Friday, October 30, 2009

Rejuvenate & Renew Wrap Up--Review of Two Books

I know, this ended a month ago, but here is the evidence why you should never procrastinate. Just when you think you're ready to complete something, another something outside of your control makes it nearly impossible to finish. Yes, the story of many people's lives! Needless to say though, that regardless of the procrastination and computer problems this last week, I thought I'd post the two books I read for the Rejuvenate & Renew Challenge, that I held this summer, in a double review.

The first, Mommywood, was Tori Spelling's follow-up autobiography to StoriTelling. I still tend to be a bit voyeuristic here, and will admit to enjoy reading about the lives of famous people. This might coincide with my unnatural love of reality TV (such as Intervention, Real Housewives of whatever location, Top Chef, etc.), but I find other's lives to be pretty fascinating. Most of the time, it seems shocking that people live the way they do. However, you get a sense from Spelling's books, that she has many fears and weaknesses that make her more similar to us "regular folk" than one would at first think. I can say that I didn't like Mommywood quite as much as the first book, mainly because you could see more of the difficulties that were building up between Tori and her young family. Because of how they started their marriage (an affair that broke up two marriages), I fear for their future. Tori, who seems sweet and relatable, is terribly paranoid, which could be a driving factor towards putting a wedge between she and her husband/family. Once again, not my favorite, but an interesting read nonetheless.

The second I actually tore through pretty quickly back in August. After another year of showing low vitamin levels, the doctor sent me for several tests to see what was wrong, fearing I might have Celiac's disease. Now, for someone who already has pancreatic and thyroid issues and lives on bread (proteins often aggravate my condition), this really devastated me. THANKFULLY, the tests came back negative. That doesn't mean that I don't have it, conclusively, but I don't have the initial markers that would indicate that I do.

Thanks to this health scare, I started checking out books that would help me understand the condition better. I knew that Elizabeth Hasselbeck, of the View, suffered from this disease and had just put out her book,The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide. I checked it out, and have to say that the simple, no-nonsense story and guidelines really helped put this disease all in perspective. Hasselbeck begins the book with her own arduous journey, which was terrifying to see how much it had affected her. Getting a diagnosis took her almost ten years, and she suffered horribly in the meantime. With a proper diagnosis, however, she really turned her life around and has many practical pieces of advice. Her own experience with the disease has led her to know and understand what things work for her, and what foods she can advise others to try to keep up their energy and vitality. Covering not only her story, but also ways of explaining the disease, ways of gaining a diagnosis, and ways of living with this radical diet were well written and very clear. Although I do not have this disease (or at least they don't believe that I do), I can still see a very practical use in eating this way from time to time, for basic health. And, should I get this disease in the future (as it often lies dormant in people), I think this book would be a very helpful resource to have on hand. I highly recommend it for its information and understanding.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Computer Issues & Reading Post-Readathon

This has been a strange week full of computer issues. To be quick about it, my internet & cable bundle from when I first moved into my new house somehow didn't place correctly, and I've been working off of wireless connections in my area--I know, not good, but it's all I've had for awhile. I'm now waiting for the order to go through so that I have my own, SECURE, connection again. To top it off though, I've thought I could just head to work and draft up my reviews or posts from work, but that computer has decided to flip out this week. Needless to say, I've been without much access this week. Thankfully, I have a connection tonight, so I thought I'd jump on and post this update & maybe save a few reviews while I have the chance!

Now, time to switch gears and talk a bit about my reading. After finishing three books during the readathon, I had to switch back to grading for end of term at the school I teach at. That's left me with a limited amount of time for reading, but I have picked away at a few...especially since I'm the type to read four or five at once! Currently, I'm reading the following:

I'm actually listening to Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, and loving that routine of driving to and from work while listening to a book.
After hearing all the buzz about The Hunger Games, I finally broke down and put my name on the hold list at the library. I've had it for a little while, and only just started it, but I'm intrigued so far!

Willoughby's Return is one that I was given from Sourcebooks, that will be coming out in November. Isn't it a pretty cover. To be honest, I've only just started it as well, and I'm curious to see if I'll be okay with Willoughby returning to throw Marianne's life into chaos.

I keep picking away at The 19th Wife, which is a book I won in a book giveaway, but haven't finished it because I've had books that had to be returned to the library or ARCs that needed to be reviewed. It's an excellent book so far though, so I'm eager to sit down and give it more time.

Finally, I'm still reading Jude the Obscure. I'm ashamed to say that I started this book over a a year ago, and am over half way through it. I can't even say exactly what stopped me from finishing, but I pulled it from my main book shelves and put it back in my reading pile last week.

Hopefully I can sit down and do a bit more reading this weekend. I'm also excited to share more about the Sherman Alexie signing that happened earlier this month here in Salt Lake, and will be hosting a giveaway of Alexie's newest book, War Dances, (which I read during the readathon) so keep your eyes out for that one.

Until I can get on again, let me ask, what are you reading, and what do you do when you're having internet or computer issues?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

24 Hour Readathon: When I Died Off & End of Event Meme

Good morning! I could no more have written this last night as the fatigue set in, than I could have gone out and ran a mile in the rain! Those evening hours, that I originally thought would be pretty productive, turned out to be the worst time to read of all. The distractions piled up all over the place!

Here are my final stats:
  • Hours Read: 11
  • Hours Spent Online: 3-4?
  • Books Read: 3 and change (I had to skim through various chapters in the books I had stacked up to find what I wanted to read next.)
  • Pages Read: 779--Yea, not good. I can't believe how easily distracted I was during those last four hours. ANYTHING could distract me, so that I found that simple things like brushing my teeth took almost thirty minutes! What's up with that?
  • Mini-Challenges: 2 or 3. At this point, I honestly can't remember! How awful is that?!?
Now, for the final meme posted by those running Dewey's Read-a-thon:
1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Hour 21. I literally just kept waking myself up every five minutes until I couldn't take it anymore!

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Sigh. I just don't know! I really loved what I was reading, War Dances by Sherman Alexie, but I couldn't fight my body. At this point, I think that where you set yourself up to read might be as important as what you read. You might not want to read in bed, as I did! :)

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Actually, I don't. All those involved did a really great job of keeping things moving. I did appreciate the hourly posts on Twitter to remind me of the hour, so thank you to those organizers who kept posting those.

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? Pretty much everything. The mini-challenges were really well organized, and although I wasn't on to catch many of them, for those that I did, I was surprised to see how well listed and announced they all were. Thanks!

5. How many books did you read? 3 and 1/2

6. What were the names of the books you read? Prada and Prejudice, Good Luck, and War Dances were the ones I completed. I also read several chapters of Pride and Prejudice, Twenties Girl, Willoughby's Return, and Tumbling Through Time.

7. Which book did you enjoy most? I actually enjoyed reading Good Luck the most, maybe because it was the book that I spent the most time on, and related to the most (It was about an English teacher who gets accused of sexual harrassment by a disgruntled student, when she had done nothing more than give him a well-earned bad grade.)

8. Which did you enjoy least? As listed in some of the books that I skimmed, I couldn't read Pride and Prejudice for any length of time last night. It's not that I didn't like it, it's just that I couldn't handle it as I grew more fatigued.

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? VERY likely. Unless I have something really pressing on the day of the next readathon, I definitely plan on being involved!

Okay, so now I'm off to go peak in on some of the other participants to see how in the world they read SO MUCH! Also, I have a lot of work to do to get these books reviewed. :)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

24 Hour Readathon: Hour 16 & Midway Survey

After taking a HUGE, non-planned break to put in laundry (which turned into changing sheets on beds), and running to grab some dinner, I came back to find that I'd missed a Midway Survey! Although I'm just now getting back to reading, all is well in my little world now, and I'm back to business in the hopes I can stay up as late as I'd like.

1. What are you reading right now? Let's see...I have about 20 books sitting beside me, and have NO IDEA what to hit next. What's kind of catching my fancy though? I might try to finish Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella, or dive into Sherman Alexie's newest, War Dances.

2. How many books have you read so far? 2...I know, not real great.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I really don't know. I'm hoping something will surprise me! :)

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? I stayed up pretty late last night, trying to finish up final essays and papers for the term from classes I'm teaching at school (I teach high school). I'm proud to say that I plowed through a huge stack, which freed me up, somewhat, for this lovely Saturday of reading.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Only in the last four hours. I had to get laundry in, and take care of a few things before my best friend showed up to dive into some fun reading with me. (She's a much faster reader than I am, and she was super excited when I told her what I was doing.) How did I deal with her showing up? I introduced her to my huge stack of books, and although she brought two of her own, she is currently reading one of mine, Casting Spells by Barbara Bretton.

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? How fast time flies, and how slowly I seem to read!

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? No! I think it's run really well, and I've so appreciated the community here all working together. Thank you to everyone for participating, cheering, dropping by, etc. This has been so much fun!

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? Actually, I don't think I'd do anything differently. I really think that regardless of how well I prepare, I will always get sidetracked at some point during that 24 or 48 hours. In the end, I just have to roll with it, and be okay with however much time I spend or books I finish.

9. Are you getting tired yet? Umm...yea. That's a given. :) Reading always relaxes me, and I find that it's easy to nod off when you've already escaped.

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered? This is just for me, but I have to try to stay away from the computer when I really want to read. If I'm checking in too often, I find that it eats into my reading pretty quickly.

Thanks for this fun Midway Survey. I'm back to reading now, or at least searching for the next great read. As a quick recap, I've read: Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard, and Good Luck by Whitney Gaskell. Wish me luck as I try to see how long I can hold out tonight!

24 Hour Readathon: Half Way Point

I'm a little shell-shocked that we're nearing the half way point already. It's crazy to me how fast time flies when you're engrossed in a good book (or two)! I've actually roped my friend Doc into coming over after she finishes a rotation at the hospital, and we're both going to keep on reading into the evening. Truth be told, she gets engrossed in a good book faster than I do, so when I mentioned what I was doing tonight, she threw out any other plans for the evening and said she'd be over. I think we'll go grab some takeout and come back to my place to keep reading through the night!

Here are a few quick stats at a glance:
  • Hours Read: 6 out of 12 (I started four hours late after sleeping in this morning, otherwise, I would have just kept falling asleep on my books all day!)
  • Hours Spent Online: 1 and 1/2. Every time I took a quick break to get a drink, or record my first, and now second, book read, I'd jump online to see what was going on.
  • Books Read: 2
  • Pages Read: 521
  • Mini-Challenges: 1-- I made a feeble attempt to guess the YA book covers from the snippets we were given over at Book Blather. Thanks Drea! It was great fun trying to remember where I'd seen those covers. I only managed to guess 11, but you might guess more. Head on over to see how many you can guess!
Goals for this evening and the 2nd half:
  • Get laundry in. (Yes, not very readathon oriented, but a big necessity!)
  • Aim at reading a book for one of the many challenges I'm involved in. Maybe I can switch over to my Kindle for an e-reader challenge option?
  • Maybe get in another book or two before the challenge is over?
  • Try to participate in at least two more mini-challenges.
Well, now I have to worry about what to read next...

(Yes, if I didn't feel the need to decorate my bookshelves along with my books, then I could get more on them!)

Thanks for all the encouragement! Every time I hear my iPhone ding, I know I'm getting another message on my blog to cheer and encourage me, so thanks for your kind words. It's almost like It's a Wonderful Life, so maybe some of you will get your reading wings for cheering us all along! LOL. :)

24 Hour Readathon: First Four Hours

Welcome! I'm getting ready to get off and running with my readathon goals, and although I'm getting a later start than most, I'm excited about what I have to read! I apologize for being a big whiner in my last post; it was evidence of the end of term at the school I teach at & my desire to crawl into bed and "forget about it." :) I did, however, get all but five essays graded last night. That alone has me excited and proud of myself! Having said that, and after a wonderful night's sleep, I'm so excited to dive into my reading now!

Here's what I've done so far and my plans:
  • I got up and had some Ezekiel Bread with raspberry jam for breakfast...YUM. (If you haven't tried Ezekiel Bread, I HIGHLY recommend it. It's an organic, whole grain bread that I just happen to really like because it's so crunchy and healthy. You can generally find it in the freezer section of your local grocery store.)
  • I mixed up one of my favorite "I've got a cold/flu/stomach ache" drinks: 2 c. crushed ice, 1 can of Diet Sprite, and 1 cup of 100% Concord Grape Juice. Yea, not any big miracle drink or amazing concoction, but I love it!
  • My stack of books. I'm going to go finish Prada and Prejudice, which I'm about half way through already, and then I might bounce around from book to book for a little bit.
Well, that's where I'm at so far. I don't want to overload the feeds (as mentioned by lots of other readathoners), so I think I'll just stop back in later this afternoon or evening. I will, however, be stopping into Twitter to update where I'm at. You can follow me here: mjmbecky on Twitter.

Happy reading!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-A-Thon Preparation Post

A short note to anyone who might wonder where I'm at early tomorrow morning:
I hereby proclaim that I am very tired, have had the flu this week, and simply cannot get up at the crack of dawn to start the marathon. While I am duly sad at my own lack of time and dedication to start on time, I will be sleeping an appropriate amount so that I do not fall asleep on the desirable stacks of books that yawn before me (pun intended).

I do hereby declare that I will be up when my beleaguered body is prepared to do so, and will be then eager to join in the festivities...thus saith my end-of-the-week, I've-been-home-sick, I'm-a-teacher-&-it's-end-of-term self.

I will now get off my elevated manner of speaking! Can you tell I've been teaching Beowulf...and am slap-happy and tired today?!? I made a mistake in my initial marathon post, in thinking it was last weekend. Thankfully, I was corrected on Twitter, and am geared up for the REAL marathon this weekend. My list of books to read has changed a little, but I'm still looking forward to some of the books on my original list that I posted about in my Sunday Salon #12. I was hoping that my local library would get in Book 4 of the Van Alan Legacy and the 4th in the Luxe series, Splendor. Unfortunately, they haven't been "processed" yet, so I'll stick with the mile-high pile I still have to read.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review: Party Princess & Sweet Sixteen Princess by Meg Cabot

After a nice fall break, I somehow managed to drag home a nice flu bug that reared its ugly head the Sunday before heading back to school. By Sunday night I pretty much knew I was a goner, and have been home today and will be taking tomorrow off as well. Between sleeping, I've still been grading essays, but hate that reading any little thing gives me a headache. Regardless of my whining (and yes, I'm whining), I wanted to get my next reviews up. I decided to do another double feature from the Princess Diaries series, since Sweet Sixteen Princess was actually a short installment and easy to review alongside of Party Princess.

Synopsis: In Party Princess Mia is still reeling from the grown up world her boyfriend has moved into, being a college man now. After having the s-e-x conversation in the previous novel, Mia now feels unsophisticated next to her boyfriend, and believes that all college girls must be way more exciting and "free spirited" than poor Mia. Although Mia, as student body president, is struggling to raise funds for her high school (thanks to using them up on different pet projects), Mia is equally as concerned with a party her boyfriend has invited her to. Mia is sure that she will look silly next to his college friends, and agonizes over just how to look cool to him. Needless to say, in classic Mia-style, she does all the things that she thinks will make her look cool and ends up embarrassing everyone at the party, including her boyfriend. Will he forgive her and still like his high school uncool as she has behaved?

As a quick follow-up to Party Princess we get Sweet Sixteen Princess. All Mia wants is a quiet night alone with her boyfriend, but if we've come to know and expect anything of Mia's life, it's that Grandmere just won't stand for her granddaughter to have something small and quiet for her 16th birthday!

Review: I have to say that I feel like these two books are setting up the obvious distance that comes between people of different age groups. When one person grows, and the other is left behind, it often causes conflict. This seems to be well represented in these books, and although Mia is growing up, it's obvious that her boyfriend is experiencing things as a college student that a sophomore in high school just can't understand yet.

I actually felt SO embarrassed for poor Mia in Party Princess when she humiliated herself at the party. It's not as if we haven't all made fools of ourselves in front of a group of people, but as an outside observer in this installment, I felt especially embarrassed for Mia and her obvious insecurity. Both books were cute books, and had funny little moments that struck me. The issues Mia faces do seem to get a bit more complex the older she gets (i.e. sex, drinking, divorce, etc.), and it feels natural to the story. These are simply a fun, quick read as an adult, and I can imagine that my teen students would really relate to Mia and her honesty in every situation!

Now, relating to Mia...can you remember a time that you really humiliated yourself at a party? To be honest, any humiliating moment I ever remember involved some stupid sport that we were all supposed to have fun playing together. Listen, I'm a HUGE college basketball fan, and I've enjoyed a few team sports I've played, but in general...NO WAY! Why did my most pitiful playing always take place in front of someone I was dating or liked at the time? Sigh. Give me something intellectually driven like a board or card game, and I'm top of my game. Put me in a sporting event, and I might as well have my hands tied behind my back and a mask over my eyes! Oh yes, but I showed them how much "fun" I was, right? Right.

For more information on either book, see: The Princess Diaries, Volume VII: Party Princess (Princess Diaries, Vol. 7) or Sweet Sixteen Princess (Princess Diaries, Vol. 7 1/2).

***Books reviewed were checked out from the local public library.

This review is also part of Book Review Wednesdays. Check out Cym Lowell's book blog for more information!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Movie Challenge Review: Bright Star

Last night I had the opportunity to hit the late showing of the film Bright Star, starring Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish about the life of the poet John Keats. As an English teacher, how could I not go see such a film? Even without that disclaimer, I'm an admitted period drama obsessive. Knowing what I did about John Keats, I was hesitant to see the film, seeing how the film Becoming Jane about sent me over the edge (my disclaimer on that film was that if you are a single female, beware of the closing scene and lines, as they are destructive to your hopes in the future). However, Bright Star had something mystical about it, poetic in its very cinematography that left me crying as many tears over the beauty as over the sadness of the story as a whole.

Let's be honest, Keats is a master poet that every English major becomes intimately acquainted with at some point. I still remember reading "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode on a Grecian Urn" when in high school, and later in college reading "Lines on the Mermaid Tavern" and "To Autumn," which Hugh Grant famously quotes the opening line to while paddling Bridget Jones across a pond in Bridget Jones Diary. His "Ode on a Grecian Urn" particularly caught my attention, as I've always held a fascination and love of Greece. The lines, taken from the opening of the third stanza have always struck me:
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
I've always loved that last line, with its repetition of the word happy, to imbue the emotion to love so that we see that emotion not just as romantic, but as containing an array of bright and wonderful feelings to also describe it. That's how I always hoped it to be! I can't say that Keats was my favorite poet, but I always found his poetry to be bright and precise in its descriptions, whether about nature or a man-made object. His precision has always been awe-inspiring, especially after I learned just how complex poems such as his really were.

Having said that, I actually learned about the film from my mother, who knew this would be a film I wouldn't want to miss. Last evening, my friend Doc and I braved the ensuing depression that we knew would set in, and went to see Bright Star, for which Keats also wrote a poem by that title ("Bright Star").

Synopsis: Centered on the life of poet John Keats, the film captures the supposed love between Keats and Fanny Brawne, who are kept apart because of social and financial standings. As with most Regency Period films, the ideals of social standing and sexual purity pervade the film, intertwined with the angsty beatific language of the poetry of Keats spread throughout. Images of nature and simple objects fill the film and add an additional layer to the tortured, yet short-lived love between Keats and Brawne, before the untimely death of Keats to tuberculosis.

Review: Unlike the film Becoming Jane, in which two lovers are kept apart by social expectations, Keats and Brawne are essentially kept apart by more than just the penniless status of an up and coming poet who can barely care for his own needs than that of a wife. Keats and Brawne seem at odds, initially, in their world view; she is a supposed realistic with her love of fashion, and he is a poet with his eyes to nature for inspiration. Over time, we see that mutual respect and friendship wield the two together, and create a powerful love that neither can deny.

While I can say that I left the theater having shed a few tears, I didn't feel the despair that I did after watching the drama of Jane Austen's life (definitely not a film for the single female to see--the closing lines mention that she and her sister never married). The tears I shed were more for the loss of both people in the relationship, and for the possibilities of what more Keats could have composed had he lived.

In short, Bright Star is a brooding, cinematic piece of art that I highly recommend to any and all Regency Period fans, or to fans of English courses and classic literature. I found the film to honor the work and pain that goes into the creative process really very beautiful, and lends us a bit more respect for the work that the poet put into their work. The shots captured on film were beautiful, and with a PG rating, I felt that they left the love and passion of the couple to be felt through artistic representation and not through gratuity. Overall, a brilliant film, and one that I will definitely be purchasing.

For another great review, see the NY Times review of the film, and for more information on the movie itself, see: Bright Star, the movie site.

This review is also my fourth in the Period Drama Challenge.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Review: The Sound of Sleigh Bells by Cindy Woodsmall

What a great week. We're on fall break Thursday and Friday, which I would love to use for doing nothing more than endless reading; however, I do have grading to do at some point for end of term next week. Honestly, I can't believe that it's fall already. In some ways, we might even say that we're headed towards--dare I say it--winter?!? As much as I love winter, I love and adore fall/harvest time even more. Anyone who has ever read a Little House on the Prairie book, or watched one of those fun, fall Gilmore Girl's episodes filled with town square celebrations, might agree with me that it's such a heart-warming introduction to the holidays. There are just so many wonderful, quaint, fun moments I can associate with the fall, that I suppose I'm not wishing "winter" here too soon!

Having said that though, I was excited to read this fall/winter read from WaterBrook Press, The Sound of Sleigh Bells by Cindy Woodsmall.

Synopsis: Beth Hertzler has a secret that is troubling her, and preventing her from being honest with the people who love her. Dressed all in black, and mourning a fiance that died over a year ago, Beth keeps love and the hopes of love at a distance.

Set in a modern day Amish community, Beth works as a liaison between the Amish shops that cater to the Englischer patrons of their shops, and other Amish artisans and craftsmen across Pennsylvania and Ohio. Part of Beth's work takes her outside of Pennsylvania to meet other Amish, and to network the selling of their goods to an eager market. Along the way, Beth comes across an amazing artisan, who carves the most lifelike and beautiful carvings that she has ever seen. Believing the artist to be an old man, Beth begins corresponding by letters with the artist, not knowing that he is actually the equally troubled, young and single Jonah. How will Beth respond when she finds out who she is actually writing, and how can a friendship continue between two, equally wounded people?

Review: Although I've seen many of these Amish-set novels popping up lately, I had never actually read one. I was interested and curious to see if my love for 1800 style stories and living would be reflected in an Amish story, and how their culture would play out. The novella (as its really quite a short read), started off a little slowly. There seemed to be this light touch applied to the story, that gently took on the characters, culture, and story that made you feel that you needed to tread lightly in any expectations or judgments you might make. I can't pin down exactly why I felt that way, but I did feel as though we were being led, gently, through a story of loss and yearning.

While I thought the book was very sweet, and I would easily recommend it to just about anyone, I did feel that some of the light touch applied throughout the story needed to be pushed by the ending. I can't say that the way the events played out were completely predictable, but in some ways, I was surprised at how no nonsense everything played out. Maybe the story reflects more of a reality than I'm willing to admit to, but in the end, I did feel that things happened pretty straight forward. I've always said how much I hate stories that manipulate my emotions, but maybe in this case I wanted just a little manipulation? Yes, I laugh at myself as I say that; however, for such a sweet story, I guess I just wanted to see more emotions come from the characters.

A very cute story, and one that will fit in well with any plans for a "holiday," winter sort of read.

For more information, see: The Sound of Sleigh Bells.

***This book came from WaterBrook Press as a review copy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Review: Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai

In the wake of reading The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, and struggling to review a book that blew me away with its depth and meaning, I thought I'd tackle her mother's book, Fasting, Feasting. It is also a book that I've seen featured on the AP Literature exam, and I wanted to read it so that I knew what I was recommending to my students. Thankfully, it was an intriguing read, and once again, not an easy one to recommend in short.

Synopsis: Centered around the lives of one family and their children, we see the affects of culture on the choices one makes for their life. The daughter of the story, Uma, is continually scorned at every turn. Not only is she pulled from school so that her brother can continue with his own future endeavors, but she is also an unattractive, undesirable young woman that cannot seem to land a husband, regardless of the dowry offered. In fact, people come out of the woodwork to take advantage of the family's desperation to marry off their daughter, to which Uma must be repeatedly saved, only to then return to her parent's home to be their veritable slave. Uma is treated as a second-class citizen at ever turn.

On the flip side, Uma's brother Arun finishes his schooling and is sent to the United States to go to college. During one lonely summer vacation, the socially inept young man is forced to live with the white family of a friend they knew in India. Rather than seeing Arun struggle to merely negotiate the strange cultural pitfalls of living with a meat-eating family, we are privy to the pitfalls that cause every bit as many separations between the family members as the forced pressures of his home culture.

Review: In both stories, between Uma and her brother Arun, we see the irony of the ideal situation set upon these characters. What happens to someone who is "supposed to" marry and have a family and does not. What happens to someone who is "supposed to" get an education and live happily ever after with a great career and the happiness that its money is supposed to bring? For Uma, although she is unable to find a husband, we are shown the ironic, unhappy situations in which her prettier sister and cousin are placed in when they both marry. Both women end up with unhappy marriages, going to show that marriage might not be a ready answer to a woman's happiness. With Arun, although he is attending college in the United States (an opportunity seen as highly desirable), where choices are seen to be free and almost whimsical in nature, he is exposed to what one might call a "normal" family that is actually filled with dysfunction.

I could see the direction Anita Desai was taking us as she wrote her stories about this brother and sister, raised in a culture full of ironies in the postcolonial present. We can readily see the sad pressures placed on women and families to marry, and to marry those that one's family and culture dictate. And even in the case of good marriages, there can always come heartache and turmoil. These themes should not seem foreign to anyone reading the novel, regardless of the culture one comes from. It's easy to see that Desai does not simply make "America" the ideal. The distance between the family members in the story also highlights the ways our own culture pulls families apart.

Overall, I did find this novel to be terribly sad. I did, however, have to read this in just a couple of sittings, because I was haunted by the myriad ways that a culture and family can pressure those they love into paths that create unhappiness. While not an uplifting book, leaving us without possibilities drawn out by the author, I can still say that I found it's meaning and points to be provoking. Really, quite a good story. I know that I will not forget Uma anytime soon.

(This book also counts as my third in the 1% Well Read Challenge.)

***Book purchased for personal use and review.

For more information see: Fasting, Feasting.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday Salon #12: Dewey's Readathon & More

It's hard to believe that summer is over and fall is more than underway. We're preparing to finish our first term at school already, which blows my mind! I'm already looking towards Christmas, with a few major purchases made here and there in preparation. The old adage that time flies feels more real with the passing of each year!

As I consider the coming week(s), I wanted to post an update on the Dewey 24-hour Readathon. In the spring I was a cheerleader, which was great fun. I loved seeing what everyone was reading, and meeting so many great bloggers. After participating in the 48-Hour Book Challenge in June, I realized that if you could swing the time element, that joining in was great fun!

We've been asked to post what we're going to be reading for the challenge, and even that was a "challenge" for me to come up with! I have way too many books right now to get through, and the two days before the readathon, I have a fall break and will probably be reading (and grading, as always) my little eyes out. I have been eagerly anticipating the break, and have stacks! However, knowing the way I read for the 48-Hour, I pulled together a list and a strategy that might work for me. Here is just a picture of a few of the books I'd like to tackle...

One thing I learned from the other marathon challenge was that I'm NOT VERY GOOD at just sitting and reading for that long. I decided that I'm just not going to worry about it, and have a great time with what I can do! Before, I tackled a really hard book for the challenge, The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. It was an amazing book, yet dense and slow going. I really don't regret choosing a book that I felt I spent almost as much time annotating as I did reading. In hindsight, having the time to devour it in one sitting really enhanced my reading of the novel, so although I watched others whiz right on by with book after book being read (which caused me a bit of anxiety at first), I am perfectly happy with my previous experience.

Having said that, my choices center around books I WANT to read (thanks to many other reviews I've read): The Actor and the Housewife and A Year Down Yonder. Next, I have books that I NEED & want to read for challenges I'm participating in: finish Pride and Prejudice (not pictured because it's on my Kindle but being read for the Everything Austen Challenge), finish Dracula (for the 1% Reading Challenge), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (British version for the Harry Potter Challenge), rounded out by White Tiger (last year's Booker Prize winner) and 19th Wife (a book I won from Booknut--thanks).

This is just a start though. Mount Too Be Read (Mt. TBR) is falling over with many great books to choose from, so I won't be without plenty to choose from!

To finish today, I wanted to post a couple of quick pics of my new house. The pictures aren't great, and they only show the kitchen and master bedroom, but I thought I'd give you a peek!

Yes, it's still a bit of a work in progress, but I'm loving my new home more and more with each day. More than anything else, I love knowing that the space is entirely my own. The kitchen is just off of the living room on the first floor. You can see that I put up a bookshelf at the end of the island to hold all my cookbooks. A bit messy still, but all mine!

Finally, here's a condensed, poorly taken picture of my master bedroom on the second floor. I've since put up my paintings, but at this point, the bed and bookshelves came first! You can't really see it, but there's a nice, comfy chair over by the window that I often sit in to grade papers, write blog posts, and to read a good book. In the other direction, there is another large bookshelf, and another couple of bookshelves in the den (not pictured because it's WAY too messy still). Overall, it's a great new home, and a great investment. Thank you to all of you who encouraged me through friendly tweets or comments. It was a difficult process at the time, but so worth it!

By the way, thanks for recommending locations for my bookshelves. I did finally decide that I couldn't part with them in my bedroom. Honestly though, at the rate I'm going they'll be in every room in the house!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Review: The Wedding Girl by Madeleine Wickham

Once again, I find myself kicking myself for not getting my posts up on time. It's not that I was busier than normal, but I had a birthday this past week. Yes, a birthday. It was really nice, and I have to say thank you to past students, family, and friends who each made sure I didn't brush the day off! Thanks for making it a really nice day!

As for reading, I really feel that fall & winter are my time. I love nothing more than curling up with a blanket and good book. Because of that, I've managed to get through some really good books, including Madeleine Wickham's (aka Sophie Kinsella) The Wedding Girl.

Synopsis: Milly is preparing for her marriage to the man of her dreams. Her husband to be is all that she's dreamed of, but before the wedding has even arrived she fears that a secret from her past will pop up to destroy her future. As a favor to friends she met while attending Oxford, she married an American who wanted his citizenship so that he could continue his relationship with Rupert, a man they were both friends with. Fast forward to the present, Rupert has married a woman, who has no idea of his past, and who has no way of helping Milly find the man she so impulsively married for a favor. Will she find the man, will her fiance understand, will this secret ruin Rupert's life and marriage?

Review: I really enjoy the novels written by Sophie Kinsella, and have read a few of the novels she's written as Madeleine Wickham (one review here: Sleeping Arrangements). There seems to me to be a pretty distinct difference in the tones adopted by Kinsella and Wickham. Kinsella feels a bit more whimsical and humorous, while Wickham tends to take on more serious plot twists, with more modern world issues. To be perfectly honest, I do like the Kinsella novels much more, but find that by either author, you're sure to get a good story.

This particular novel I listened to on audiobook. The reader tended to use a British dialect that sounded like Queen's English, with a bit more of a "mum" sound to it. It did lead me to certain ideas about Milly that might not have been the case had I read it for myself. It's not that the reading wasn't well done, it just felt as though each of the characters were much older than Wickham intended. That's just me though!

The story itself was engaging, and I did want to know what happened to each character. in some cases though, especially with Rupert, I almost felt a deeper anxiety for him and how things fell apart between him and his American than I did with Milly and her fiance. It did take a little time to wrap up the full conflict, which led me to think all sorts of other problems were going to pop up. In the end though, the story tied everything together. I did like this novel more than Sleeping Arrangements, but still can't say that I enjoy them more than Kinsella's penned tales.

Now, off to continue reading! I'm actually in the process of reading Kinsella's newest Twenties Girl. Are there authors that you read that have two different pen names? Do you find that they choose to write in different ways under these names?

I'll head out now to get some reading done, but will share Kinsella's newest soon. Enjoy your fall, wherever you might be.

For more information see: The Wedding Girl.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Film Review: Schindler's List

Two weeks ago Schindler's List was playing on Direct TV. Since it has literally been since the film released back in 1993 that I'd seen this film, I recorded the movie to watch it again. One of the challenges I'm participating in, the Period Drama Challenge, gave me the perfect opportunity to revisit this iconic film about the Holocaust.

I have very distinct memories surrounding my first viewing of the film, that actually give it a bit more personal twist. Having grown up in a small conservative community, I still remember the "hub-bub" around what was considered a pretty graphic movie coming to town, about the Holocaust. Many of the people in my town chose not to watch R-rated movies, so there was quite a division among people I knew, not only because of the R rating, but also because of the subject matter. After some discussion, my parents decided that it was important to see, and my dad said that we would be going together as a family. Now, I remember that as being a pretty huge deal. My father, who has been deceased now for eleven years, was a huge history buff; he read history books and watched PBS documentaries about war and history almost enough to drive me mad as a teenager. However, his conviction about taking me to see the film so we could discuss it as a family had a huge impact on me.

I still remember entering the old movie theater in Rexburg, Idaho. It was on a Monday night, and my parents were somber as we went in. Honestly, although I'd read Night in high school, and read about the Holocaust in my history classes, I really didn't know what I was about to be exposed to. The film completely gutted me. I wanted to turn away from the screen as Spielberg captured in celluloid the emptying of the ghetto, the shooting of Jews at work, the coldness of the Nazis, the humiliation of the camps, and the horror of each Jew's death. I remember the discomfort and horror I felt, followed by an overwhelming realization of the magnitude of what Oscar Schindler had ultimately done in saving his handful of Jews. The realization Schindler makes at the end of the film, of how even the smallest material wealth (meaningless in the moment & grand scheme of life), could have been used to save a life, tore me to shreds that night.

We walked quietly from the theater that night, and as we returned home in the car, my father asked me a few simple questions about how I felt. At the time, I couldn't put them into words, but I recall telling him and my mother how shocked I was by the feelings of clarity and purpose I felt, feelings of wanting to build and give back to the world I live in. I didn't feel voyeuristic or guilty about what I'd watched, but enlightened, empowered, and eager to do better by serving others.

Fast forward to two weekends ago. I revisited this experience, one that in hindsight made me so appreciate my father for tackling the film together as a family. How my adult self respects him for recognizing a learning opportunity, and for all that taught me. Today in 2009, as I watched the film again, and after taking several college level courses specifically about the Holocaust, my knowledge base had changed. However, that book knowledge did not change the take away message of the film for me. In the closing scenes of the movie, I once again felt the compulsion to do, to act, to be better. I felt that desire to see people as the precious human beings that they are, with potential and choices of their own to make. If one man could bring about the eventual progeny from the group he saved to outnumber the Jews in Poland at the time of the film, then what can our small acts accomplish? The message of the film to me then and today is one of hope in what each individual can do, and the precious nature of life. How could I ever quite see the world the same again, and should I want to?

Rather than rate the film, I felt it important to respond to the impact it had on me. For some, Schindler's List might be too much for those too sensitive to watch the brutality of the scenes depicting violence and cruelty. In that case, there are lighter-handed Holocaust films that get to the heart of the value of one life, such in Life is Beautiful. I do recall feeling, however, that the Oscar winning film glossed over the brutality and used a light hand in depicting the fear and violence faced by Jewish prisoners on a daily basis. The film is still a good one, but with a lighter approach and touch.

The Holocaust remains a topic few of us, if any, can grasp. Regardless of the film, book, or play, genocide and loss of human life leaves scars on all of us. As I try to express to my students today, genocide cannot occur anywhere in the world today, without it touching all of us. For this reason, I have a renewed desire to learn and to do more than I have before.

For more information see: Schindler's List (Widescreen Edition).

***This film counts as the third film for the Period Drama Challenge.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Rejuvenate & Renew Challenge Finale

Thank you so much to those of you who joined with me in reading some great books to literally...rejuvenate and renew yourself! Thankfully, with the one month extension after moving during the month of August, I did manage to finish off the challenge with a great read that I'll be posting about in a couple of days. Before that though, I wanted to wrap up with a thank you and the giveaway I promised! I have a signed copy of Bethenny Frankel's book Naturally Thin.

Those who joined me were: Heidenkind of Heidenkind's Hideaway, Tokemise of By Hook or by Book, and Gaby317 of Starting Fresh. (If I've missed someone, let me know. These were the one's that I had listed on the original post.) As for the giveaway, I drew a number from these lovely ladies, and the winner was:


Thanks again for joining me in this FIRST challenge I've ever hosted. I loved seeing your interests and the varietyof books that you read!