her peers worried about clothes and schoolwork, she was coming face-to-face with crime and murder.  Gravano was nineteen years old when her father turned his back on the mob and cooperated with the Feds.  The fabric of her family was ripped apart, and they were instantly rejected by the communities they grew up in.

This is the story of a daughter’s struggle to reconcile the image of her loving father with that of a murdering Mafioso, and how, in healing the rift between the two, she was able to forge a new life."

Review:  I'll readily admit that I've watched Mob Wives on VH1 since it first came out, thanks to a curiosity about the wives and children of former mobsters.  I've read a lot of books about the mob and am interested in the affects it has on the communities and families that it plays out among.  In Mob Daughter, Karen Gravano outlines the life she grew up in, not completely realizing that her father was a major hit man for the mafia.  Gravano recognizes little things that maybe didn't make sense about her childhood, things that other kids might not have had to worry about or live through.  As part of the Gambino Crime Family, Gravano's father was neck deep with what seemed like no way out, and from his daughter's perspective, he was just a man trying to provide for his family.

I am always intrigued by the mob.  After a few other books I've read about the mafia, I don't really have the sense that there is much honor in it at all, as we've been told.  What is meant to protect neighborhoods and families really just terrorized them and destroyed those in its way.  The real desire--money--was all they really cared about. I think that Gravano's story is pretty interesting, since she got into a life of crime herself and has struggled to come to terms with her father's role in the mob and his role in coming out against the mob (oddly feeling sorry or connected to both sides).  Her bias is obviously toward her father as a misunderstood and honorable guy at heart, but as readers we can't help but realize that he has committed some pretty serious crimes.  

As far as mob stories go, I do think this adds another perspective to it all.  It is definitely told with bias and sympathy for the criminal, but I think we get that and can entertain why she might feel that way.  This wasn't my favorite piece of non-fiction on this subject, nor the most comprehensive, but it does have a bit of that human interest element to it that makes it really compelling.  

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the book.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Fiction to Film: The Great Gatsby Read Along is Here!

Like many avid readers, every time I see a trailer for The Great Gatsby, I can hardly stand it.  Any time there is a great novel made into a big budget film, I get a little excited and nervous to see how it turns out!  Well, after some chatting on Twitter after a certain Louisville vs. Wichita State game, Trish got me to thinking about a possible Read Along to go before the film.  Honestly, what better time to reread--or read for the first time--the awesome novel that is The Great Gatsby?!?

Here's the deal.  I've never ran a Read Along, but I thought I'd give it a try.  Besides, we have the movie to look forward to at the end of all of this!


Book Length:  My copy comes in just under 200 pages
Chapters:  9
Time to Read:  1 month, with weekly check-ins
End Goal:  To reread Fitzgerald's famous novel & then go check out the movie!

If you're not convinced, check out the movie trailer and then tell me you don't want to reread this gem?!?

If you want to join in, here are the reading details for the coming month:
  •  4/10 to 4/17  Chapters 1-2  (40 pages)
  • 4/17 to 4/24  Chapters 3-4 (47 pages)
  • 4/24 to  5/1  Chapters 5-6  (34 pages)
  • 5/1 to 5/8  Chapters 7-End (72 pages)
  • 5/10 --Go see the movie!
If you think you can join or just want to jump in on the discussions, grab the button (pardon my button-making), and then post a blog post that you can link back here to the Mr. Linky.  If you just want to join in with us, you can do that as well down in the comments below.

Why don't we get started with a little Initial Post Survey: 
  1. Have you read The Great Gatsby before?  If so, what did you think of it the first time you read it?  If not, what do you most look forward to?
  2.  Have you seen any other film version of the novel?  What did you think?
  3. What do you think of the new film coming out?
  4. Any other thoughts on The Great Gatsby you want to share...
Well, let's get a copy and get going!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Review: Easy by Tammara Webber

I'll admit that I was a little late to the "New Adult" conversation that started to be all the buzz last year.  After catching a few conversations via book blogger posts and Twitter conversations, about all I knew was that one group felt that teens should not be exposed to mature material nor a genre that seemed to be focused on adult content in a YA setting, versus those who felt that the "New Adult" stamp would merely steer sensitive readers away as well as give a voice to those "tween" ages that move from high school to college.

Since I was unfamiliar with it all, I decided to read Easy by Tammara Webber, since I had seen it mentioned quite a bit in these conversations.  Let me just say that it really grabbed me from the get go and gave me a little more understanding of the subject of "New Adult."  Let me share a bit about Easy, since the title definitely makes it sound a bit scandalous!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "When Jacqueline follows her longtime boyfriend to the college of his choice, the last thing she expects is a breakup two months into sophomore year. After two weeks in shock, she wakes up to her new reality: she's single, attending a state university instead of a music conservatory, ignored by her former circle of friends, and failing a class for the first time in her life.

Leaving a party alone, Jacqueline is assaulted by her ex's frat brother. Rescued by a stranger who seems to be in the right place at the right time, she wants nothing more than to forget the attack and that night - but her savior, Lucas, sits on the back row of her econ class, sketching in a notebook and staring at her. Her friends nominate him to be the perfect rebound.

When her attacker turns stalker, Jacqueline has a choice: crumple in defeat or learn to fight back. Lucas remains protective, but he's hiding secrets of his own. Suddenly appearances are everything, and knowing who to trust is anything but easy."

Review:  This is a definite tale of facing ones fears in the best way one can, through action.  Jacqueline has a near rape experience one night after leaving a party.  Thankfully she is rescued by stranger, but a stranger that ends up being in one of her college classes.  Not only does she have to live with and face an unreported assault by a guy she knew, but now she also has to face the guy who witnessed it and saved her.

As you can gather, there is a lot of tension between Jacqueline and her hero.  Yes, he saved her, but he also knows what happened and that she didn't report it.  She is scared, but also finding her hero, Lucas, to be this person she grows to trust and fall in love with.  There is an interesting boundary between fears and intimacy in this novel.  Jacqueline is wounded and fearful of another attack, but building a relationship with Lucas that walks the line between pain and romance; he knows a lot about Jacqueline, but is in love with the girl and not the "damsel in distress."

Before I started to see the trend of I'm-in-pain-now-save-me/I'm-wounded-now-love-me that is so prevalent in New Adult stories, I got sucked right into Jacqueline's emotional turmoil.  You could sense that her emotions were all mixed up with the original assault and potential repeat by the creeper, but mixed up with a new romantic relationship.  How in the world was the girl to think straight?  Besides, from all accounts, Lucas is the bad-boy emo type that you never knew you wanted to date.  He is sexy, suave, and sensitive.  How could she not fall for him and seek his protection?

Yes, as a New Adult story, there is some mature content that had me too squeamish to share it with my high school students.  I can't say that it doesn't have a place for some students, as their life experiences are very different from some of their counterparts.  It does seem that the New Adult label is at least a good warning to those not wishing to be exposed to more adult content.  In Easy, the mature content was what might naturally occur between two college-aged students, so I think a more mature audience might also be in order.

Overall, I really liked Easy with its heightened emotions and mix of pain, fear, and love.  It was a complex story, but one that was gripping and probably needs to be told.  As a female reader, I found myself asking "what if" in the assault case.  How would I respond?  Who would I turn to?  What would it force me to evaluate in my own life?  Easy forces us to consider that "what if" and to stay open to the option of love.  This was a gritty read that you have to be ready for, but as for pure story and characterization, I thought it succeeded.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a personal copy of the novel.

I'm not trying to open a Pandora's Box here, but what are your thoughts on the New Adult trend?  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Time to get back to some reviews!  I've given up on a few, but I still have some books that I'd like to get around to sharing.  There's nothing like a Spring Break to put me back on my feet again!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan's life. Having missed her flight, she's stuck at JFK airport and late to her father's second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon-to-be stepmother Hadley's never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport's cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he's British, and he's sitting in her row.

A long night on the plane passes in the blink of an eye, and Hadley and Oliver lose track of each other in the airport chaos upon arrival. Can fate intervene to bring them together once more?

Quirks of timing play out in this romantic and cinematic novel about family connections, second chances, and first loves. Set over a twenty-four-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver's story will make you believe that true love finds you when you're least expecting it."

Review:  At the end of 2012, I selected The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight as one of my top reads.  This was, for sure, a favorite of mine for its range of intense emotion, London setting, and likable characters.  All taking place within the course of just one day, Hadley Sullivan meets Oliver on a plane ride over from the US to London.  Hadley is not a happy camper on her journey though, as she is headed to her father's wedding to a woman who Hadley has yet to meet.  Oliver surely helps her take her mind off the journey and what waits on the other end.

I think that this story can be likened to other stories of two strangers who meet on a plane and share their lives, never to see one another again.  In this story, Hadley spills her story to Oliver, who tells bits of his own tale behind why he's heading home.  The two make a real connection, but at the terminal they head off in their own direction.  You know, however, that this can not be the end of these two characters.

This was an easy to love story, filled with emotion and well-rounded characters.  I think that Hadley's story with her father was tense and felt very real.  I wanted to like her dad and his new bride, but seeing it all through Hadley's eyes had me hating them for their insensitivity.  Her anger and sorrow at her father's choices gave the story a depth that I appreciated.  Oliver has his own back story that we learn about later.  On the whole, I think it all adds up to an angsty, romantic story that grabs you and forces you to read it all in one sitting.  What can I say?  If you want a quick, romantic read, then this is a perfect curl-up-and-read YA novel.  I can't wait to read more by Jennifer E. Smith! 

*FTC Disclosure:  This review is based on a library copy of the novel.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Documentary Review: American Winter

We know the economy is in bad shape and that millions of Americans and people worldwide struggle to make ends meet.  From personal experience, I have contemplated how close homelessness might be from where I'm at now.  Yes, I have a good job that provides money for a home, car, vacation, retirement, and health care, but where would I be if I were laid off today?  How long could I survive before things got desperate?  Let's be honest.  Not long.

I don't worry about it, and maybe I should?  One thing I will say though is that after watching the documentary "American Winter," I feel compelled to give back.  In the documentary, they share the lives of a variety of American families in Portland, Oregon who have lost their jobs, fallen to illness, or become widowed.  In each of their cases, it really was just one thing that knocked them down and put them on poverty's doorstep.  These were people who had college degrees, who hustled and worked hard, and who would take ANY job to make ends meet.  These were not people looking for a handout or sitting on their butt taking welfare and doing nothing but watch television all day (which is a stereotype that I really hate).  These were families who maybe had one spouse working 12-14 hours a day and yet battled whether to pay utilities or the rent/mortgage.  Mothers skip meals, repeatedly, and scrap metal on the weekends or give plasma to put food on the table.  In short, the stories were compelling and gut-wrenching.

From a personal perspective, my family went through bankruptcy when I was in high school because of my father's mounting medical bills.  My parents went on to pay off every bill they had waived by the bankruptcy, but it obviously ruined their credit rating for years after.  That experience changed me forever.  Today I work two jobs (even though the one is plenty of work all on its own) and am constantly putting money away.  I always question whether I could make it though one major set back?  What if I lost my job?  What if I had another major medical problem?  What if my mother fell to poverty?  Could I take care of her too?

If you've asked yourself any of these questions or really stopped to think about who is being affected by our depressed economy, then I highly recommend that you watch the HBO documentary, "American Winter."  People bash social programs right now, and I won't get all political, but there have to be solutions that won't cost us millions (or billions) more in the long run, that can stimulate the economy and rebuild the middle class.  For now, I feel compelled to give back in some small way.  Please check out this amazing documentary, if you can!