Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Release Dates: Jane Austen Sequels & Period Pieces

For those involved in the Everything Austen Challenge, being held by Stephanie's Written World (which I'll post about on July 1st), you might be interested in some of the following books being released. Coming out later this fall are two really delightful Pride and Prejudice sequels: Loving Mr. Darcy, by Sharon Lathan, and Darcy and Anne, by Judith Brocklehurst. Both of these books come out in September, so I'll be posting my detailed reviews some time in August. For now, let me give you a taste!

Loving Mr. Darcy is the second book in Lathan's sequel series, following her first book Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One. (See my Review: Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy.) If you are a purist, I will say that Lathan's novels are a departure from the chaste I-daresn't-look-at-you-let-alone-let-you-touch-my-hand tale; however, as I stated in my review of her first novel, I felt that relinquishing my own prejudice over the Darcys' relationship allowed me to see the beautiful development of this newly married couple. My only sadness or regret with these novels, is that they end!

For more on this devastatingly romantic novel see: Loving Mr. Darcy: Journeys Beyond Pemberley

Darcy and Anne is a short, cute novel about Anne de Bourgh. Now that Darcy is out of the picture, what will happen to Anne? Will her health improve? Will her mother allow her to consider marrying another man? Will Anne ever get out from under her mother's iron-grip hold on her life? A delightful little read that I think doesn't tread on any Pride and Prejudice toes too much.

For more information on this cute little read: Darcy and Anne: It is a truth universally acknowledged that Lady Catherine will never find a husband for Anne...

The last release coming out is Georgette Heyer's novel, The Grand Sophy. As I received each of these books at the same time, I thought they released at nearly the same time. Much to my horror, I looked up the release date on this novel, and it comes out on July 1st! Yes, I've started reading the novel, so I hope to get it read and reviewed as soon as possible. Until then, let me just say that if you enjoy Regency fare, this novel has all the trappings of the time period to enjoy. So far, my reading of the novel has been completely delightful.

For more information on Heyer's novel: The Grand Sophy

Monday, June 29, 2009

Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Since I started teaching two large English classes for my online job just two weeks ago, I've been pretty much out of the loop. Being online for 4 to 6 hours a day for correspondence and grading can take it all out of me, and at that point I really do want to just head outside for a bit! However, in the midst of the chaos of teaching online, I flipped open The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan to just give it a little once over. That's all it took, and I was gone!

Synopsis: I'm not 100% sure I want to give this book any sort of synopsis for fear of giving away one single thing in the story. If you haven't read any reviews yet, I would recommend that you walk into this book as blindly as possible. I had read a few things, but very little. For the basics, Mary is a young woman entering that time in her life when she must begin the steps towards marriage. In the midst of that decision, Mary is living in a protected society, surrounded by the Unconsecrated. Who are they? What's her life to hold?

That's it. I refuse to say any more!

Review: As far as engaging me right away, this has to range right up there near the top of my list for the year! I had avoided reading too much about "what" it was about, and focused on the reviews others had given it. Thankfully, I knew little, and honestly had a huge, "What in the world?!?" factor going on from the first second. The style Ryan uses is light-handed, and although told in a first person narration that manages to leave you as out in the rain on what's going on as Mary is, it manages to really propel your reading of the story. I loved the thoughtful details that built on one another to continuously reveal small pieces of the story, which then had me gut-wrenchingly, emotionally engaged in the lives of Mary, her family, and her friends. Each time I thought I knew what was going on, another detail would emerge that kept me flipping pages. Mary had much more mature responses to life circumstances than I would have expected for someone of her age, but I still found her courage and love of life enthralling.

Having given it this glowing review, let me also say that this novel had me constantly looking over my shoulder at night, listening for funny noises, or gasping out loud, making those around me ask, "What's wrong?" To me, this book was downright SCARY! I had no idea that it would be so scary, but various scenes in this novel had my heart pounding, my palms sweating, and my head swimming...all the while trying to read even faster to find out what would happen.

Recommendation? Honestly, unless you get scared by Grover on Sesame Street, I'd recommend this book to just about anyone!

For more information see:The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Review: Obama's Blackberry by Kasper Hauser

Okay, this Blackberry nut will admit to loving the stories that came out in the news about Obama's reticence to give up his "crackberry." I totally understood, and thought about how I'd feel if it were taken from me. I actually won this book from Drey's Library, so thank you for holding this giveaway, and also a thank you to Hatchette for offering these giveaways for book bloggers. Thanks all around!

Synopsis: Obama's Blackberry is exactly that, the president's correspondence via his Blackberry. Told in short email, text messages, and graphics, this little book takes you through a series of humorous conversations we think we might see on our new president's phone. The ones I found to be the funniest, were the ones from George W., and the "trick" emails to Joe Biden. (There was one really funny one about a Tickle Me Elmo that the president found in the Oval Office that had me laughing out loud!)

Review: As a short, coffee-table style book, this comic take on Obama's communication was hilarious in a lot of politically savvy sort of ways. If you didn't know who some of the characters were in the book, you wouldn't understand completely why they were so funny, but it still could make you giggle. Not that I completely understood who all of the people were, but I laughed at some references, such as to Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. I also laughed really hard at a forward from Sarah Palin to the president. They are obviously satirizing many situations and people in our current political climate, and I found it to be really light and funny! It was definitely what I've needed to break my non-reading rut with all of the online grading I've been doing.

For more information, see: Obama's BlackBerry.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson, My First Pop Star

Michael Jackson was MY first real pop star craze. I had a poster of Michael Jackson in my room, Thriller was my first album (yes, LP), and my dad had to rent Thriller for weeks after it came out so that I could watch it over and over again. It's funny how much a part of my life Micheal Jackson's music was, and to some degree still is today. When I head to the gym, there's nothing like "The Way You Make Me Feel" to make me clip along on the treadmill! For this fan, I always hoped for a comeback, and he will be missed.

(If you want to skip to the most famous scenes of this video, the Vincent Price monologue is around 6:20, and that great ghoul dance that is iconic today is around 8:20.)

*For some reason they are not allowing this video to be embedded; however, if you click on it twice, it will take you to the actual video on YouTube. Sorry!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rejuvenate & Renew Challenge Update: 6/22 to 6/28

Yikes! I almost forgot to post this for the week. I've been really horrible about reading...REALLY horrible, so I have nothing to report.

So here's my update so far:
  1. Suze Orman's Action Plan for 2009
  2. TBA
  3. TBA
Okay, so I guess it's not true that I have nothing to report. While I haven't finished another book for the challenge (or any other challenge), I have been reading Elie Krieger's Small Changes, Big Results, and using her cookbook The Food You Crave. It's excellent! I really love the simplicity of the recipes, and the big health factor behind every single recipe in the book. The pictures in the book are a real selling point too--way better than my own meager photo.

Here's the Chinese Chicken Salad we made for dinner the other night. I really just took the picture of it because I thought it was so pretty, but since I have it, I thought I'd share. Although, I have to say that this picture is all washed out compared to the vibrant red cabbage, green scallions, browned chicken, and bright orange mandarins. It really was great. If you're looking for an easy, healthy cookbook that centers around real, whole foods, then this is it. In fact, I'm looking forward to making the Pumpkin Pie Muffins and the Jerk Chicken with Pineapple Salsa. Now, if I could just convince myself that "healthy" mac and cheese (which is my favorite food) can be good. Can I really give up real mac and cheese? I don't know about that one...

What one food could you not give up, even for a low fat version?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What's On My Desk Wednesday

Last week, while at my conference, I noticed that I was tagged by J.Kaye's Book Blog. I've seen this one floating around, and always love to see books piled here, there, and everywhere. Why does such mayhem cause my heart such joy? Well, you'll see, when I show you my "desk" in a moment.

This particular meme comes from Alternative-Read.com, by Sassy Brit. The following guidelines are given:
Here's what you do:
  1. Grab a camera and take a photo of your desk! Or anywhere you stack your books/TBR pile. And no tidying!
  2. Add this photo to your blog.
  3. Tag at least 5 people!
  4. Come back here and leave a link back to your photo in the comments section.
That's it. However, for those without digital cameras or blogs of your own, you can do this instead: (or both if you are keen!)
  1. List at least 5 BOOKISH things on your desk (I'm thinking your TBR pile or books you haven't shelved...)
  2. List at least 5 NON BOOK things. (I'm thinking some of some of the more unusual items on your desk/table?)
  3. Tag at least 5 people to do the same.
  4. Come back and leave your link, so we can come and visit your blog. Or add your answers in the comments.
Feel free to grab the above picture to place on your blog - as a way of showing you are participating, and of course to spread the word! Have fun!
So, I'm currently homeless...in a way. I've moved out of my rental home and am in the process of buying a home or townhome. My official desk is in a storage unit (hopefully all safe and sound), and I'm spending my summer at my mom's house in Hawaii. Because I'm kind of a vagabond, and totally okay with it in this environment, I don't have a "desk," but do have a pretty extensive pile of books going. So, here's my vacation desk:

Yes, they're on the floor, and yes, I have TOO MANY! I have to mail these all home!

1. My 5 Bookish Things are ALL books!
2. My Nonbookish Things don't exist right now...how about a floor as a desk? :) Usually, however, I have these cute beeswax turtle candles that my Aunt Carleen bought for me, that I leave sitting by the monitor of my desktop computer. I also (unfortunately) keep my expense receipts on my printer at home, but here I've started putting them on my mom's table. Poor mom!
3. My Tagged 5 People are:
  • msmazzola over at State of Denmark. She's an English teacher, like me, and so I'm dying to know what she has on her desk.
  • Trish, over at Trish's Reading Nook. I love her thoughtful posts, and would love to see what's on her desk.
  • Desert Rose, over at DeSeRt RoSe BoOkLoGuE. She has this great quote about books being stacked to the ceiling, so you know I want to see that desk (even if it's just a quote). :)
  • My friend & book blogging buddy Tasha, over at Heidenkind's Hideaway. This is easy. I have had fun getting to know her better, so I wanted to see what's on her desk!
  • The last is Meghan at Medieval Bookworm. She's currently working on her MA, and the side of me that wishes I would bite the bullet and go back for my doctorate, would love to see what's on her desk!
One last picture & thank you. The picture above is of the books I've receive in the mail. I have several ARCS, and a couple of books here that I've won in giveaways (including the cute bracelet). Thanks to everyone for sending me these great books, and reviews and posts are to follow!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Review: The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns by Elizabeth Leiknes

First, I have to say thank you to Harrison Demchick at Bancroft for sending me a free review copy of The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns. He sent me a lovely email, and yes, I was easily persuaded by such delightfully kind words. Now that I'm in a location that is surrounded by beaches, this was an absolutely perfect beach read: thin enough to slide into a beach bag, and a devour-in-one-sitting sort of story.

Synopsis: Lucy Burns has formed an unknown contract with who we're to assume is Satan. Lucy has been granted every wish of her heart, including saving someone's life, giving her unending beauty and sex appeal, etc. With these wishes, however, come great responsibility, and to this responsibility we find the central conflict of the novel. Lucy finds that she has had to give up too much. Can she live a life like this?

According to an interview with the author, Elizabeth Leiknes, she commented on this central conflict of the novel. When asked if she could associate herself with her character, she stated:
Lucy is forced, by circumstance, to answer the question, What would you do for love? Or, rather, what wouldn’t you do for love? This notion was the inspiration for the novel. I have always been a pacifist by nature, but when I had children, a strange chip ignited, and I became the mama bear, ready to fight if anyone messed with her family. It was really quite powerful, still is, and it forced me to entertain how far I would go to protect them.
To this central question about love, we find Lucy Burns.

Review: As mentioned in my opening, The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns is a great, one-sitting read. You can tuck this little book in your bag, fall into the story quite easily, and read it rather quickly because it is short and engaging. I thought the idea of a woman getting every wish granted, in exchange for a rather troubling life without love to be a no brainer--I would never give up free choice for wish fulfillment! However, there is a pretty heavy conflict that has put Lucy into this position in the first place. With that conflict in place, I'll admit that I wondered how I would feel, and what I would do.

My only complaint to the story was that I actually felt it was too short. Here is my reason. In setting up the story, I found myself lost as to what was really going on until about page 50. Remember, this is a pretty short novel. Some readers enjoy not having every detail of the back story spelled out for them, and in that case, this is not one of those novels that you feel you know everything that's going to happen; the development and outcome of the story remain surprising. I simply felt, early on, that I would have loved to have more explanation for what motivated Lucy, and what she did for her work.

Overall, I enjoyed the story, and think that it's a short, fun read. Once I really caught on to what had happened in the story, and what the conflict was behind it all, I couldn't put the book down. Oh, and yes, it did make for a great beach read!

For more information: The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bloggiesta: Finish Line

I've crossed the finish line! Let me echo everyone who has already thanked Natasha at Maw Books Blog, by adding my own thanks for this challenge. I didn't get anywhere near the number of things accomplished that I wanted to, but I did get a few things done. Here's my tally.

Hours Completed: 10 hours spent blogging (see goals below), 48 hours to Challenge
  • One book review written and posted below.
  • Book giveaway ready to launch.
  • I tried to mess with my URL, but decided that it might not be worth all the redirection that I'd need to set up. At least it's not worth it quite yet.
  • I also tried to set up my favicon (as you can see, it's been unsuccessful so far), and will need to keep tinkering away on that one.
  • I changed my gravatar to reflect the rose that I use as my picture of choice, rather than my personal picture that pops up on self-hosted blogs. The rose is also my icon for Twitter, so now it's all universal.
  • I took pictures for my Book Sale, books received, and "What's On My Desk."
  • Completed the Google Reader Challenge over at The Book Lady's Blog.

Review: The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran

Before I left for the summer, I'd been listening to The Heretic Queen on audiobook. Once the "big move" popped up, my idea that I'd be able to finish it up soon disappeared. In fact, on the very day that I flew out for Hawaii, I had to drop the audiobook back at the library, dying to know how it ended. As soon I arrived here, I logged on to my mother's account and put it on hold. When I finally got the book, I sat down and finished it up on the spot. Now, although the novel is historical fiction, I think to some degree you do have to recognize the line between actual history, and the fiction. Overall though, its mix of history and fiction in this tale of Ancient Egypt was fascinating.

Synopsis: As just mentioned, The Heretic Queen is set in Ancient Egypt around Pharaoh Ramses, and his wives. In the aftermath of Nefertiti and Akhenanton's heretical change from multiple gods to the god Aton, their young niece Nefertari is left with the label and must face her world with this unpopular past. Ramses and Nefertari have grown up together, and been great friends, but Ramses is older than Nefertari and expected to marry according to his station and culture. Will the friendship and bond between Nefertari and Ramses continue?

Review: While I realize that the novel isn't historically accurate in every detail, enough of the setting and themes of Ancient Egypt (including references to historical figures) permeate the novel to help the reader escape into this world. I will admit that listening to the book for the first half helped me immensely because I was able to hear the pronunciation of names that I was unfamiliar with, so that when I finished reading the second half, I readily flew over the names and places of the story. There are some scenes of sensuality included in the story, but I wouldn't say they are pervasive. Definitely a piece of historical fiction, this story of Ancient Egypt tries to humanize and insert real emotion into some of the lives that might have played out in the background of the dynasties we have all heard about.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Moran's novel and plan to pick up Nefertiti when I get a chance. It's not often that an author sets their story in this time period, so it's fun to shift direction from time to time to escape into a truly foreign time and culture. You'll note that I've mentioned "escape" several times, and in truth, that is the crux of my review, that this is a great novel about losing yourself in a story and time.

Above, I've posted two different versions of the cover. Which do you like better? (The cover on the right comes out of the UK.)

Bloggiesta: Update #2

NOT a good Bloggiesta day for me. I kind of knew that to begin with, but did finish a challenge today. I'd love to say I got the favicon issue resolved, but I haven't had the time, nor energy, so I'll try it again tomorrow!

So, here's what I've accomplished so far.

Hours into Bloggiesta: 33
Hours spent Working: 8
  • I finished the Google Reader Challenge over at The Book Lady's Blog. It took me some pretty substantial time to organize folders, deleted inactive blogs, and read through the 900+ (it was originally over 1,000 before I began organizing, thanks to being gone all week). As I did that, I left comments and caught up on what everyone else was doing. I did part of this challenge yesterday, but finished it several hours ago.
  • I took pictures of my Book Sale loot from today (posted below), of books I've received in the mail (awards & ARCs), and of the books on my "desk" for the post about "What's On Your Desk" that I have ready for this next week.
Although I didn't get as much blogging time for the Bloggiesta done today as I would have liked, I did get a lot of great books at the Book Sale today, and spent some good, quality time with my mom. Okay, now here's the thing though, I really think I have some sort of illness! Take a look at the picture of my haul from today's sale.

What do you think? Do I need help? It was a great sale, even though it was in an enclosed gym, with nothing but giant fans at each open door to try to cool hundreds of people mulling around. It was really hot work, but it obviously didn't deter us in any way! :)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bloggiesta: Update #1

I've learned something about blogging for hours at a time & trying to spruce things up...that html makes me crazy! I spent 3 hours trying to get a favicon for my blogger page, without much success. Thanks to a couple of online friends, I have a few tricks to try this morning, so thank you for your help @Nymeth & @heidenkind (their Twitter names). Actually though, I'm off to Honolulu's 62nd Annual Book Sale! I don't need more books, but I can't help going down to check it all out.

So, here's what I've accomplished so far.

Hours into Bloggiesta: 19
Hours spent Working: 6

  • I figured out that changing my URL might be a bit much at this point, so I'm going to have to pass on that one.
  • Sorted through Google Reader, including categories, etc. I think I've about completed that challenge, so I'll comment on that later!
  • Set up my giveaway for the "Rejuvenate & Renew" Challenge. (It's still in the works and secret, but it will be good.)
  • Changed my gravatar (is that what it's called?), and TRIED to change my favicon (what a pain). I haven't completely succeeded here, but I'll keep working on it!
Well, I'm excited to head off to the book sale! I'm not going to get much blogging in today until later tonight, but much of what I'm doing today is book oriented, so I'm excited. Aloha!

Friday, June 19, 2009


I wanted to join the Bloggiesta, sponsored & headed by Maw Books, but just didn't think it was possible when I got up this morning. However, after pushing aside some of the factors holding me up, I'm now able and willing to join. I will have to tweak the entire challenge just a bit to meet my needs and time zone though. Below are my issues and goals.

  • Extreme Jetlag -- From my conference back on the mainland. Yes, I'm a bit of a wimp (as my dad would say).
  • Online Job -- I am just concluding one class today (with 50 students), and starting two more (with 41 students total).
Okay, so there's my excuse & whine session down for the world to see. I've been online all day, taking care of work and life things, so I just didn't see how participating in the Bloggiesta would even be possible except that once I finished mowing through all the "required" things I needed to do, I saw how much I could still accomplish if I just modified the Challenge and jumped in now. So, it's after 6 pm, and I'm just now getting my initial post up, but that's okay. Let's get started!

So, here are my modifications & goals.

  • I'm going to count starting at 2pm my time (6pm MST), since that's about when I took a break and actually did check a few Tweets & blog posts. Even though I went back to work, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it!
  • Church on Sunday will actually chop the rest of my time off in the morning, so I'll come home and do a little bit after I get home.
  • Write book review for The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns.
  • Write book review for The Heretic Queen
  • Set up book giveaway of The Fiery Cross
  • Come up with ideas for review/post of 2nd in Sharon Lathan series (Contact Sharon?)
  • Work on Cookbook Challenge ideas
  • Try to widen columns on blogger layout
  • Look into changing url to include blog title
  • Post about what's on my desk (take picture of books, etc.)
  • Acknowledge books received recently
  • Acknowledge book award received
  • Read my Google Reader, as its +1000 from my week-long conference!
  • Set up giveaway for my Rejuvenate & Renew Challenge
  • Set up a book reading schedule so that I don't miss my ARC reviews!!!
  • Participate in mini challenges???
Well, these are just some of my hang ups and goals. Tomorrow will be a hard day to blog, as I'm heading to Honolulu's 62nd Annual Book Sale. It should be great fun, but make for a long day. I doubt I'll be home much tomorrow, but I'll get in some of these goals tonight while my students on the mainland slumber away!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rejuvenate & Renew Challenge Update: 6/15 to 6/21

As a reminder, the Rejuvenate and Renew Challenge is about reading non-fiction that builds, teaches, focuses, or simply pushes you to improve yourself. I often get so caught up in reading my huge mountain of fiction novels, and books I need to read for teaching, that I don't often get a chance to read those "help yourself" (yes, like self help) sort of books that help me change or grow in some way.

So, how am I doing? Finished--
  1. Suze Orman's Action Plan for 2009
  2. TBA
  3. TBA
I'm still on track, but will continue reading Elie Krieger's novel. I actually also purchased her cookbook The Food You Crave, as I'd checked it out from the library a month ago and found it to be a pretty great cookbook. I'll try to make something and post a picture, and even review it with Krieger's book, Small Changes, Big Results. (For more information about Krieger's cookbook, see The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life)

How are you doing? If you're part of the challenge, leave a comment. If you're not, join today and tell us what you'd like to read!

Well, back to the islands for me. I fly out tomorrow afternoon, and am actually looking forward to some great reading time on the plane!

Technology--What's its Role?

This week I have been in an online conference, and I have loved the new information that we learn each year about technology and where it's headed. Of course, all of this information is used to enhance our understanding of programs, platforms, and products that our students are readily familiar with, which in turn will help us integrate technology more easily into the learning process. "Brick and Mortar," or "Face to Face" (f2f) classrooms (as we call them) are way behind the technology game, but I have high hopes that my two worlds between online teaching and f2f teaching will soon collide.

Here are some things I learned, or we talked about, and thought I'd pass some of them along.

First, Twitter was the big rage this year. Our main speaker, and following panels and sessions, often brought up Twitter and its power as a social network. I really love Twitter and how it keeps me connected. Many other book bloggers and publishers are on Twitter, not to mention the authors and news organizations that Twitter messages from time to time (or more often). (To follow me on Twitter, you can find me at @mjmbecky.)

Another platform was introduced, called Google Chrome, and it was suggested that it is another browser that is matching Mozilla in speed and safety. Since it was only brought up as a list of technologies & platforms, I still need to check it out to figure out its impact on what I do day in and day out. There was also some talk about a cool new, controllers-free, technology for gaming that could cross over into other uses, known as Project Natal. There are some really great videos out to demonstrate how it will be used, although I have to say it looks funny to see people playing games without controls, and just their hands in the air!

There were a million other sites they showed us, technologies, and platforms, but these were just the new ones that stood out to me for now. As for actual technology, they did talk about things such as the Kindle, which I can thankfully attest to being amazing! They also showed us Netbooks, which are condensed, mini laptops with a lot more battery power, and all of the capabilities of a normal laptop, minus the giant screen and room for lots of programs or gaming. For what I do online, I'm now dreaming! They're not very expensive (between $200 to $700), so it might be my next "laptop" purchase!

My last dream now is the iPhone. It's not that I wasn't interested before, but when you already have a cell phone & plan, it seems almost useless to even look, since you couldn't buy! Today they talked about the great platforms, speed, and ease of use in the iPhone, and how far ahead of the game this little smartphone really stands. I am coming due for a new phone, so while I might be behind the times with this trend, I'm pretty sold on it now!

So here's my question. In light of all the great technology, programs, and platforms I learn about, I always think about how they change the way I live my life day to day. I know they impact my online teaching to some degree, but what about you? How does technology change or influence your life? Do you feel comfortable with it? Do you like trying out new technologies? I'm probably asking the wrong crowd (since you're online to begin with), but I'm curious, how does technology affect your life? Do you feel technology takes you away too much time from the rest of your life or the reading that you want/need to do?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Back to the Mainland

I'm off to the mainland for a two day conference. I know I'll be back here soon, but there is a strange sadness sinking in as I say, "Aloha" until Thursday. So silly, I know, but it's a second home!

In the meantime, I'm going to be reading on my flights. I know I'll be well on my way to desperately needing the Bloggiesta over at Maw Books Blog! Since I'm off to catch a flight, I don't have time to post all the details about it, but you can check the links above if you'd like to join in this great blog-a-thon going on this next weekend. Well, off to catch my flight. Until later--Mahalo!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday Salon #5 -- Book Snobbery

This Sunday, I'm in the middle of reading several books, including the second book in Sharon Lathan's Pride and Prejudice follow up, Loving Mr. Darcy. I started reading it down at the beach yesterday, and sure enough, could hardly put it down. I'm also reading The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer, and Good Luck by Whitney Gaskell. Each one is really good, so I suppose I'll soon be picking them off one at a time.

I've been thinking...

As for the real musings of the day, I wanted to post a few of my thoughts about a thing I call "Book Snobbery," if only to get them off my chest. This week, another great book blogger was targeted with a slightly nasty comment about the book and review she'd written. The short of the comment was that the book she enjoyed, wasn't a true piece of "history" and should be changed to "historical romance." Come to find out, this commenter also had a "BA" in English and wanted to drum up readers for his more "accurate" novel. The entire experience of reading that comment really set me off, in a bad way, as most of my career I've had to defend reading material. The strangest part of all this defending is because it usually comes from other readers! For instance, when I was in graduate school, getting my MA in English (Cultural Studies), there was always an air of superiority going on if you were reading the essays of Michel de Montaigne, or one of a number of famous, British classics. Now, it's understandable to resent someone else if they are reading something that is conceived easier than what you're currently struggling through; however, it was when someone would turn their nose up at your admitting to enjoying lighter, more bestseller fare. Another for instance here would be the Harry Potter novels. One of the last two came out right as I was finishing up my degree and getting ready to move home. OF COURSE I had it ready to be delivered to my house on the day it came out. OF COURSE! A few people would own up to reading something like Harry Potter (mainly because we had a HP scholar teaching in our department, who was highly respected), but a portion of my classmates made fun of such trivial reading material. Forget me mentioning that I'd read The DaVinci Code over one of my school breaks!

My point here is that people like to categorize books, and often do that in a way that then denigrates the readers of those books as somehow not very smart, not as advanced, or as with the case of the blogger above, not as educated (which is ironic, because she is very educated). One of my YA lit. professors when I was an undergrad was a published author, and yet admitted to hiding his YA fiction reading material when he traveled. Parents of my students constantly question my choices of novels and plays. On one end, Don Quijote is considered by a parent to be too hard and not applicable to their lives (for AP?), while on the other, The Scarlet Letter is too amoral and teaches adultery to young adults. Okay, so parental concerns are a bit different than snobbery, but you can see where my sensitivity over book defense starts. Sigh.

So, here's my question. Why the book snobbery? Why judge the YA readers, or romance readers, or folks who enjoy vampire stories? Doesn't reading allow us a wide range and variety, and who can say that just because someone enjoys children's literature or bestsellers, that they're not well read or "smart" in some way? Let's not even get into the historical "fiction" debate. Sigh. In the end, I just can't wrap my head around the way people use a person's reading materials and choices to judge them. We all have our likes and dislikes, and as a person who loves to read a wide variety of books, I can't see why people use their book snobbery to tear someone else down.

Have you ever felt snubbed or judged by someone because of what you were reading, or because you loved a particular book?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Review: The Windsors: A Royal Family & My Life in Ruins

I haven't done a movie review in quite some time, but I recently watched two films that I had to comment on. I usually review films that are based off of novels, plays, or famous Broadway performances; however, I sometimes can't help myself and want to share a few great stories that fall outside of this realm. Neither of the following films come from literature, but both are interesting and deserved a quick mention!

As mentioned in a previous post, I like films about the monarchy. After watching the fabulous documentary Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work, Netflix recommended another documentary, The Windsors: A Royal Family. Part way through disc one of three, I grabbed the envelope the documentary came in to see when it was filmed, thinking it was filmed in the early to mid 1990's. Why? The film making was very 60 Minutes meets old school PBS documentaries--none of this modern, reality TV sense of following around one's subject. This documentary is made up of testimonials and interviews with friends, distant family, and assistants to the crown, who give their first-hand opinions as primary source photographs and film are used to show the most amazing footage of the monarchy. So, you're asking when it was filmed? According to my Netflix envelope it was 2007, according to Amazon it was filmed in 2002. Either way, I was honestly quite shocked that it was so recent.

I won't say that the film wasn't fantastic, but engaging, it's not. It is very much a piece of history, which I loved, but demanded that I pay careful attention to dates, connections between relatives, and the history of events occurring in the world at the same time as those presented in the documentary. A history teacher could use this for brief, amazing clips of Queen Elizabeth's grandfather, King George V and the world as it was during his time, clips of Winston Churchill addressing the Parliament, King Edward abdicating the thrown, or even the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, but that's as far as I would go. This documentary is amazing in its collection of primary documentation, but pretty heavy laden with history, in a way that I haven't seen in awhile. It's not that I didn't enjoy it, but will say that it surprised me a bit in the beginning.

Now, just a quick word about the second film, My Life in Ruins. People often think I'm kidding, or exaggerating when I say I want to move to Greece someday (even if it's only for 4-6 months out of every year), but I'm not. Greece is an amazing country that I don't think I could get enough of (along with Turkey). Having said that, I ran to the theater to see Nia Vardalos's most recent film, eager to see scenes of Greece as the setting for her romantic comedy. The movie was cute, even if predictable and a bit cheesy. Vardalos (who looked pretty amazing) plays the Greek tour guide for her overly-exaggerated-in-their-lameness tourists, trying to interest them in the amazing history of the sites she presents them, when all they really want is ice cream and shopping excursions. First off, I was so offended by the ridiculous things the tourists demanded that I kept talking out loud. I know...chill out, right? Well, that's what my mother kept saying, but I kept picturing all the tours that I took while in Greece, and I could never get enough of the history and antiquities. Honestly, I think I was just a bit too keyed up to fully enjoy the tourists' horrid antics and silly lines. I realize that we were supposed to laugh at the stupidness of the tourists, but they made me want to scream.

Now, on the other hand, here's where this single girl has to gush for just a moment. Alexis Georgoulis (acclaimed as the George Clooney of Greece), made my day. :) My friend Doc and I had a moment in Athens, after hopping off their extremely clean subway system, where we ended up riding the escalator behind what I believe had to be a modern Adonis. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the man we giggled over (yes, at our ages we giggled over his amazing male beauty and enjoyed our escalator ride) reminded me of Alexis Georgoulis, so I calmed down and just enjoyed the film in all it's predictable silliness. I've included here two pictures of him; one where he's looking way too scruffy to really pay him any mind, but then the second, showing him in all his male gorgeousness (which looks like how he spelled his name).

See his scruffy self in the corner...

Now, he's looking like a romantic lead!

Overall, a cute film. It did have some questionable sexual innuendo, but was a pretty harmless romantic comedy, on the whole. Yes, it's predictable, but has its funny moments, and one really nice looking Greek romantic lead. Now, time to figure out how I can find myself a home on a small corner of Greece???

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Review: The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

This review has been stewing in my mind this week, and I have had a hard time putting into words the series of complex issues and relationships presented by Kiran Desai's brilliant novel The Inheritance of Loss. Clearly, this is a postcolonial novel, outlining the complex cultural problems surrounding identity and nationalism. Having said that, I will attempt to review, what I believe was one of the most compelling books I've read this year. I don't know how many people will read my complete review, but for me, this was one review I couldn't shy away from really delving into and writing more, than less.

Synopsis: In the last paragraph of chapter one, Desai outlines the main storyline of her text: a retired judge, his granddaughter Sai, the cook, and the dog Mutt all reside at the base of Mt. Kalimpong in the Himalayas, at a crossroad of ever-growing hatred and dissatisfaction with the world and how it has been left to them. Here we find an insurgency of Indian-Nepalese growing more and more dissatisfied with the poverty they face, their lack of homeland, and the remnants of a colonial world they embraced, yet hate, yet somehow still need to hold their society together.

As India tries to continue to return to its cultural ways from a time before the colonizer, we find people questioning what is right and good to embrace, and the ironies in doing so. For instance, the judge, upon his return from college in England (where he was hated and looked down on), brings back the accoutrements of a society he learned was "advanced," and to which he now feels akin to and should be more like now that his own social standing in India will far outrank those around him. These accoutrements include a powder puff, which his wife finds strange and silly, and quickly stuffs down her shirt. The judge throws the house into a veritable tizzy in an effort to find said puff (which no one can pronounce and are too embarrassed to explain to others such a dandified object), and becomes incensed when he learns that it was his wife that took them. His social standing is that of the highest ranking in his town (brought on by an education earned at a British college in England), and is recognized and feared by all around him as such, yet he is mocked on every side for his lack of Indianness and his new adopted British qualities that many are embarrassed of him for.

In the meantime, Biju, the cook's son, has taken off for the United States to earn lots of money and great prestige for his father and country. Biju lands in New York City, only to find more poverty, low-paying jobs that have him unable to buy housing, and interacting with people he would never have considered before. Biju learned what it meant to be an Indian, regardless of their worldwide presence:
From other kitchens, he was learning what the world thought of Indians:
In Tanzania, if they could they would throw them out like they did in Uganda.
In Madagascar, if they could, they would throw them out.
In Nigeria, if they could, they would throw them out.
In Fiji, if they could, they would throw them out.
In China, they hate them.
In Hong Kong.
In Germany.
In Italy.
In Japan.
In Guam.
In Singapore.
South Africa.
They don't like them.
In Guadeloupe--they love us there?
No. (77)
Although Biju was in the great land of freedom and opportunity, he worked to survive, watched rampant waste going on around him when he knew people at home starved, watched people turn their back on cultural practices they led their families to believe they continued, watched newbies arrive only to allow them to flounder and figure it out the way he was forced to, and watched as his understanding of who he was and what he really wanted out of life disappeared.

Then there is the granddaughter Sai, who has been left orphaned and must live with her Indian grandfather that perpetually lives in a British lifestyle, antiquated and falling in around him. Sai has also been raised more "colonial" than Indian, which distances her more and more from the society she lives in. Tutored by a Indian-Nepalese man, she falls in love (or what she believes is love), and the tutor and student experience the joys of life and the community together until the cultural/social clash comes down to haunt their mixed cultural relationship. What was once a small mountain valley town, now becomes a veritable war zone. Those with any vestiges of a colonial past in their lives are held up as the demon holding back "natives" who have lost their lands, culture, and economic holdings. Beyond issues of politics and land distribution, culture becomes the main factor under attack, and all involved in the margins of these cultures are forced to assign themselves to a side.

Review: I can't adequately say how much this novel moved me, troubled me, and worried me. As with many postcolonial/postmodern novels, there are few answers, and many issues brought to the reader's attention. You see that the vestiges of any colonizer leaves those behind with a fierce struggle to determine identity, either stripped of all things colonized, or embittered by evidence that one's former native self might be lacking in some areas. Where does that leave one's identity? In this case, if you like anything British, does that make you non-Indian? How do you etch out an identity from what is left of your former culture, when so much of your economic footholds and social standings are still tied to the former colonizer? It's all so complex, that you can see why it left my head swimming a bit.

The thing I liked the most about Desai's narrative was that it was non-linear. I didn't find this non-linear pattern to be disturbing in the least, in fact, as we bounced backward and forward in time and location, we see even more clearly how troubling is one's identity. Plus, this switching of storylines made me eager to keep reading so that I could learn more about each character. The one thing I have to mention though, would be my response to the judge and his marriage. Although you get that the judge finds he can't relate to his fiercely"desi" wife, in the remnants of his life in England, he seems more angry that he can't get a British wife but may not want one. Then who can he relate to? Not only is he too Indian, but he's not Indian enough, and his relationship with his wife becomes horrifyingly disconnected, disturbing, and downright abusive. I couldn't read the sections that dealt with their relationship fast enough; I just wanted it to be over with and move along. It was just too painful, and made me sad for all involved.

In connection to this sad story of love and disconnection, I have to share one of my favorite quotes of the entire novel. In the opening scene of the novel, we are actually set in the future (without knowing she's starting at the end) waiting for the tutor to arrive as Sai considers the following of love:
Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself. (3)
I don't know why, but I underlined this quote about love and starred it a million times. Why? Maybe because my own connection to love has been so painful, and that all I see can relate to this beautiful sentiment about love being about all that surrounds love. How does one actually get to the core of it? What a beautifully messy way of describing it!

Overall, Desai's novel was painfully brilliant. Little answers are provided in this agonizing tale of postcolonial discontent and lost identity, yet the awareness brought about by its complexities are breathtaking.

This also fulfills one requirement for the 1% Well Read Challenge.

For more information see: The Inheritance of Loss

Rejuvenate & Renew Challenge Update: 6/1 to 6/14

Okay. Sorry for not getting the update up sooner! Between moving out of my home so quickly and arriving here in Hawaii, I simply let it slip my mind. I know our numbers are few, but we would LOVE to have more people join in on this challenge. I like to think of it as a "learn something new" or "self-help" challenge. It's my way of pushing myself to read those nonfiction books that I've been wanting to read about things like finance, diet, etc. Please join! You can click on the button above to link back to the challenge & leave a comment. I even think there will be a giveaway in this genre at the end, so pass the word along and join with us.

For those who are involved in the challenge, you can leave a comment here to let us know if you've read anything yet. I'll even try to give people a link on my next "update" post (which will be once a week from now on). If you haven't yet finished a book, you can even just tell us what you're looking forward to reading or are in the middle of!

As for me, I did manage to finish one book for the challenge. I read Suze Orman's 2009 Action Plan, which was my way of trying to get my finances in order as I prepare to buy a new townhome this fall. It was some great information, but also caused me a lot of strange stress. You can see some of Suze Orman's suggestions and my review at: "Review: Suze Orman's 2009 Action Plan."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Few Book Awards

I've been a bit slow about getting these posted, but I wanted to say a big THANK YOU to each of you for rewarding me these lovely awards. I really struggle to know who to pass them along to, so I'll post the rules, but think I'll only pass them on to one person each. I hope that doesn't offend anyone, but I feel like there are SO many well-deserving blogs out there.

The first:

The award was given to me by Gaby317, over at Starting Fresh. The award originated at J.Kaye's Book Blog and is described as:
Highlighting new book blogs has always been important to me. It’s the reason I pass along blog awards to new bloggers or at the very least, new to me book blogs. Without an audience, especially at the beginning, the life of a blogger can be sort of dreary. It feels good when another book blogger promotes your blog. Besides, I like blabbing about other book blogs. If you’d like to join in, please feel free. This event will take place every Friday and I’ll be listing the new book blogs or websites I’ve discovered during the week. Some might even be a rediscovery.
I would like to pass this nice little award on to:
  • Rose, at Another Great Read. Her blog is new to me, and the thing that I liked about her reviews is that she includes lots of options for how to pick up the book, along with a list of other books in the series. I don't know why I hadn't ever thought about including the others in the series, but that really is quite helpful. Thanks Rose! Go check her blog out!

The Second:

This award was given to me by Desert Rose over at DeSeRt RoSe BoOkLoGuE, and is the "One Lovely Blog" Award. Thank you so much for this recognition!

I would like to pass this award on to:
  • Drea, at Book Blather. I think her blog is well put together, and just as the award states...lovely! I'm pretty bad at blog design, and am too scared to touch it to change the look, so when I see pretty new designs, they stand out. Drop on by this great bloggers book blog to see her reviews!
The Final Award:

This final award is "The Literary Blogger" award. I was given this great award by Missy over at Missy's Book Nook, and is described as:
...an award which acknowledges bloggers who energize and inspire reading by going the extra mile! These amazing bloggers make reading fun, and enhance the delight of reading!
The Rules:
1) Put the logo on your blog/post.
2) Nominate up to 9 blogs.
3) Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.
4) Let them know that they have been nominated by commenting on their blog.
5) Remember to link to the person from whom you received your award.
As I stated earlier, I'm actually only passing this along to one blogger, and I chose:
  • JoAnn, at Lakeside Musing. She has won a lot of awards, and I can see why. The books she chooses, and her reviews, are all really smartly joined together in great reviews and posts. If you haven't dropped by, please go now!

Double Review: Princess in Pink by Meg Cabot and The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Consider it two reviews for one low reading price! :) Both books are fairly short, and I'm a bit behind on my book reviews, so why not combine these two little jewels? Let's begin!

Synopsis: Princess in Pink is the fifth installment in the Princess Diaries collection by Meg Cabot. In this selection, we find that Princess Mia is dying to go to that most famous of all high school/teen events...prom. The question is, what is taking her boyfriend so long to ask her, and what if he doesn't?

Review: I love Meg Cabot dearly. She is probably my favorite author because I love her writing style and voice, and also because of her blog (that I fell in love with last summer). I think that this fifth book is a bit of a transition for Mia, and for all of us as readers. Mia's trauma over whether she's going to the prom or not was painful at times, as you really do want her to get to go, but you're just not sure. Teens would love the angst of this novel, while I had moments of wanting to shake Mia (and her best friend, who flipped out a bit in this book). Overall, this is another cute installment, although much more geared toward teens than some of the others.

For more information, see: The Princess Diaries, Volume V: Princess in Pink (Princess Diaries)

Now, on to my second review! During the 48 Hour Marathon, I read The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling. I feel like the only person on the planet who has not read these tales, but I did have a joyous hour throwing back these cute tales during my marathon.

Synopsis: The tales are supposedly collected from the papers of Albus Dumbledore, the famous headmaster of Hogwarts, and translated by Hermoine Granger. The collection of tales are what appear to be types of fairytales, folklores, and children's stories for the wizard/magical community. There are themes of love, selfishness, service, gratitude, etc. that run through these tales, which also hint at muggle/magical relations.

Review: While not magically some "lost" pages from the original story of Harry Potter, I still found these stories whimsical and magical to me! As a lover of all things Harry Potter, I couldn't help but love having another piece to the magical world Harry and his fellow wizarding friends live in. I don't want to give away the individual stories, but will say that I loved the story, "The Fountain of Fair Fortune" for its reminders of gratitude and ability, and "The Warlock's Hairy Heart" for its scary display of what happens when one withholds love in their life. Each of the stories had a great message and following analysis, and I would highly recommend this installment if you enjoyed the Harry Potter series even a little!

For more information, see: The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Standard Edition

Monday, June 8, 2009

Review: Impusle and Initiative by Abigail Reynolds

No, this was not one of my 48 Hour Reading Challenge reads, but I did finish this last week in the midst of the big move. I've been mulling it around in my head, so I wanted to get this review down ASAP!

Synopsis: What if? Abigail Reynolds is famous for taking the story of Pride and Prejudice and twisting it just a little. As I mentioned last month, I noticed this book (mainly because of the cover) standing on a display case at the library. I flipped it over and it asked the question, what if Darcy hadn't backed down when Elizabeth turned him down that first time? What if he had pursued her, not taking no for an answer, and followed her to prove that he wasn't what she thought he was? Since many readers know the basic premise of Jane Austen's iconic novel, I'll leave it at that!

Review: Here is my instant response to this version of the Darcy and Elizabeth story. Without the tension, rejection, and humble appeal for Elizabeth's heart, the story just wasn't the same. In this version, Darcy and Bingley return to Netherfield to court the two sisters, and for Darcy to find out Elizabeth's response to his letter following his first offer of marriage. The tension and sparring are no longer there at this point. Instead, we see the classic hero wooing fair maid story, which then loses the appeal we gain of watching Darcy's dejection and selfless service to Elizabeth. The beauty of Darcy serving Elizabeth and her family in the original version is that he does so with nothing more in mind than to see Elizabeth happy, while continuing to think she does not love him. In this newer version, there are no selfless acts, nor reason to believe that Darcy is this romantic ball of mush for this woman (which we all love...that he can be weak at the knees over a woman, but ONLY for her).

While the story itself is an interesting take, and I didn't mind seeing what happened to the relationship (which I didn't think ended up as deep or enduring), it was a little disturbing to see how the physical relationship played out. Now it was not the fact that there is a physical relationship, as much as how it came about in the story. Spoiler Alert*** Darcy and Elizabeth step outside the formal, proper bounds of a courtship and escalate their affections to the point that they have to rush to get married. Why did this bother me? Well, because they spend the rest of the book answering for their indiscretions, and feeling guilty about them. It just wasn't pleasant or romantic to watch Elizabeth and Darcy calming one another after pushing these boundaries...not romantic at all. End of Spoiler.***

In essence, this novel pushed our modern sensibilities onto two, much beloved characters, from an era that would have frowned most heavily on their behaviors. As entertaining as I sometimes find it to read stories that share a take on a story I love, AND although I thought this was a good enough story on some levels, I did think that it limited the romantic relationship of our characters. Darcy ended up being not quite the gallant hero he was in the original, and the couple were moved too far into our modern day in their actions for a story that takes place in the Regency Era.

For more information: Impulse & Initiative: What if Mr. Darcy had set out to win Elizabeth's heart? (Pride & Prejudice Variation)