Monday, December 31, 2012

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
Published October 2011 by Scribner
Source: my copy purchased to read with the Omaha Bookworms

Publisher's Summary:
Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and an expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier. Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege of Masada by the Romans. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets—about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.

My Thoughts:

The Dovekeepers was recommended by one of the Omaha Bookworms whose favorite books include Anita Diamant's The Red Tent.  I've been wanting to read something by Hoffman for a long time and the cover of this is so beautiful, it wasn't difficult to convince me that this was a book I should make time for. And then I started reading it and those first 100 pages were tough. The book is separated into the stories of the four women, with Yael's story leading off. I didn't much care for her and 100 pages of traveling through the desert started to grate on me. But as the women's stories each unfold, more and more they incorporate each other's stories and move the overall story forward and I began to care more and more what happened to these women, women who I knew were doomed. Hoffman truly has created four distinct, unique women with incredible strength and amazing independence within the confines of their time.

The Dovekeepers is one of those books that make me want to learn more about a part of history I'm only passingly familiar with. I wanted to know more about the history of Masada and I always wonder how much of what I'm reading is fact and how much is fiction. Clearly, the stories of the individual people are fiction. Beyond that, though, I'm knocked out by Hoffman's research about the time, daily lives, and geography in which she's set her story and intrigued by the pull between the Jewish religion and the "old" ways where spells, demons, and curses played important roles.

Masada was built on a plateau by King Herod as a refuge in case of revolt between 37 and 31 BCE. on the eastern edge of the Judaean desert overlooking the Dead Sea. In 66 CE, a group of Jewish fighters, the Sicarii, overthrew the Roman forces stationed there. Eventually, as the Romans cracked down on Jerusalem and surrounding Jewish settlements, more and more people came to settle on the plateau, depleting the available resources. In 72 CE, Roman governor Lucius Flavius Silva and the Roman legion laid siege to Masada, building a wall around Masada,a siege embankment, and a siege tower. According to history record, when the Romans finally breached the fortress walls, they found all but two of the settlers dead by mass suicide.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Salon - December 30

Greetings! Everyone recovered from Christmas or are you, like me, making recovery a slow, drawn out process? I always wait to take down decorations until at least New Years so they are are still up, but I still haven't gotten the gift bags put away, some packaging from gifts is still sitting around, and, sigh, I still haven't gotten my Christmas cards sent. And this weekend, I just don't care. After a wonderful but hectic Christmas and a very busy three days at work, I'm using this four-day weekend to relax, slowly put things back in order and read, read, read.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Studio 360 on NPR - yesterday's program was an entire hour devoted to "Culture Shock 1913." In this year, modernism really began to make an impact on the general public from an exhibit of cubism in the U.S. to the Paris premiere of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" with choreography by Nijinski (if you're familiar with Disney's "Fantasia" you'll recall "The Rite of Spring" as being the long piece about the development of life on Earth). If you click on the picture above, it will link you to this very interesting story about a year in history that profoundly changed the way people think.

Watching: Almost nothing. Some football, "Elementary" and "A Christmas Story" - that's about it for this week. The five of us celebrated Christmas on Christmas Day and watched "A Christmas Story" together, eating our Asian dinner just as the movie family sat down to Christmas dinner in a Chinese restaurant.

Reading: This past week I finished A Golden Age by Tahmima Anim (which I loved) and read Amy Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses which made me wonder why it's been so long since I picked up anything by Tan. My goal was 75 books this year so I've picked up Julian Barnes' The Sense of An Ending (finally, Teri!) which I thought was an appropriate title to end the year on.

Making: I made a yummy potato dish in the crockpot for Christmas dinner with the in-laws last Sunday and this week I turned those leftovers into a great potato soup. The Big Guy took the leftover ham and made a great ham and  bean soup as well. Nice to be able to use the leftovers in ways that make the cold weather easier to bear.

Planning: On ushering the new year in very quietly. I'm sure we'll do our usual Chinese takeout and pop open a bottle of champagne at midnight but otherwise, I think it will be a movie/football night. Do you have big plans?

Grateful for: I feel like I must say this is some form or another every other week, but family. I am blessed to have very close families on both sides and know how lucky I am to have in-laws that I enjoy.

Loving: My new Nook. Yep, my family all pitched in (lead by Miss H who was bound and determined that I should have one) and got me a Nook HD for Christmas. I have yet to download a book onto it but will figure that out this weekend. I have some from Netgalley ready to go. I have enjoyed using it to read email, keep up with Twitter, and just to explore.

Also loving reading all of the year-end posts. I mark down books throughout the year that I find on people's blogs but when those books start showing up on year-end best-of lists, then I know I need to star them and move them to the top of the wish list. Sometimes I even find books that I've overlooked somehow that need to be added.

Looking forward to: Two more days of relaxation before heading back to another three-day work week. Hmm, wouldn't it be nice to have those every week? What are you looking forward to this week?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Looking Back - My Favorites of 2012 - Amended

*Oh my - somehow I missed two books I absolutely had to add to my list, The Lighthouse Road and Maine. I really couldn't take two books off the list so now instead of 20 books, there are 21.

It was an unusual year for me reading wise - these 21 books clearly stood above the rest of the books I read this year. Unfortunately, that says as much about the books that didn't make this list as it does about the ones that did. Perhaps this explains my several months long reading slump!

The fiction books that made my top ten and honorable mention lists were largely books that took me to another time and place or which made my pulse race a little more quickly. My top ten fiction books for 2012 were:

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
The Cove by Ron Rash

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye
The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar
The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay
A Golden Age by Tahmima Amin

Honorable Mentions:
The Only True Genius In The Family by Jennie Nash
The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Broken Harbor by Tana French
The March by E. L. Doctorow
Maine by J. Courtney Sulliven

I read fewer non-fiction books this year (not exactly sure why because I read so many great ones in 2011). My favorites were:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloots
American Eve by Paula Uruburu
In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab

I've got a blend of old favorites when it comes to authors, new-to-me authors, and debut authors. I'll certainly be looking to add more books by these authors to my shelves. Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts? What were some of your favorite books in 2012?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Remember The Reason For The Season

For those of you who celebrate Christmas, please take a moment today, as you are opening present and enjoying a special holiday meal, to remember the true reason we are celebrating this day.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas Eve!

More special to me than perhaps any other day of celebration during the holiday season is Christmas Eve. I love getting to celebrate it with my family, of course, but it's our chance to remember the reason for the season by attending Christmas Eve service at the church I grew up in. I really did - Sunday school, vacation bible school, choirs from the age of about nine, my wedding to The Big Guy thirty years ago, and the baptisms of all three of my children. Sitting in the special place, surrounded by my family, I fall into the message of the season. My very favorite part of the service is always the singing of "Silent Night." It is first sung by a gentleman who sings it in the original Germany and then the entire family sings it as we light candles. A calm washes over me. Last year I missed it because I didn't feel well. You can be sure I'll be there tonight!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Pin It And Do It - The Holiday Edition Part 2

As I race to reach the Christmas finish line, I'm grabbing a few of my pins to help me finish big. We're using three pins to inspire gifts. I'm not going to put pictures here just yet since the gifts are for family who may (or may not!) be reading this but I'll share the inspirations.

There will be six fleece blankets under the tree this year, one of each of our great-nieces and nephews. Ranging in age from one to almost twelve, it's generally impossible to find one gift that works for all six kids but this one is perfect. For our Philadelphia Eagles loving nephew, it's a green and white football design; our two soccer loving nieces are getting matching blankets as are our two little boys. For our four-year-old who really believes she's a mama, there will be a pretty blanket for her with a matching one for her dolly. Loving the new way to tie the blankets!

This little framed piece of burlap inspired me to do something for my sister that I've been trying to figure out how to do for years. It's a piece that she'll be able to hang in her kitchen that will remind her of our grandmother. I'm liking the idea so much I'm thinking I'll make one for myself as well. I hope she likes it!

We happen to have burlap on hand because Miss H is, perhaps, and even more avid Pinterest junkie than I am and she needed some for projects she wants to do. As you know, she just graduated high school, but she already has big boards for her wedding and for my grandchildren (oh, how I love that idea!).

This pin has already inspired wall hangings in both Miss H's and my niece's rooms so we have a lot of practice with it. It was time to use it for gifts. Miss H used it for a gift for a friend that was really wonderful - she used maps as the background because her friend loves maps; then she covered the entire canvas in words that would have meaning for her friend and painted it purple. She was so excited with it as it turned out exactly as she imagined it. She and I are working on a second one for a gift that has special meaning for both Miss H and me.

Have you tried any gifts from pins? If so, how are they turning out for you? We like to think we're crafty but the truth is that we're probably more brave than crafty!

It wouldn't be a Pin It and Do It challenge if I weren't at least looking for food inspiration on Pinterest. Yesterday, since my refrigerator was largely empty anyway, it was time to clean it out (we were without power for ten hours and I had moved quite a lot of refrigerated items into coolers and put them out in the garage. We had a half dozen hard rolls, a few slices of homemade white bread, and a half a baguette of Italian bread that needed to be used and a warm bread pudding sounded like just the way to use them up. A Salted Caramel Bread Pudding was my inspiration (I wasn't using the croissants it called for) then I added some raspberries. It. Was. Delicious! Especially on a day that was cold and snowy. We'll definitely be saving this recipe.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Looking Forward

2013 Reading Challenges

It's that time of year again, time to think about which reading challenges I'd like to join for the coming year. Every year there are so many challenges that pique my interest. And every year I sign up for more than I can manage. With my commitment to take on fewer books for review, I'm hoping to do a better job with challenges. But I know I still need to be careful with what I sign up for. I know, I know - there are no repercussions if I don't succeed but I hate knowing that I've failed. So, after careful consideration, here are the challenges I'm signing up for in 2013.

In 2012, I knocked this one out of the park. Which would lead me to believe I should sign up for the highest level and since it is a "challenge" I probably should. But I'm not going to because I want to still be having fun while I'm reading.  So I'll be signing up for the Medieval level, which means I need to read 15 historical fiction novels of some type in 2013. Piece of cake!

Hosted by Beth Fish Reads, the categories for What's In A Name for 2013 are:
1. A book with up or down (or equivalent) in the title: Deep down True, The Girl Below, The Diva Digs up the Dirt
2. A book with something you'd find in your kitchen in the title: Loose Lips Sink Ships, The Knife of Never Letting Go, Breadcrumbs
3. A book with a party or celebration in the title: A Feast for Crows, A Wedding in Haiti, Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness
4. A book with fire (or equivalent) in the title: Burning for Revenge, Fireworks over Toccoa, Catching Fire
5. A book with an emotion in the title: Baltimore Blues, Say You're Sorry, Dreams of Joy
6. A book with lost or found (or equivalent) in the title: The Book of Lost Fragrances, The World We Found, A Discovery of Witches

Foodies Read 2013
This is a new one for me but won't it tie in perfectly with my Fall Feasting reading? I imagine I may sneak one or two more books centered around food and/or drink during the year as well. Still, again, I don't want to overdo, so I'm going to sign up at the Pastry Chef level which means I'm committing to 4-8 food related books.

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2013
I'm not sure I've done very well with this one this year. Despite taking on fewer review books, I'm still bringing new books into my house and they seem to get read faster than the ones that were here before January. Still, I'd like to make sure I'm at least thinking about reading the books I already own so I'll once again be signing up at the Mt. Vancouver Level, meaning I need to read 24 or more books that I already own. Books I get after January 1, 2013 do not count. My other challenges should help me with this one.

2013 Audio Book Challenge
Ever since I discovered that the library has audio books, I've been enjoying having a book to listen to on my ride to and from work. Still, I'm never sure what I'll find there and I still haven't figured out how to get books onto my iPod (honestly, I haven't tried that hard). So I'll be joining this one at the lowest level, Flirting, so I only have to listen to 6 books.

Telling Tales Challenge 2013
A new to me fairy tale challenge for 2013 that also incorporates mythology. I've kind of gotten off track this fall with my fairy tales and myths but I'm wanting to get back to them in the coming year and this will help remind me. To make sure I keep everything balanced, though, I'm signing up for the Princess level which means I need to read 10 books. I would have only signed up for 5 but I didn't want to be a Troll Under the Bridge!

Book To Movie Challenge
Another new challenge for me. Since I love movies almost as much as I love books, I think this might be a perfect fit. I'm going to start cautiously, as a Movie Fan. Here are the levels:
Movie Fan - read 3 books and watch their movies
Movie Devotee - read 6 books and watch their movies
Movie Lover - read 9 books and watch their movies
Movie Aficionado - read 12 books and watch their movies

 In January, Nymeth and Iris are hosting Long Awaited Reads Month. They are devoting the month to reading those books you've been wanting to get to "soon" except that "soon" just never seems to come. Hannah at Word Lily and I have been talking about reading Les Miserable together since we were both too busy to join either of the recent readalongs so that may be the only book I get through in January. If we don't do that one in January, I'm thinking Dickens, Byatt, and O'Nan are on the agenda.

In February, Resistance is Futile is hosting Social Justice Theme Read which I was only just considering until Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide arrived in my mailbox (Thanks, Nadia!). I'm in! The idea is to read fiction or non-fiction books that will educate readers about social injustice in the world and the organizations that have been working for social justice locally and world-wide.

What challenges are you signing up for in the coming year? Or have you sworn them off?

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Published January 2007 by Random House
Read by: Jonathan Davis
Source: bought my audiobook at the library sale (and I bought a paperback copy several years ago as well)

Publisher's Summary:
Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the fuk├║ – the curse that has haunted the Oscar's family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim.

 What I Liked:
Spot on narration really helped me "read" this book in the voice I think Diaz intended. Davis does a great job with the Dominican accent, female voices (in no small part because he doesn't really try to make himself sound female), and the right attitude.

Oscar's mother is Beli, whose story takes up almost as much of the book as Oscar's; most of that is her past in the Dominican Republic and it was this part of the book that I liked best. Oscar I felt sorry for but, honestly, after a point I began to think "does this kid (and eventually adult) really not get it?" And then, towards the end, I felt sorry for him again and Diaz brought me back to caring.

No doubt about it, Diaz can write. He brings the Dominican Republic and its turbulent history to life and he has a unique descriptive voice.
"She is sixteen and her skin is the darkness before the black, the plum of the day's last light, her breasts like sunsets trapped beneath her skin, but for all her youth and beauty she has a sour distrusting expression that only dissolves under the weight of immense pleasure."

What I Didn't Like:
Chapter One - Oscar. Chapter 2 - Lola. Chapter 3 - Beli. When you're listening to a book only when you're driving to and from work, it's a long time between Chapter 1 and Chapter Four when Oscar finally reappears. This is one area where I wondered if just reading the book might have helped. Also, there were passages of historical context that were interesting and really informative but could be distracting, particularly when you were trying to drive and concentrate. After I finished and picked up the book, I realized that Diaz had these passages set as footnotes. I'm sure I would have read them anyway but I think I wouldn't have found it as distracting in print. 

Mini-me's best friend (BF), who loves to talk books with me, saw my copy of this sitting on my desk last night. He was shocked to find it in pristine condition. I had to point out that I'd listened to it, rather than reading it but he said that his copy is in tatters he's read it so many times. So while this one didn't live up to my expectations, clearly it has huge fans! I think I'll be bestowing my like-new copy to BF for Christmas.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Salon - December 16

Everyone ready for the holidays? I've got so much left to do; so glad I have a couple of extra days off this week to get it all done. Homemade gifts are a wonderful idea but I really should have started them months ago! Happy Hanukah to those of you who have begun that celebration. And happy 21st birthday to Mini-me today!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Christmas stations on Pandora including Indie Holidays, Classical Christmas and Christmas Radio (think Andy Williams, Bing Crosby...the oldies but goodies). In the car, I'm listening to Tahmima Anam's A Golden Age and loving it. The narrator is excellent. I've got it in paperback as well so I may end up reading along some.

Watching: The only thing I've really watched this week was "The Voice." Miss H's favorite, Cassadee Pope, is in the finals. Miss H has seen Cassedee  performing with her former band, Hey Monday, many times, getting to spend time with the band, so she feels like she's cheering for a friend.

Cassedee Pope

Reading: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman for book club this week. After that I'm not sure what I'll grab next. I think I'll go to my review book shelf to try to knock off another one of those this year.

Making: Half a dozen fleece blankets for my great-nieces and -nephews. I'd thought to do a book for each of them but Miss H overruled me. I agreed on the condition she has to help. I'm sure the moms will like the blankets and I do like to find one thing I can give all of them which is no small feat when they range in age from 1 to almost 12.

Planning: Christmas dinner for Family Shepp for next Sunday. With six children and three vegetarians, I'm trying to have plenty of options. Fortunately everyone is willing to pitch in and help so I don't have to cook everything. Still, I need to get the house cleaned for guests and make sure we've got a plan for serving and eating.

Grateful for: Modern medicine - both of our moms have been having some health issues and I'm grateful to the doctors, the machines and the medications for helping them both to get through this.

Loving: My children. Friday's horrific shootings once again make me wonder how a parent carries on after losing a child. Mine are too old to snuggle into my lap and hug to my chest but I think they'll all understand that extra hug they get this weekend and the tears in my eyes.

Looking forward to: Frosting Christmas cookies with my family. This is something we've always done as a whole family. Some years, when the kids were young, this was less fun than others. But we've had enough fun over the years that the kids wouldn't dream of giving up this tradition. Even the tradition of Mini-me getting sent to time out on the steps because he can't stop laughing and Mini-him getting in trouble for egging him on.

What are you most looking forward to this holiday season?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Pin It And Do It - Holiday Edition, Part 1

So, so many wonderful holiday and craft ideas are pinned on my Pinterest boards. I was sure I'd be using a lot of them this year. Or, maybe not. Seriously, there is only so much time in the day. Still, I've managed to snag quite a few ideas this year as I decorated for the holidays. I've been doing essentially the same thing for the past few years and I only needed a little nudge to shake things up. Here are some of the ideas I drew inspiration from:

I'm always looking for a new way to display Christmas cards; I've probably put them up in a dozen different ways over the years. This idea looked like a fun way to keep them up and for them to decorative. But I didn't want them to be on every kitchen cupboard door. Instead I got some red and white ribbon and ran it the length of both of my pantry doors, using clothes pins to hold the cards and photos. I liked the color this added to the kitchen a lot without screaming "Christmasy."

I've got candles out all over my house, year round, in all kinds of colors. This year, I really pulled out the red and white in my decorating so those are the candles I pulled out as well. The problem with that was that the white candles, in particular, looked a little boring. Using this pin as my inspiration, I used the same ribbon from the pantry project to tie bows around several of the candles and I really like the way it ties things together. I may just have to do the same kind of thing for other holidays.

I love using pine cones in my decorating - in baskets, in glass bowls, made into wreaths, on my tree, and across the mantel. I've spray painted them white and gold. This year I used this pin as inspiration to turn some of them into Christmas trees. I love the different texture and color it adds to my collection of trees. I kind of drive The Big Guy nuts every fall when I won't let him mow until I've collected the pine cones that have fallen from our trees. But you can never have too many pine cones in my book!

This pin inspired me to pull out the pewter mug The Big Guy brought back from Williamsburg almost 30 years ago and fill it with candy canes. Once I had it full, it felt like it was missing something, but a sprig of evergreen tucked into the middle gave it more of the feeling of this picture. I really like the idea of using the things you already have in the house and making them work for Christmas. When the kids were younger, we used The Big Guys old train set and my great-grandmother's children's tea set to bring the childhood joy into our decorating.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Looking Forward

Books Being Released In 2013

Every year I'm surprised to see the number of new books being released - particularly considering the doomsday predictions that one is always hearing about the demise of the book. In 2013 Stephen King has not one, but two new books coming out. Charlaine Harris will be releasing the last book in her highly successful Sookie Stackhouse series, and Jodi Picoult will be releasing her  nineteenth novel. Here are some of the books I'm looking forward to in the coming year:

Benediction by Kent Haruf
Having read and enjoyed both Plainsong and Evensong, I've been waiting a long time for this book, eight years as a matter of fact. Haruf returns to Holt, Colorado in Benediction but with an entirely new cast of characters.

A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Niyari
Post-revolutionary Iran in the 1980's, a story of sisters - two things that will always catch my attention. I do love a book set in this part of the world.

The Lady of the Camellias by Alexander Dumas
Okay, technically this isn't a new book but it is a new translation and the first time I've ever heard of this book. Which is strange considering it was the inspiration for Verdi's La Traviata and Baz Luhrman's Moulin Rouge!

The Black Venus by James McManus
Set in the literary circles of19th-century Paris, this is the story of a love affair between Charles Baudelaire and a Haitian cabaret singer.

The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders
Well, that just about says it all, doesn't it?

On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman
The the eve of civil war in Sri Lanka, Freeman explores the innocence of children and the petty prejudices of adults.

Helium by Jaspreet Singh
The author of Chef returns with the story of Raj, a young man torn between his current life in New York and his past in India. As a young man, he watches his professor being attacked and killed. Years later, he returns to India to try to make amends.

Fin and Lady by Cathleen Schine
Fin and his older, half-sister, Lady, has just become orphans and Fin is swooped away from his rural Connecticut life to live with Lady in Greenwich. She is now his guardian but he soon finds that he's just as responsible for her as she is for him.

The House of Tides by Hannah Richell
A family torn apart by the events of one day long ago, the Tides are struggling to move forward. When daughter Dora returns home, the family will find out if forgiveness is possible. Sounds like this one might make a great book club selection.

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
The Omaha Bookworms read Buchanan's The Day The Falls Stood Still a couple of years ago and not only did we very much enjoy the book, we really enjoyed talking to Buchanan over Skype. This February, we're planning to do it again with Buchanan's latest, a novel about two sisters in Belle Epoque Paris. When times become desperate, one of the sisters is sent to be trained in the ballet only to become the model for Edgar Degas' most famous sculpture, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.

I could spend hours (oh, who am I kidding, I did spend hours) browsing the publisher's catalogs for the coming year. So many wonderful, interesting things coming up to look forward to! Are there any books you're particularly looking forward to reading in 2013?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Underwater Window by Dan Stephenson

The Underwater Window by Dan Stephenson
Published June 2012 by Watermark
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this review

Once upon a time, Doyle Wilson had dreams of Olympic gold. At 24 years old, and with younger swimmers passing him up in most of what used to be "his" events, Doyle knows he only has one last chance. The question is, should he take it? Is he willing to give up medical school or the opportunity to coach at the college level? Is he willing to continue to give up the things most people take for granted - a relationship, a day without pain, hair that isn't green?

His friend and rival, Hunter "Archie" Hayes, the world's greatest swimmer (think Michael Phelps here), everything comes easy. But Archie is beginning to chafe under the pressure and Doyle knows that if he puts in one more year, he can help Archie and maybe, just maybe, he can, just once, beat Archie.

Why I Read It:
If you've been reading this blog for long, you've heard me talk about Caitlin Hamilton Summie, who does the publicity for Unbridled Books most often. Caitlin also owns her own publicity company. Not long ago I told you about how she "gets" me. She knows I love swimming and she knows I love the Olympics. So when a book came to her about an elite swimmer working to make his way to the Olympics, she thought of me. And I, of course, jumped at the chance to read it.

What I Liked:
While none of my kids ever came remotely close to swimming at this level, they did swim competitively so when Stephenson writes about sets, times, workouts, dry land, and life as a competitive swimmer I am immediately taken back to those days. In reviews, I sometimes write that an author knows what he or she is talking about. For Stephenson, this is much more than merely knowing what he's talking about, he's lived it.

At the beginning of each chapter, Stephenson uses reflections on swimming to illustrate how if reflects or impacts life outside of the pool and some of these worked really well.  The relationships between the swimmers ring true. Teammates are both rivals and the only friends a competitive swimmer has time for. In Doyle Stephenson has created a character who examines everything microscopically, who has to work even harder than others to get where he wants to be, but who is able to avoid the spotlight and the pressure it entails. In Archie, we see the other end of the spectrum (which is not to say, of course, that Archie is not working harder than any of us could imagine!) and it's a nice balance.

What Didn't Work For Me:
As much as I did appreciate the details, there were just too many of them. Fans may enjoy getting the details of every workout and every race, non-swimming readers will probably begin to do a lot of skimming. The relationship between Doyle and his maybe-girlfriend didn't work for me; I didn't buy the back story that allowed her not to care so much about Doyle's unwillingness to commit.

There were two ways this book could end. I was glad that Stephenson choose to go the way he did. As much as I started to hope for it to end differently.

Photo Credit: Cover Copyright 2012 Ginny Glass and Untreed Reads Publishing

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday - Favorite New-To-Me Authors In 2012

This week the ladies at The Broke and The Bookish asked us to share with you our favorite new-to-us authors for the year. I thought this one would be easy for me; I read a lot of books this year by authors who were new to me.  Surprisingly, I struggled...I had a hard time narrowing my list down to ten and I wanted to make sure I could justify my choices, not just follow the herd. Eventually I decided to stick strictly to fiction.

1. Amor Towles - Rules of Civility may very well be my favorite book this year. So glad to know that he's working on another book!

2. Graham Greene - The End of the Affair may not end of up in my top ten books read this year, but I definitely appreciated Greene's writing and I'm looking forward to reading more of it.

3. Erin Morgenstern - Morgenstern transported me to another world every time I sat down with The Night Circus. What more could you want?

4. Tana French - Her flawed characters and semi-ambiguous ending had me rushing out to buy the rest of the series after reading Broken Harbor.

5. Louise Doughty - Whatever You Love was one scene away from being a book I loved. On the other hand, because of that one scene, I will have a hard time forgetting this book.

6. Laura Moriarty - I struggled with Moriarty's The Center of Everything but I loved The Chaperone. Luckily, I read it first and I'm preferring to believe that it is more representational of what Moriarty is capable of.

7. Sarah Waters - When you can write a book that leaves me feeling edgy in broad daylight, you've impressed me. That's exactly what Waters did in The Little Stranger.

8. Stephen Dau - A debut novel by an inexperienced author that perfectly captures the ambiguity of war? That was The Story of Jonas for me.

9. Vincent Lam - It's not easy to maintain the level of stress Lam created in The Headmaster's Wager. It became harder and harder for me to a good way.

10. Louisa Young - Young covered a lot of territory in My Dear I Wanted To Tell You, managing to excel with both war and love elements. This was a book I felt both men and women would enjoy.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Published 1953 by Ballantine Books
Source: my audiobook was purchased at the Friends of the Omaha Public Library's weekly book sale

Set in the 24th century, Guy Montag takes pleasure in his profession as a fireman, burning illegally owned books and the homes of their owners. Montag  begins to question the value of his profession and, in turn, his life after a chance encounter with a young neighbor. Afterward, Montag begins to struggle with his job, his wife, his entire existence in an oppressive, censored society. Eventually he is forced to flee, joining an underground network of intellectuals. With his new found friends, Montag witnesses the atomic destruction if his former city and dedicates himself to rebuilding a literate and cultural society.

Fahrenheit 451 has long been hailed as the poster child against banned books. However, as I listened to this one, I felt like it was more a book about what happens when people willingly give up their right to think. Books became taboo because they were the last bastion of intellectual thought. In a 2007 interview, Bradbury said the book is actually an exploration of the effects of television and mass media on the public. In fact, Montag's wife and her friends are hypnotized by their "parlor walls" (flat-screen televisions) and absorbed in their seashells (essentially a radio Bluetooth), refusing to believe there are any problems in their lives and even believing the state news reports that the upcoming war will be brief and victorious. How many people do I know who tell me they have no time to read but can converse for long periods about what they watched on television (in fact, their flat-screen televisions) for hours the day before? As televisions and computers become even more ubiquitous, how far from Bradbury's vision of the future are we?

Fahrenheit 451 evolved several times before it became the novel I listened to. Ray Bradbury original wrote a short story titled "Bright Phoenix" which he expanded, in 1951, into the novella The Fireman. Bradbury wrote the novel in the basement of UCLA's library on pay typewriters for which he paid ten cents per half hour. Shortly after it was published, the novel was serialized in a men's magazine (you know, the one started by Hugh Hefner but which I don't want to name here for fear of the kind of traffic it might attract). Maybe there actually were men who read the magazine for the articles.

I picked this book up on audio because I thought it might be something both The Big Guy and I would enjoy while driving recently. We were both impressed with the idea that Bradbury himself read it but as it went on, I was wishing for a more dynamic reader. I did, however, enjoy the book being read in the cadence intended by Bradbury. It is slow going at first, with Bradbury's descriptive writing and long passages of inner thought. Once the action picks up, though, things move along rapidly and I'm afraid I may have been a bit of a hazard on the road as I tried to focus on what was happening.

In middle school I read Bradbury (although I can't now recall exactly which stories) and recall liking him very much. For some reason, though, I never again picked up one of his books. Having very much liked Fahrenheit 451, I will not let that happen again.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sunday Salon - December 9

I kind of panicked this week when it occurred to me that it was little more than two weeks until Christmas (and managed to take several others along with me via Twitter!). I have so much left to do but I'm bound and determined not to stress so I made a priority list and have been trying to convince myself that whatever gets done will be good enough. Of course, that plan meant that I would have to keep moving steadily along - and then I had some kind of stomach bug that meant the only thing I got done yesterday was laundry. Panic is starting to set in again!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Trish's playlist - I don't get much of a chance to listen to Pandora so I count on others to lead me to new music I'll like and Trish has now introduced me to The Lumineers. The Big Guy was listening, too, and decided I'm just a rocking folk gal.  On the other hand, Miss H was laughing her head off watching me head bang to Drowning Pool's "Bodies" recently while we were driving.  I just love music, all kinds of music. Mini-him was teasing me earlier, telling me that with all of the songs I've told them I want played at my funeral, it will basically be a concert. That works for me.

Watching: "The Iron Lady" starring Meryl Streep. She's amazingly good at her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher but what really amazed me was what an incredible job she did portraying an old woman.

Reading: This week I started Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers for book club. I also started, on audio, Tahmima Anam's A Golden Age which I'm loving so far. What are you reading this week?

Making: Christmas goodies. I don't like to start too early, otherwise my family will finish all of one thing before we get to the next. Most of the things I make get made by a team of us; the kids always wanted to help when they were younger so I managed to break the job into tasks so they could all lend a hand. They still like to help but even now are not much more help sometimes than they were then.

Planning: Mini-me's 21st birthday. Just as this is a landmark age for a person, it's an age that makes a parent feel older!

Grateful for: Our cats leaving our Christmas tree alone. We put it up in stages: bare tree, just with lights, finally with ornaments. They watched me at every step but seem to have no real interest in far. Still, I'm glad they are shut in the basement at night to they aren't scaling it at night when we're all sleeping.

Loving: Having made such wonderful friends through blogging. Two packages arrived in the mail this week from blogging friends sharing books they've loved. Thanks, Stacy, for Mr. Churchill's Secretary and Princess Elizabeth's Spy and JoAnn, for City of Women on audio (and for the tip not to listen to it until after the holidays!).

Looking forward to: The holidays actually arriving, when all of the work is done and we can all just enjoy time together and celebrate the reason for the season.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Looking Forward

Books Being Made Into Movies In 2013

I'm never quite sure what to think when I see a book is being made into a movie (although, let's face it, more than half of the movies made these days are based on books). There's always a risk in trying to winnow down hundreds of pages into a movie script. But hope springs eternal, so in 2013, I'll be looking forward to seeing:

Devil In The White City by Erik Larson - the book is the twin true stories of the architect of the Chicago's 1893 World's Fair and the serial killer who preyed on its patrons. No word yet on whether or not the script will tackle both story lines. Serial killer HH Holmes is slated to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - This version will also star Leonardo DiCaprio and will be directed by Baz Luhrman. If nothing else, Luhrman is bound to make this version of the movie visually spectacular.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows - I've got high hopes for this one for two reasons, Kenneth Branagh is directing and Kate Winslet is starring. When they're on, these two turn out some great stuff. 

 Oz: The Great and Powerful  - based on the books by L. Frank Baum. Starring James Franco as Oz and Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz as witches, the movie tells the story of how a small-time magician is transformed into Oz, The Great and Powerful.

 Not strictly book based, there are two fairy-tale based movies coming out this year, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and Jack the Giant Killer. I haven't been overly happy with most of the fairy tale adaptations made recently, and I'm not holding out much hope for either of these. But Jack the Giant Killer does feature Stanley Tucci and Ewan McGregor and I do love both of them, so maybe...

I know at lot of you will also be eagerly awaiting Max Brooks' World War Z, Stephanie Mayer's The Host and Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.

Of course, before we get to 2013, this month we get to see the film adaptations of The Hobbit, Life of Pi and Les Miserable.