Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Review: The Deception of the Emerald Ring by Lauren Willig

My AP essays are graded and back in the students' hands. I'm still fretting, and plenty busy putting together the final lesson plans for the remainder of the year, but that last stack of papers before the AP test next week was a huge relief for me. As for my 10,000 steps a day. Let's not talk about how bad the last two days have been...can I plead walking forgiveness? I'll have to get "back on track" (ha, ha) over the coming days!

Although I haven't been reading much outside of essays, I'm thankful for the audio books I get to listen to as I drive back and forth to work. Last week I finished listening to the third in the Pink Carnation series, The Deception of the Emerald Ring. I'm always glad to get some "reading" in, even if it's unwinding to a book on CD!

Synopsis: In the third installment of the Pink Carnation series, we are introduced to 19 year old Letty Alsworthy. Fearing the rash elopement of her older sister Mary to Lord Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe, she slipped into the carriage that was meant to be the escape vehicle for the two lovers. In the process, Lord Pinchingdale mistakes Letty for Mary, in the dark of the carriage, and pulls her into an embrace. When he figures it out, and although nothing more licentious than a kiss occurred, her reputation is ruined and the two are forced into a marriage. Therein lies the tension behind the story. With a forced marriage, neither party is happy with the arrangement. In the meantime, Lord Geoffrey is serving as a spy, and must continue his work, regardless of a young wife hanging onto him. The question for Lord Geoffrey becomes whether he can forgive Letty for not being Mary, and if Letty can forgive Lord Geoffrey for being a distant husband.

I realize that my synopsis might make Willig's third novel sound cold and ruthless, and it seems that way in the beginning, but it really only serves to propel the story. As with each of the novels in this series so far, there is a level of tension, and in this case, I actually really enjoyed the distance and frustration introduced so early on in the story. Rather than a shallow, "I love you and feel passionate towards you" from the get-go, we have two characters who have to learn more about one another. Honestly, Letty is a sweet character, and one that I felt got blamed for too much of Lord Pinchingdale's frustrations. Although Letty is not described as the beauty that her sister Mary is, we get the sense that Letty has a keen mind and strength that gives her strength. Lord Pinchingdale, however, is also someone we learn to see as a man dealing with the job he is expected to carry out in the midst of the chaos of marrying the sister of the woman he originally meant to marry. Yes, he comes off as the scoundrel, but the misunderstandings the couple must overcome help to create a story that you believe a little more than the two previous to it.

In my opinion, this was my favorite installment of the three in the series. Because of Letty's confidence and personality, and the work that the couple has to go through to actually learn to love one another, they make this mystery/spy romance pretty charming. There is something vulnerable, yet strong, about Letty that I really liked, and I appreciated that she could stand on her own two feet.

As a side note to this story, this was the book in the series that finally made me a frustrated and left wanting more with the secondary story being told in the present, from the researcher Eloise Kelly. Through her work on her thesis, her research has taken her deeper and deeper into the female spy ring, thanks to the letters and journals owned by Colin Selwick. In the other installments, the present-day research plays a major backseat, but in this novel we really grow to care about Eloise getting her research, and maybe getting a handsome, rich Colin on the side?!? I don't know why, but the Eloise & Colin storyline reminded me of an earlier Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy twist. It's only a shady reminder, but still there to taunt a bit!

Overall, another fun book, and a great thriller at the same time. These books seem to mix the period drama with a little espionage and romance. What could be more fun, I ask? As a side note, I have found the audio version of these books to be really fantastic, and not distracting in any way.

*FTC Disclosure: This review based off the library version of the audio book.

This counts as my 5th in the 2010 Audio Book Challenge over at Royal Reviews. This is also part of the Book Review Party Wednesday over at Cym Lowell. Stop on by to see other great book reviews there!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Review: Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo

Still fighting the fight, walking the walk, and healing the blisters! :) Yes, I reached my 10,000 steps over the past several days, and it has been something I had to plan in. It feels good so far to really be aiming for it.

In other news, my AP students take their test next THURSDAY! Do you sense me freaking out? Yes, I'm freaking out, saying prayers, and hoping for the best. I talked to another AP teacher at our school, and he remarked that he's not nervous at all and figures if they pass, they pass. Is this a gender thing? Am I freaking out for nothing? I know that doesn't make me a better teacher, or show I care more, but what is the deal?!? He basically said he's not worried about the number who pass! *Sigh* Something is really wrong with me.

All right. Enough of the gabbing. Before I got weighed down with the final push for school, I got sucked into Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo. I also, late one night, tweeted a comment about the book and how much I was enjoying it. Well, little did I know, but in my sleepy iPhone state of typing in my tweet, wrote her name Aust-I-n and not Aust-E-n. How did I know? I got a really snarky tweet from a random author, saying she didn't know who that author was. Not my proudest moment, but with the snarky comment from that author (who I'd never heard of), I had little to no desire to read her books! Am I mean? It was just a bit annoying, as I've typed in Jane Austen's name a million times and never made that mistake. So annoying!

Anyway, on to my actual review...

Synopsis: Emma Grant is a recently fired English professor (because of a set up and misunderstanding), off to England to learn about a set of letters and a possible secret society that Jane Austen belonged to. Recovering from a nasty expulsion from her department after finding her loving husband (also and English professor) in a compromising position with her teaching assistant, Emma questions the role that Jane Austen played in her fantasies about love. In the midst of her search for a possible academic savior in this new Austen research she's after, Emma bumps into an old flame from before she married her husband, named Adam. The two become friends again, and Emma soon finds herself questioning why she let him go, and why she had been so enamored with her husband, when he would turn out to be the cheating skunk that he was? As the mystery unfolds, Emma learns more about herself, her belief in romance and love, and about Jane Austen's personal life, yet undiscovered.

Review: I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. One thing I really relish, is being able to have an author allow me the luxury of stepping back into academia. Graduate school was one of those experiences that I loved and cherish, and enjoy escaping back into it through the pages of an author's text. In this case, I thought it was fun watching Emma research more about Jane Austen, and although her research tended to be more the "field" type of research, it was still fun to watch her intellectual curiosity increase as she learned more. You do get the sense that you know what's going to happen, but in reality, the novel ended much differently than I expected. I can't say that I liked the ending, and would have preferred the one I was expecting (a bit happier), but it still didn't totally detract from my enjoyment of the story as a whole.

Emma's character is one that you connect with, and feel the pain of her broken marriage and job loss. This escape to England seems like a luxury, so it is fun to watch her pick up information about Austen, and then to try to determine how it all ties together. I quickly found myself loving her friend Adam, who was her previous flame. Adam might just be a bit too good to be true, but his role in the novel and in helping Emma to feel appreciated again, are interesting. Told as a sort of mystery, yet with this self-discovery by Emma entwined with it, I just thought it was a fun read. You think you know where the story is going, and you do to a point, but don't be completely deceived; the novel moves off in a direction that might just surprise you!

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

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What I'm Doing to Fight the Fight

I recently joined a fitness challenge going on at work that challenged us each to walk 10,000 steps a day. Now, I will admit that I've "tried" to do this, but found that in an average work day, I only walk somewhere between 2500 to 3500 steps. That means, that I have about 50-60 minutes of walking to do outside of work. I guess that's about right though, when you think about the amount of exercise it should take to lose weight, right?

Thanks to an almost relentless two-week migraine that came and went at will, I spent two days of this past week NOT hitting my 10,000 step mark. There are folks running 5 miles a day, and I'm struggling to meet my walking goal! Here's the deal though, I tried to walk one of the days that I had the headache, and the pounding in my head was too much to take. Yes, I hit my mark, but I had to immediately go to bed after I'd finished. Not a good first week to the challenge!

Lucky for me, the migraine-fest of the past week has seemed to lift, so I'm eager to really try to hit that 10,000 step mark We'll see. Wish me luck on this new endeavor. All I know is, that although I have some health issues, and a lazy food habit that helped me pack on the pounds, I have to at least continue the fight. No, you won't hear me reporting any 5 pound weight loss for one week, but I will take a pound a week! That sounds beautiful, happy, and healthy to me. Thank goodness I'm a Jedi-Master at the walking and reading thing!

Anyone else fighting the good fight? What's your weapon of choice?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Review: Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers

As a school teacher, Walter Dean Myers is a staple in English teaching. Students from middle school on up have probably read one or more of Myers's novels, whether for class, or as recommended by a teacher. Myers has written such novels as Monster and Slam, along with many other very popular novels. Some of the themes that Myers writes about are issues in the juvenile, criminal justice system, urban communities, troubled teens, and ethnically diverse populations (generally African-American). Having already read Monster, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to read an review Myers' newest novel, Lockdown.

Synopsis: Looking inside the life of Reese, a young man locked up in juvenile corrections facility, we find the very act of living fairly bleak. Told from his perspective, we see how the administrators, family members, and other juveniles treat him, often looking for the worst characteristics in Reese. Because Reese stands up for other teens who are picked on, he often finds himself locked up or losing privileges, and reflecting (as only a teen narrator can do) about his outlook on his future and what role he plays in society. For Reese, everything is a game, and one that he realizes is played according to the adults' rules, regardless of his feelings, desires, or dreams.

Review: Reese is a unique young man, that you grow to see as a troubled kid, and not as a violent criminal. His desire to change really becomes tied to his ability to change what he goes home to. If he is frustrated by his family's poverty and his failure at school, then his behavior is one that will match it; he will eventually turn to crime again to support his family and find his own value. As you read, the question definitely comes through from Myers of how we can help these kids change. What can we do, as a society, to eliminate the need these young, impoverished inner-city kids have for finding their sense of self through crime? Does our current system work, and what can we offer these young people once they get out of the juvenile corrections system?

I did think that Myers reached inside the system, and into this one young man's life in a very smart sort of way. We are privy to Reese's life, so that we see his pain over his family's circumstances (his brother also into criminal activity, and a younger sister that he fears for in the future), and also the stand up person that Reese would like to be as he stands up for other inmates who are too weak to protect themselves. You do really care for Reese, and want to see his success.

One thing that I really couldn't shake in the book though, was the behavior of the adults who worked in the facility. Many of the violent scenes within the facility occurred after prodding and neglect by those who were there to protect the inmates. In fact, several times these "adults" egged the students on with horrible, personal comments that were threatening, and obviously created plenty of increased stress on Reese and the other young men. To these situations, I disconnected a little. Having worked with young men who had recently been released from our state's juvenile corrections facility, I can say that I never encountered a single adult who deliberately maligned or neglected one of these students. Trust me, we often felt as though we wanted to give up on these young people, especially as those initial relationships of trust with them were being forged, but once those bonds were in place, the miracles and friendships that come from it are amazing! For the most part, teachers, administrators, and law enforcement officers that worked with these youths, agonized over individual plans for them. We worked together, brainstormed together, and yes, even vented together, so that we could be strong and work as one unit for these kids. I remember the headaches I had from wrangling students, keeping them engaged in their work, and even from breaking up fights and verbal threats that flew around the room. It wasn't an easy job by any means, and I'm sure there were glitches here or there, but never like those displayed in the book.

I suppose to some degree, I've become exhausted by the jokers in the world who act unprofessionally and ruin it for the rest of us who are working our fannies off to do it right! Most of the teachers and administrators I work with beat themselves up on a regular basis for all they're NOT able to accomplish, even when that means giving up more and more of their out of work time to lesson plan, leave encouraging remarks on assignments, or to mentor a struggling student. The teachers and other professionals that I work with do just that, to work really hard to be upstanding, in the hopes of lifting ONE child. Yes, there seems to be those jokers out there who continue to appear on the news, who have done really bad things to children in their care. They frustrate me, and they make me sick. Essentially, they sully the name of every hard working teacher and administrator I know that works 100% to be above board and generous with their time and talents. Do we get frustrated with kids and say things (often sarcastically) that shouldn't be said? Yes, we're human, and angst-filled teens can be difficult (to put it lightly), but for the most part, those I have worked with have never turned their backs on the teens and children in their care. So, for the character Reese, in this story, I'm sorry that you were surrounded by frustrated, unprofessional staff. My hope is that I'm not living and working in ideals, and that there really aren't places where the majority of the adults turn their backs on the youth they are working with. Really, I hope this is creative license, and not reality.

Now, I realize that I focused on a rather minute part of Reese's story, but I will say that it really picked away at me. For a character as eager for happiness as Reese was (and many of the other teens locked up), I wanted to see the adults supporting these changes. Overall, I think it is yet another really great book for teens, and that Walter Dean Myers leads the pack in creating novels that disillusioned teens and overachievers alike will embrace. Please note that my professional rant is an aside to a really great story that I would hand to a wide variety of my reluctant readers. I have to say that if you haven't yet read Walter Dean Myers, I would become familiar with him as soon as possible. Many of his books have entered the doors of my classroom, in the hands of my students. His work is prolific, and shows great care for today's youth and children.

Thank you to Jennifer, at Goodman Media International for providing me with this copy of Lockdown to read and review. To find out more about Walter Dean Myers, see his author website. The list of his amazing awards and accolades are listed there, along with an extensive list of those things he has published. Check him out today!

*FTC Disclosure: A review proof of the book was provided by the publishers for review.

This book counts as my 5th in the 2010 Young Adult Literature Challenge.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review: Cairo by G. Willow Wilson & M. K. Perker

On to another glorious week! The weather has turned especially warm, with lots of sunshine and budding trees and flowers. Can we all give a collective sigh? Yes, spring is finally upon us, and I know it's here when the trees start to bloom this blossom that smells like stinky feet. Not my favorite smell in the world, but half the time my nose can't quite smell it because of allergies, so no problem!

I just started teaching Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. This is my first time teaching it to my AP Literature students, and although I always enjoyed the novel, I've been concerned about its reception with them! So far, so good. I had a couple of students finish it in a day, because they couldn't stand not knowing what was going to happen. I love when they do that! Having said that, I tend to slow my own reading down so I can really read the text I'm teaching, and have good discussion points ready to go. Last night, however, I picked up a graphic novel I'd seen floating around the blogisphere called Cairo. It was a nice, fast read, and let me escape for a short amount of time into a story I could consume in one short reading session.

Synopsis: Cairo covers the lives of five main characters, which are surrounded by other minor characters who complicate things for them. There is the journalist (struggling to write without being censored), the hashish smuggler, the Orange County girl seeking out anti-Imperialistic excitement, the Israeli army hottie girl, and the Lebanese-American returning to a country he's never been to before, but shares its identity. Each of these four characters find themselves in none other than Cairo, Egypt, surrounded by culture and conflict. We find that the hashish smuggler has sold an object that the local bad guys want back. In reparation for this, they have kidnapped the the Orange County girl and the journalist until the object is returned. On this journey, these character's stories each interconnect. Mixed in with the adventure of returning stolen goods, we see mythic tales of the East unfold, and myth, legend, and magic blend together to make this a supernatural tale of person and place.

Review: I thoroughly enjoyed this black and white, graphically told tale. The mingling of characters, with their unique backgrounds and turmoil, and the myths and legends mixed into the story made this a fun tale to flip the pages through. I found myself really enjoying the way the tales combined, without losing me as the reader. In a sense, there seemed to be an awareness in the text of making sure the reader understood where we were at each point in the story, and that although it bounced from one heightened story to another, they each worked together to create the overriding adventure story.

Although I'm not well versed on graphic novels, I can say that as a novice, I thought the story telling in this novel to be more engaging than some that I've read. There were enough heavy issues behind the tale, of Middle-Eastern conflict and of cultural identity, to make this more than just an adventure story. I suppose that I also liked the feel of escaping to this region of the globe, even if for just a moment. Overall, I found the story, pictures, and themes to be engaging and a nice escape for the evening. As far as the graphic novels I've read so far, this would be near the top of my list.

*FTC Disclosure: Review is based off of a library copy of the book.

If you're a graphic novel reader, what others would you recommend? I'm pretty new still to this genre, but have really enjoyed what I've been exposed to at this point. Are there any that I shouldn't miss, and that are your favorites?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Book Give Away Winner: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

Congratulations to:

I drew numbers through, and came up with Nishita's number. Nishita has won a copy of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, which is a fun mystery and romance, all wrapped into one. I hope you enjoy it, and I will be getting into contact with you today to get your mailing address.

Thank you to all who joined in on the giveaway. Since I have been the recipient of so many lovely books, it's always fun to give back and pass other great reads along!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Book Obsession of Mine...Cookbooks

When I moved into my new home this last fall, one of the trickiest things I had to place was my cookbook collection. For years, I have collected beautiful or useful cookbooks, ones that my mom and grandma used, and ones that were hot off the press and exciting! Today, I have to house my cookbooks on their own bookshelf, and as you'll see, there's a little room for growth, but only because I've stopped myself from buying any more...for the moment!

I've always loved to cook, but wouldn't dream of putting on airs and saying I'm a great cook. I can cook though. Having grown up in a farming community, where we raised most of what went on the table, I will say that I can cook just about any meat and potato combination out there. When my best friend (who admittedly can't cook) is hankering for a "down home" meal, she buys all the fixings for a roast, whether beef, chicken, or pork, and I can pretty much cook those in my sleep.

Over the last five to ten years, as I've lived in other places around the country, and met friends from around the globe, my tastes changed. Today, I like to try my hand at spicy dishes, such as with curries and stir frying. In general, I've learned to really love looking at cookbooks and thinking about what I might make. To tickle these fancies with cooking, I have also subscribed to (way too many) food magazines, which I like to test out recipes from on the weekend.

During my Spring Break, I made Elie Krieger's "Roasted Tomato & Black Bean Soup" in one pot, while I simmered down a huge pot of "Green Soup" in another. Both were an attempt to put up some healthy options for work nights when I'm starving and don't want to cook, and so far they've been pretty decent choices (although the green soup can create intestinal effects that might make you choose not to eat is as a lunch option at work).

One cookbook I recently, finally, received from the library, was Giada de Laurentiis' new cookbook Giada at Home. She has beautiful recipes, with lots of twists on recipes you already kind of know. I'm intrigued by her "Lemon Chicken Soup with Spaghetti" which basically includes a bit of lemon juice in with the stock, and broken spaghetti noodles. She also uses a lot of vegetable purees, which I love. Giada is an Italian cook who loves to include fruits and vegetables to her meals, and many of the recipes she includes, feel very user friendly.

I also own one of her previous cookbooks, Everyday Italian, which is where I got one of my family's favorite pasta recipes...that I tweaked a little. The idea was to take a little sliced yellow squash and zucchini, saute in a little olive oil with fresh garlic, and toss with bowtie pasta. It's so yummy, you wouldn't believe it. Well, I branched out from there and included red pepper slices and red pepper flakes in the saute, and sometimes a handful of fresh mushrooms, switching the pasta shape to a nice penne. Your bowl of simple pasta can turn into this amazing veggie dish, accented with beautiful pasta.

Let me take that recipe a step farther though. Last year I discovered that our local grocery store carried a wonderful roasted vegetable medley in their deli section. One night, after a particularly challenging day at work, I brought that medley home, boiled up some ziti, drained it, and threw in those wonderful roasted vegetables, sprinkled it with a bit of fresh Parmesan, and voila! It's now one of my favorite dishes. It's not necessarily Giada's exact recipe, but I've transformed it over time, and can't get enough!

While not really a review of another cookbook, I couldn't help sharing some of the inspiration and joy I've gotten out of cookbooks. They are glorious to flip through, and I think I always have two or three checked out at a time from my local library. In a time when we're all trying to save our waist lines and checkbooks, what could be better than a little inspiration from a few great cookbooks, thanks to the local library?!?

Do you also like to collect cookbooks? Please tell me I'm not the only one that flips through cookbooks for fun! What are some of your favorites?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Review: East of Eden by John Steinbeck

For a couple of years, I have been trying to get through John Steinbeck's famous East of Eden. I loved Of Mice and Men, but the jury was out on The Grapes of Wrath, so I figured it could go either way. Well, can I say that based on how long it took me to read the novel, should spell out part of my response to its themes and ideas. In fact, I'm still wondering if there were any themes?

Synopsis: The novel begins around two brothers, Adam and Charles Trask, who were both raised and cared for in very different ways by their parents. In particular, Adam was the much-loved son from a first marriage (that ended in tragedy), which the second son Charles was left feeling jealous. Regardless of the trouble between these brothers, they were family, and they set up a farm together. To their familial lives entered Cathy Ames, truly one of the wildest and evil characters to ever appear in print. Cathy, with her continual agenda and inability to feel for anyone in her life other than herself, married Adam, and the two eventually had two sons together (or do they?), after which even more turmoil was introduced into the story as Cathy caused a riff between the two brothers, and cared little for her husband and infant sons.

Review: As mentioned earlier, if there was a message to the novel, it slipped past me entirely. To be quite honest, I think I'm done with Steinbeck for awhile. I find myself saying, "What the HECK?" way too often...and I'm totally a "What the HECK"-loving sort of gal, but this was a bit too much. I often seek out the core message of the novel, especially in a classic, and all I could readily grasp was the connection to the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, rife with all sorts of symbols of good and evil. Fine, I get that. Is that the message? That the world is filled with people of different backgrounds, with different feelings and actions based on love or hate?

The story was engaging, and so filled with drama that I understand why people like this novel. I, on the other hand, really didn't like the story. I'd love to have a conversation with someone about the way Steinbeck ends his novels. In some ways, I end feeling manipulated, which is actually one of my number one pet peeves with any story. Make me part of the story, engage me, but don't manipulate me. To me, that sometimes feels condescending, as if I can't get the gist of something based off of the story, or that you have to throw in such an obscurity as to make me flip back the pages to see if I missed something.

If I'm honest with myself, I'd say that two of the core reasons I disliked East of Eden were due to the hype, and then my overwhelming hatred for the over-the-top-twisting-of-the proverbial-villain-mustache character of Cathy. She's not just evil, she simply doesn't have a beating heart. The only people I've ever encountered like her have been mass murders I've seen in interviews on TV; people who are totally withdrawn from society and social values to such a degree that they can't see anything outside of themselves. I recognize that Cathy makes the lives of every character she touches, miserable, and that she helps expose the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in others. That's fine. I just couldn't decide what I was supposed to glean from her evil nature. Did something really horrible happen to her? Was she sexually abused to the point of bending her to a deviance outside of social comprehension? I just don't know.

In the end, I couldn't see my way out of the novel, and didn't enjoy it. I'm glad that I read it, and have it as part of my literary "consciousness," but that's as far as it goes. I followed my reading up with a three day misery-fest by watching the 1980's, famous film adaptation of the novel, starring Jane Seymour. Kudos to Jane Seymour for playing this monster. As an actress I've learned to adore Jane Seymour, so all congratulations for being a strong enough actress to scare me senseless and make it so I can never quite look at her in the same way ever again! Although the film was VERY 80s in its filming, music, and acting, it did stay pretty close to the core of the novel...which is probably why I was thankful to drop it back in the return box at the library! Overall, I would say that East of Eden was not a success for me. I've had strong opinions about other "classics" and best sellers before, and I will now be adding East of Eden to that pack. I'm thinking that as an English teacher who is always striving to cover my basics in literature and genres, that I'm done with Steinbeck. I get his "jig" now (as I like to call style), and I'm just not that into him.

For more information on the novel, see:East of Eden, and for the film adaptation see: East of Eden.

I know that many readers adore this novel, and literally could not put it down. What insights can you add, and why did you enjoy it? Of course I'm entitled to my opinion, but what might I have missed?

*FTC Disclosure: This review based off of a person copy of the novel, and a library copy of the film.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

I'm happy to say that I'm back to work and in the swing of my normal routine again! All of those repairs and waiting around for appointments and repairmen about drove me batty. I traded repairs though, for a two-day migraine that just wouldn't leave me alone. Ah, the life! Having crazy migraines or a busy mind leads to yet another reason to be a proponent of audio books. Honestly, audio books have saved me on many occasions, such as when I get a headache, have a long drive (as I did to a wedding on Saturday...that kept me from the readathon), or for my daily commute (to keep me from getting insanely angry at ignorant drivers). I can't say that I've ever really listened to audio books on a regular basis until these past several years, and now I don't know what I'd do without a great book to listen to!

With that in mind, there are some audio books that, for me, are more conducive to listening to than others. In the case of The History of Love, I would say that it takes a bit more concentration to follow. It was a great book, just difficult at times to follow.

Synopsis: The premise of this novel is hard to set up without giving things away. Set up with multiple story lines, it seems that the book is a series of short stories; however, the three or so stories eventually start to converge, so it becomes more obvious that they each tie together with the others.

It begins with the life of Leo Gursky, an old man who tells his story of surviving the Holocaust and having lost the love of his life. He tells a story of a girl, who escaped Europe before WWII, whom he loved and never stopped thinking about. After the war, Leo sought her out in New York City, only to find that life circumstances had dramatically changed things between them. You can never quite tell what happened to Leo's life from that point on, but as each of the other stories are introduced, you begin to fill in what might have happened. Each story leads to a wonderful conclusion, which shows how love influences our lives and the directions we each choose to take.

Review: First, I have to say that this was one of the more difficult audio books to follow that I've checked out. A simple distraction in traffic left me tuning back in to the story saying, "Wait...who is that talking now?" Since it is told from multiple perspectives, and they feel different from one another in the beginning, it was often hard to follow the stories. To be honest, I just wanted to hear more of Leo's story. Because it begins with him, and does seem to center on him, I found myself wanting to just go back to him. The writing is beautiful, and the images that are drawn up amazed me. I found myself agonizing over Leo's happiness, hoping and praying that this beautifully complex character found the joy he so desperately deserved, before he died. In a culture where we sometimes side step the story of the aged, I found Leo's experiences to be telling, and to show how the actions and experiences of one's life can influence one's philosophy on aging and dying.

While complex and beautiful, this story took great care to weave the lives of multiple characters together in a very satisfying way. In an effort to not give away the ending, all I can say is that the entire story feels like it's waiting for the ending of the story, when the reader can see all the plot points finally slide together. Altogether, I found the story haunting, revealing, thought-provoking, and beautiful. Difficult at times to follow in audio, the novel was one that needed careful attention. I genuinely appreciated and enjoyed The History of Love, and would readily recommend it to any serious reader.

For more information, see: The History of Love.

*FTC: Review based off of a library audio book.

This novel counts as my 4th in the Audio Book Challenge at Royal Reviews.

Also, don't forget to join in my giveaway for The Secret History of the Pink Carnation! The giveaway ends on 4/18!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Another Masterpiece Classic: Small Island by Andrea Levy

Happy Sunday morning. To all those bleary-eyed readathoners this morning, I hope you had a great time yesterday. I wish I could have joined in the 24-hour Readathon, but I ended up taking off to attend a wedding reception in Idaho yesterday evening. It was a four hour drive up, a couple of hours sitting at a reception, and then another four hours back. Long day, but nice to see family and old friends.

I wanted to share an upcoming film on Masterpiece Classics on PBS that is based off of an amazing book by Andrea Levy, Small Island. Before my blog became a review site, I had already read Small Island at the suggestion of a respected grad school professor. My professor knew about my interests in the immigrant culture and in ethnic literature and contacted me to say I had to read this great book. Based on the experience of Jamaican immigrants trying to survive in England during the 1940's and 50's, we follow the lives of different characters who either cling to the dreams they have of an ideal island home, or who attempt to assimilate and become the ultimate British citizen to share in the dream of Empire.
Small Island was an amazing, fascinating, gut-wrenching reading experience. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, and found myself considering how immigrants work to assimilate, often being turned away by the dominant culture they've been taught to idealize. The novel is a great jumping off point for discussing how our global community is changing and becoming more diverse, and I can't recommend it enough. If you like authors such as Zadie Smith of Jamaica Kincaid, I can assure you that you'll appreciate Levy's work.

On April 18th & 25th, Masterpiece Classic on PBS will be airing the film adaptation of Levy's novel Small Island. Reviews of the film (such as this one from the Telegraph) give it praise but aren't completely sold on the way the story is developed. As a fan of the novel, I'm eager to check it out for myself, and hope you will too.

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Personal Side Note. Irony is Alive and Well.

I'm sorry, but I had to post a quick side note to my "reading" holiday. Isn't Spring Break supposed to be relaxing, full of reading and sunshine? Well, in my world that would be a little bit of a no! In order to get my car to pass inspection, I was told on Monday that I have a $500 fix job on this or that (because car speak completely goes over my head) after the $600 I spent just four months ago. Can anyone say, "Hey dear. Is it time to buy a new car?!?"

On top of that, I have to replace my windshield. I waited ALL DAY today to hear back from the glass company, who were waiting for my insurance to verify my claim, only to find that my insurance doesn't include this in my policy. As I was on the phone then REsetting up my appointment for Friday, I heard the most horrific glacier-like ice cracking sound. I figured out the sound was coming from the front door, where it looked like someone had thrown a snowball and the water was dripping down. Here's the kicker though, it wasn't was a million hair-like fissures zipping everywhere up and down my front door. Nope. No one shot it out. No one threw a rock into it. It just shattered. Guess how much this beauty is "estimated" to cost to fix?

New flash: When my students need an example of irony, I will share this story, that I was on the phone with the glass company when my front door shattered. Priceless.

All right. I'll stop waxing poetic. For my friends and students who peek in on my blog from time to time, I see you! I know you're giggling at my pain! That's okay. I'm much better now that I've shared. Until the dust settles, have a great day and I'll be back once I'm safely encased behind the glass again!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Review: Scones and Sensibility by Lindsay Eland

Believe it or not, I'm actually on my way to the library to return Scones and Sensibility and figured I'd hurry and write my review BEFORE the book left my hands! We're on day two of Spring Break, and I'll say there's very little "spring" involved. As I'm trying to find the positive in things, I'll hold off saying how much I want to scream every time I wake to the snow, but will say (ha, ha) that it has pushed me to do things indoors. You know, it's pushing me to do things like cleaning, filing bills, watching movies, and reading! I suppose those are each good things, right? Well, in the midst of this "break," I finally finished Scones and Sensibility, which is a book I'd waited to read for quite some time.

Synopsis: Told from 12-year old Polly's romantic voice, we see echoes of each of Jane Austen's novels reflected or invoked in the Emma-like matchmaking Polly works on for friends and neighbors. Polly's family own a local bakery, filled with chocolate-chip muffins, croissants, and pastries of different mouth-watering delights that Polly then has to go out each day and deliver. Being a delivery girl is too unromantic for words, but this Jane Austen soaked character soon finds that her deliveries put her in the unique position of figuring out who would be best matched among her acquaintances. She soon begins searching for a new love interest for her sister (mainly because she hates her sister's boyfriend, Clint), for her best friend's father, and for a widowed man who owns another shop on the boardwalk. In typical 12-year old drama, however, this matchmaking doesn't quite work out the way Polly would wish.

Review: I really wanted to like this book, with its cute premise of a young girl infatuated with all things Jane Austen, the pastry shop, and multiple courtships, but I just didn't. While it might be because the 12 year old character Polly grated on my nerves with her endless talking as if she somehow was a Romantic period character, I simply couldn't shake my annoyance over her behavior. Yes, Polly was cute, the way a 12-year old is supposed to be cute, but I didn't really believe her either. I couldn't see a girl of her age getting Jane Austen the way she claimed, and if she did, I couldn't help but feel that this little girl needed more experiences to add to her fantasies.

On the cuteness factor, this story is definitely that...cute. I really would like to hand the book over to a younger reader to see how they respond. Although not realistic in a lot of ways, I suppose that really is what reading is about, a fantasy story that asks "what if" for us. So, maybe Polly is this Austen fan at 12, and maybe she does speak in an antiquated British speech...nonstop. I, however, think that for the story and the maturity of the characters, that it seemed too juvenile. Cute story, but a bit too formulaic for me. Sorry.

For more information, see: Scones and Sensibility.

*This review based off of the library copy of the book.

This book counts as my 4th in the 2010 Young Adult Reading Challenge.

***Also, don't forget to check out my giveaway of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig. This giveaway closed on 4/18, so join in today!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

TSS: Happy Easter & Spring Break!

This hasn't been my best week for reading. I've caught some time here or there, but thanks to my lovely Michael Buble concert on Wednesday, an exercise class on Thursday, a Tess of the D'Urbervilles viewing party (of the film) with my students on Friday, and a birthday party yesterday, I haven't read for any length of time. Thankfully, next week is Spring Break, so I have a week to set aside all sorts of time for wonderful reading! Such joy.

Easter has been pretty low key this year. My friend Doc recently returned home from Costa Rica, where she spent a month, so she's been here at my house today kicking back and reading a book. We've had a great day. Rather than going to Easter dinners or egg hunts, we've simply spent our time cooking a simple dinner of baked chicken, asparagus, and funeral potatoes (a delightful concoction if you know what they are), along with a delightful afternoon of lounging around reading. What could be better?

I wanted to share what I'm hoping to get to during this next week off. Now I have to say that if you know me, you know that I tend to read a whole stack of books all at once. In fact, I'm often reading at least four books at once. My "To Be Read" pile for Spring Break is pretty extensive, and I doubt I'll get to half of them, but it's still pretty fun to be surrounded by great options!

Here are my initial stacks:

I also plan on watching a few films and getting more reviews written. In the meantime, I'm going to spend a leisure-filled Easter evening watching some prerecorded television and doing a little reading. I hope you've been able to do the same. Happy Easter to you and yours!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Little Michael Buble & a Review: Calamity Jack by Shannon & Dean Hale

I've had much to do in the world of blogging, and either no initiative, or no time. Sound familiar? I'm reading and listening to many great reads right now, which I hope to share in a Sunday Salon. As for this week, I simply got a bit busy, and then took a time out to go to the Michael Buble concert last night. What a great time! I think I'm a renewed fan, even more than I was before. His concert was just fantastic, his singing top notch, and his interaction with the audience too funny. Thank goodness he performed my favorite, "Feeling Good," which I listen to just about every morning at work to get me going for the day, or I think I would have cried! It was just a great change for the work week.

As for reading, I wanted to review the second graphic novel by Shannon and Dean Hale, Calamity Jack.

Synopsis: Following up Rapunzel's Revenge, we get the back story on Rapunzel's friend, side-kick, and love interest Jack. Patterned after Jack in the Beanstalk, but only slightly, Jack tried to save his family by playing a type of Robin Hood character in planting a beanstalk to reach the top of the skyscraper owned by the evil rich guy who pretty much owned the city. In the process, Jack causes a lot of trouble and does more damage than good. That's when he supposedly left and had his adventure with Rapunzel, who he brings back with him to his home city to try to repair the wrongs and damages he has caused. In short, Jack must save the day, and win over the girl with his amazing, heroic prowess!

Review: This was a cute follow up to the first graphic novel, and tied the characters together nicely. As a newcomer to graphic novels, I will admit to not quite following the myriad of creatures and characters that popped up in this second installment. Some of the adventures made my head spin a bit, and I wondered how all of the characters and story lines would pull together. I recognize though, that as an adult reader, I might have missed the playfulness of the graphic novel format by being too caught up on the storyline. It is obvious that young readers and fans of comic adventures would find Calamity Jack great fun to read. In fact, there's no way we could say this novel was boring at all. Although I struggled to always follow all of the action going on, a younger reader or fan would love its storyline and engaging artwork.

For more information, see: Calamity Jack.

This graphic novel counts as my 4th read in the 2010 Young Adult Reading Challenge.

*Review based from a library copy of the novel.