Friday, January 31, 2014

Winter's Respite Readathon

I had every intention to jump in and sign up for A Winter's Respite Readathon hosted by the readathon-crazy Michelle of Seasons of Reading and The True Book Addict (among others!) at the beginning and completely got wrapped up in life. Not that I haven't been reading this week - I had to read like crazy to finish Possession before our Tuesday book talk on Twitter. As in 240 pages in 24 hours between working and working out. So that's a good start on a readathon, right? Since then, I've also read 100 pages of A Different Sun.

I've got a couple of TLC Book Tours coming up so my goal this week is to finish A Different Sun and get a good start on Under The Wide And Starry Sky which will be my first read on the iPad. It will be interesting to compare that to my Nook.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

When I discovered podcasts on my phone, I got a little carried away (okay, a lot carried away). So many great programs to listen to! The problem is you have to find time to listen to them, which I wasn't doing. One of the programs I hadn't listened to one episode of yet was Slate's Book Club. This week I've listened to two episodes and I'm here to tell you that those folks take this stuff seriously! They talk over each other, they argue, and they can get a little pretentious but these people really know their stuff.

Because I clearly have too much time on my hands, I want to know which podcasts do I absolutely need to start downloading (and maybe even listening to)? They don't have to be about books - one of my favorites is Radio Lab. Every time I listen to it, I wish a science teacher had been able to convince me how very cool science is when I was younger!

Have you read Margot by Jillian Cantor? It's the fictionalized diary of Margot Frank, sister of Anne Frank. The Huffington Post loved it and I'm definitely intrigued, particularly having just read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

I've been fighting with NetGalley and Adobe Digital Editions since I got my new computer, trying to get books downloaded onto my Nook. I cannot make it happen. Apple and Nook do not play nicely together. But, silly me, I finally remembered that we have an iPad. Install an app, open NetGalley on the iPad and download the books. So easy. I can't believe how much time I wasted. Now I just have to figure out how to wrest the iPad from The Big Guy's hands! First up, Nancy Horan's (Loving Frank) Under The Wide And Starry Sky for an upcoming TLC Book Tour.

With Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl currently being made into a moving, starring Ben Affleck, The Huffington Post thought it was a  good time to put together a list of marriage thrillers that will chill you to the bone. Gone Girl, of course, makes the list as does Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, Broken Harbor by Tana French and Liane Moriarty's The Husband's Secret. Can you think of any they've left out?

Buzzfeed has a list of nine video games based on classic literature including Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. I'm not going to spend any time looking into this but the graphics that accompany this article look like the games were made for the original Nintendo system. Which makes it hard to believe this story is true. Any one know for sure?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Possession by A. S. Byatt

Possession by A. S. Byatt
Published 1990 by Random House
Source: my local library sale

Publisher's Summary:
Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and a triumphant love story. As a pair of young scholars research the lives of two Victorian poets, they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire — from spiritualist seances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany. What emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passion and ideas.

My Thoughts:
Oh you Booker prize winner, you. You tried to defeat me, you really did. And you almost succeeded. This is a great example of where reading a book as part of a group paid off. There were so many times I almost gave up on this one, so many times I thought this book was too smart for me. And, well, it is. To really "get" everything that makes this book a prize winner, you probably need to have studied literature in college. And a good background in poetry would help. But here's the thing - there is a very good chance I will read this book again.

Byatt throws everything she's got at her reader. There is a lot of poetry in Possession, Byatt touches on all things Victorian, and you will need a dictionary. There is a present day literary mystery and a Victorian-era love story. There are diary entries and letters. It's all a little jarring moving back and forth and I constantly felt like I was being yanked out of a story line I was just getting into. I wanted to give up on Possession. I wanted to throw it against the wall. And then...then it all started to come together; where most stories will lag in the middle, Possession starts to really build. Those last 100 pages are a terrific read, tying everything that has come before together. And why, you ask, even given those last 100 pages, would I want to reread a book I was tempted to throw against the wall. Because there is just so much here, so much I wish I would have taken more time to absorb, to research. So Possession will find a place on my permanent bookshelves, a place that very few books find a home.

Tonight the group of us that read this book together will watch the movie adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow. I eager to see how this very complicated book was interpreted and to have the chance to enjoy it with others who enjoyed this book to varying degrees but who all had very strong opinions about it.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Life: It Goes On - January 26

It's been a family-filled weekend, productive weekend. The Big Guy's sister and her husband spent the night last night and the four of us babysat one set of their grandkids. Today we spent time with the other set, going to watch their oldest grandson play basketball. We always have a lot of laughs and those kids are just so much fun. Our four-year-old great-niece kept taking me by the face and telling me "you and I were meant for each other!"

Company means a flurry of cleaning and today I'm using the rest of the day to finish up what I didn't get to yesterday. All of this means almost no reading or bloggiesta projects have gotten done. It's not going to happen tonight, either, with Downton Abbey and Sherlock both on!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Podcasts - I didn't listen to one minute of Shirley this week. I really must get back to it but with some many interesting choices of podcasts, it's hard to do.

Watching: The new season of "Sherlock" and "Downton Abbey" on PBS and lots of college basketball.

Reading: I will finally finish Possession, probably tomorrow, then I'll be picking up A Different Sun by Elaine Orr for an upcoming TLC book tour.

Making: I think the only thing I actually made this week was oatmeal cookies. BG continues to be the supper king - he even made lasagne one night!

Planning: Finishing up some reorganizing and redecorating of the boys' rooms. I'm not sure I'll be able to get everything I want done until it's warm enough to get furniture outside to paint but at least everything will be where it needs to be.

Grateful for: Wonderful in-laws. I know how lucky I am to have in-laws who care about me and who have always considered me family. After thirty years, that should go without saying, but I know that in a lot of families, it doesn't.

On Saturday mornings, the line will be out the door!
Loving: We were at one of the supermarkets in the Hispanic area of town today where they make their own salsa, tortillas, and chips. We came home with some of all and it will be all we can do to keep ourselves from inhaling that salsa in a couple of days. You know you're doing things right when you have a line at the counter in the middle of the afternoon to pick up the homemade foods.

Feeling: Optimistic - we've had some good news on several fronts this week and winter is already more than half way done!

Thinking: A trip to the fabric store is in order. I'm feeling the need for new window treatments in a lot of rooms.

Looking forward to: The Super Bowl even though I don't have a horse in the race and BG's birthday this week. Which means that for the next nine months, I'll get to call him "old" again.

Friday, January 24, 2014


Time to work on our blogs again - Bloggiesta's are always the kick in the butt I need to do the things I've been wanting to do but have just put off. I'm not sure how much time I'll have to devote to the blog this week (we have company spending the night tomorrow) but there are some things I really want to make sure I make time for:

1. Clean up my email (isn't this always on my list?)
2. Clean up my reader (again - always on my list)
3. Get started on a page for the books I've reviewed. I've got a list started and my goal will be to get at least this much entered. Once it's started, I'll be able to add a few more at a time until I'm caught up. Getting the links added is a whole other story! That may have to wait for the real Bloggiesta.

**Well at least I got something done - but not the tough thing!**

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Introducing...The List

The other night, as I was reading, after I'd listened to a podcast, made dinner, watched a movie, and played on the computer, an idea popped into my head for something new to do here. It's about capturing the things I think about, or do, or want to do, or dream about or any of the random things that pop into my head. It may be about books but just as often it will be about other things. There is not set number of things that will be on the lists. I don't know how often I'll post a list but I do know that I'll want you to contribute to the conversation by telling me what you'd put on your lists.

To kick off The List, I'm weighing in on a subject that other bloggers have been talking about lately - the invisible TBR pile, those books you've downloaded to your ereader that don't take up any space in your home but are piling up none the less. Between Book Perks and the Barnes and Noble Daily Finds for Nook, my Nook book shelf is starting to get crowded!

Right now on my Nook:

1. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion - Tina at Book Chatter suggested to I think Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory) when considering this book - I was sold.

2. The System: The Glory And Scandal Of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian - You all know how much I love my football!

3. Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson - I'm fairly certain Jackson is an author I just don't "get" but I've read so many great reviews for this one I caved and will give her another chance.

4. Tampa by Alissa Nutting - Between great reviews I've read, the shock value, and the fact that Nutting appeared recently at the Omaha Lit Fest, I had to have this one.

5. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - Okay, okay, you all wore me down. But time travel? Gabaldon is going to have to knock me out with her story to help me get over the time travel.

6.  Nemesis by Jo Nesbo - I've been wanting to read Nesbo for a long time, thanks to Rhapsody Jill and Ti!

7. Fin and Lady by Cathleen Schine - I've been eager to read this since I first heard about it; I enjoyed Schine's The Three Weissmans of Westport.

8. Enos by Paul Harding - I downloaded this one before I started Harding's award-winning Tinkers. So glad I've got it ready to read when I finish that one.

9. The Castaways and Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand - My friend, Mari, loves Hilderbrand so I'm looking forward to these - although it may be warm again before I read them!

10. Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende - Allende is one of my favorite authors.

11. The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam - Loved Anam's A Golden Age so I'm eager to read more by her.

12. Middlemarch by George Eliot - I'm hoping to get to this one for the Chunkster Challenge.

13. Les Miserable by Victor Hugo - One day I will actually finish this book!

14. If I Stay by Gayle Forman - I've read so many great reviews of Foreman's books.

15. What Happened To Goodbye? by Sarah Dessen - Ditto what I said about Foreman.

16. Dracula by Bram Stoker - Always good to have something creepy ready to read, right?

That's of today, but I make no promises that I'll be able to pass up the next great $1.99 book that  shows up in my mailbox. If you've got an ereader, what would be on your list?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Memory of Love by Linda Olsson

The Memory of Love by Linda Olsson
Published February 2013 by Viking Penguin
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
Marion Flint, in her early fifties, has spent fifteen years living a quiet life on the rugged coast of New Zealand, a life that allows the door to her past to remain firmly shut. But a chance meeting with a young boy, Ika, and her desire to help him force Marion to open the Pandora’s box of her memory. Seized by a sudden urgency to make sense of her past, she examines each image one-by-one: her grandfather, her mother, her brother, her lover. Perhaps if she can create order from the chaos, her memories will be easier to carry. Perhaps she’ll be able to find forgiveness for the little girl that was her. For the young woman she had been. For the people she left behind.

My Thoughts:
After reading so many rave reviews of Olsson's Astrid and Veronika, when I was offered this book, I was anxious to see what it was about Olsson's writing that appealed to so many people.

Here Olsson blends three time periods of Marion's life - a sad, difficult childhood in Sweden; an aborted chance at love in her thirties; and, finally, life as a fifty-year-old retired physician who has spend the past fifteen years hiding from other people and her own emotions in New Zealand until a young boy who needs help comes into her life.

It was a slow start for me, moving back and forth in time, shifting from first-person to third-person narratives. The more I got to know young Marion (Marianne), the more I came to understand why middle-aged Marion was so fragile and guarded and the more I came to care what happened to her. In helping Ika and in uncovering his horrible past, Marion is finally able to allow herself to slowly let her memories return so that she can, at last, deal with her own pain. These two damaged souls allow each other to slowly, quietly heal in a place where the environment allows them the solitude and peace they need.

There is much about Olsson's writing that is poetic, particularly when she writes about life on the beach. But there is also a tension that starts building, pulling the reader through the book, until all three of the stories come to their climaxes. As much as this story is about love, in its many forms, it is also filled with subject matter that is difficult to read including some that still leaves me wondering about my feelings about this book.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Life: It Goes On - January 19

Oh, what a day - what's a girl to do? We're headed off to usher at the playhouse production of "Barefoot In The Park" shortly and we almost always enjoy the shows there. starts at exactly the same time as the Denver/New England playoff game. Then tonight, right during the Seattle/San Francisco game,  we've got the next episode of "Downton Abbey." Followed by the first episode this season of "Sherlock" on PBS. I can go days when there is absolutely nothing on the television I want to watch and now this. As Miss H likes to say "first world problems."

My sister-in-law and niece were up to Nebraska this weekend with my niece's Pomeranian. Yesterday my SIL posted on Facebook: "This Nebraska wind is crazy! I have the little dog. Now I just need my bike and ruby red slippers and I'd be set!" In the past week we have had three days with sustained winds of 35 miles an hour. I can certainly see how the pioneers went crazy from the wind!

Today we are especially missing The Big Guy's mom - it would have been her 86th birthday. It's still hard to believe she's gone.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: "Shirley" by Charlotte Bronte but I must say that I'm not enjoying it much. Took a break the other day to listen to some podcasts instead.

Watching: We did watch the first episode of "American Idol" the other night and found it to be much better than the past couple of seasons. But we probably still won't watch it regularly, especially the tryouts. Just hate that they show people who really don't have the talent they think they do.

Reading: I'm still plugging away on Possession and liking it better but I'm sad that I'll miss this week's Twitter discussion.

Making: We got some farm fresh eggs the other night so I made breakfast for dinner one night so we could use the eggs in a way that really plays up how much better they are. I should have taken a picture of our dozen eggs - we had blue, green, two shades of brown. So pretty!

Planning: A massive reorganization of our pre-digital camera pictures. We have some in boxes, some in albums, and we have a whole box of pictures that have been pulled out over the years and never returned to their homes. Everything's going in boxes now which should save a lot of room and allow me to edit what we keep.

Grateful: The Big Guy made it home safely from Chicago the other night. An hour after he was supposed to take off, he sent me a text from the plane "Deiced and now checking the landing gear." This worry wart does not need to know there might be a problem with the landing gear!

Loving:  The fact that the Winter Olympics are less than three weeks away - yes, I did schedule a day off work just to stay home and watch them!

Feeling: Ready for spring. Only 10 more weeks, right? We've got some big plans for the yard this year and I'm eager to get started.

Thinking: That my cats need to learn how to run the vacuum. It's their hair, after all, that causes me to have to vacuum so much!

Looking forward to: Book club this week - can't wait to discuss Eleanor and Park. Loved it!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Fairy Tale Fridays - Some Fun Stuff

Thanks to Rhapsody Jill for bringing the photography of Colon, Germany-based photographer Kilian Schönberger to my attention. Schönberger has produced a series of photographs called Brothers Grimm's Homeland that perfectly capture the dark, foggy atmosphere that no doubt inspired the stories that Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected. Looking at Schönberger's photos, you can easily see how people could imagine a wolf skulking around ready to eat up your grandmother or a cottage where seven little men will provide shelter for a girl on the run from a wicked stepmother and her enchanted mirror.

I've seen a lot of fairy tale-based products in the past few years - books, movies, toys, jewelry, stamps, and clothing. But I was surprised to recently find that there is a business in Loveland, Colorado called Grimm Brothers Brewhouse. The names of their beers are based on fairy tales and fairy tale characters and all of their marketing ties to the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm and the region those tales were found in. Beer. Who woulda thunk it?

Speaking of fairy tale products, did you know that there's actually an eggplant called a Fairy Tale Eggplant? Burpees sells the seeds. I don't even like eggplant but I'm tempted to try growing some of these. Bon Appetit has a recipe for beer battering them. Perhaps I could try some Fairy Tale eggplant in a Snow Drop beer batter? I just might like that!

Blogger Tim Manley, of the tumblr blog "fairy tales for twenty-somethings," has written a book titled Alice in tumblr-Land and Other Fairy Tales for a New Generation. I am clearly not the target audience for this book (not, as you know, being of a "new generation"). On the other hand, I am fairly addicted to all things internet so I think I could appreciate a book where the Tortoise and the Hare Facebook stalk each other rather than actually race and Peter Pan finally has to grow up and get a job or at least start paying his parents rent. Y'all know how much I love satire! Here Manley writes about the book for The Huffington Post. "As a child, fairy tales were how I made sense of the world--a dream of becoming an apple salesman could only come from a kid who really believed anything was possible."

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster

Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster
Published 1912
Source: downloaded from Librivox

From an orphanage to college, Jerusha, or Judy, Abbott hopes to continue her education, but has no funds. When an anonymous benefactor offers to finance her studies, Judy accepts. Her witty letters to this generous man may bring her closer to knowing his identity than she expects.

My Thoughts:
It seems I read this as a young girl - fond memories of a book by this title about an orphan and a mysterious benefactor float about in the recesses of my mind. I was delighted to find that this book is every bit a charming and whimsical as I, if ever so vaguely, remember it being.

Webster, niece of Mark Twain, tells Jerusha's story entirely through Jerusha's monthly letters to her mysterious benefactor, who prefers to be known only as Mr. Smith. But Jerusha, who catches only a glimpse of his shadow, prefers to refer to him as Daddy Long Legs in her four years of letters to him. From her early days at college when she feels alone and woefully undereducated to her triumphant graduation as one of the school's leaders, Jerusha writes about everything from clothes, theater, books, her first trip to New York City, her summers on a farm, her political thoughts and her growing feelings for a certain Jervis Pendleton. Readers will catch on fairly early to Daddy Long Legs' true identity but it takes nothing away from the story.

Two problems with listening to the Librivox version of this book: readers don't get to see the many drawings, also by Webster, that Jerusha includes in her letters and the multiple narrators. With Librivox, volunteer readers read chapters, not whole books. Some of them are really very good. Others are not as good. Still, it's free and at least when the reader is not as good, there is always hope for the next chapter!

Another book I highly recommend moms and young daughters enjoy together!

Leslie Caron, center, in the movie adaptation by the same name

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Long-Awaited Reads Month

Hosted by Nymeth of Things Mean A Lot and Iris of Iris On Books, Long-Awaited Reads Month is in its second year and designed for readers to pick up those books they've been meaning to read for a while. I'm late to the party but I've kind of been playing along already, having started the year by reading Life of Pi, joining in the Possession readalong, and downloading Shirley to start listening to this week. This is a very relaxed event; readers are encouraged to participate at any level they chose - some are spending the entire month reading LAR while others will read only one or two books they've been looking forward to. I'm also planning to finish Tinkers which is on my nightstand, The Devils In The Sugar Shop (which I've just started) and something from my books to review shelf which has been languishing there for much too long. If you were to pick up a book to read with us, what would be your first choice?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Published 2002 by Houghton Mifflin
Source: my copy was borrowed from a friend

Publisher's Summary: 
Pi Patel is an unusual boy. The son of a zookeeper, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior, a fervent love of stories, and practices not only his native Hinduism, but also Christianity and Islam. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes. The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days lost at sea. When they finally reach the coast of Mexico, Richard Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his story and press him to tell them "the truth." After hours of coercion, Pi tells a second story, a story much less fantastical, much more conventional-but is it more true?

My Thoughts: 
I acquired this book as part of a book swap a couple of years ago but neither of us has gotten around to reading the books we borrowed. It wasn't until I finally got around to watching the movie adaptation, which I very much enjoyed, that I decided it was time to pick this one up.

When you have a good part of a book taking place on a lifeboat lost at sea with only a young boy and a tiger as passengers, there is a very real risk that the book could drag or become entirely too full of itself. Life of Pi does neither. Pi Patel is a very spiritual young man, knowledgable about animals, so his survival depends on his skill, his wits, and his incredible faith. Into this story, Mantel manages to weave amazing beauty, horrific brutality, and, unbelievably, humor. The book is slow to build and, at times, very hard to read (okay, I'll admit it, I had to skim over some parts they were just so hard to read), but it has stunning plot twists and marvelously thought provoking. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book and by how much it made me think about religion and all the ways there are to believe in God.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Life: It Goes On - January 12

Oh my goodness was it hard to return to a regular work week this past week! Now to dig in and survive the next couple of months of winter - such a long stretch with not much to look forward to!

Bout of Books went pretty well this week - unless you count me forgetting to post my plan or to participate in any of the activities. Yep, I suck at readathons except for the reading. I did read 125 pages of Possession, 200 pages of Life of Pi, 25 pages of Eleanor and Park, 25 pages of Tinkers, and I finished listening to Daddy Long Legs. Oh wait, now that I look at the numbers, it's not that much more than a normal week. Never mind.

Bruce Dern & Will Forte, "Nebraska"
Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I'll start listening to Charlotte Bronte's Shirley.

Watching: "Nebraska," directed by Alexander Payne. Poignant, funny, and Will Forte is seriously good.

Reading: The Possession readalong continues; I'm hoping to read another 100 pages by Tuesday's discussion. Tinkers by Paul Harding has made its way to my nightstand and I started Timothy Schaffert's The Devils In the Sugar Shack to put myself in the mood for his latest book, The Swan Gondola. Oh yeah, and Eleanor and Park is on my Nook.

Making: Tried fudge...twice. Failed at fudge...twice. Turns out the recipe was missing an ingredient. I haven't worked up the courage to try it a third time. I did turn the second batch into a sort of brownie which was edible but not what I was in the mood for.

Planning: I'm in the process of redecorating Mini-him's room. He's been living in a kind of limbo state since he moved home. It's time to make it his room again as long as he's living here.

Grateful for: Laughter - it does a body good.

Loving: The kick to cook The Big Guy's been on lately. I come home from work most nights to find dinner well on it's way to ready. This week's menu included chili, ham and bean soup, and friend potato casserole. Yum!

Feeling: Happy - BG gave me what I consider to be a belated Christmas present when he made a pass  through his closet and dressers and covered my bed in clothes he was ready to part with. He never gets rid of anything so this was a big deal.

Looking forward to: Ushering at the playhouse next weekend, although for the life of me I cannot remember which play they are performing.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Published 1910
Source: this is our copy

Publisher's Summary:
 Mary Lennox has no one left in the world when she arrives at Misselthwaite Manor, her mysterious uncle's enormous, drafty mansion looming on the edge of the moors. A cholera epidemic has ravaged the Indian village in which she was born, killing both her parents and the "Ayah," or Indian servant, who cared for her. Not that being alone is new to her. Her socialite mother had no time between parties for Mary, and her father was both too ill and too occupied by his work to raise his daughter. Not long after coming to live with her uncle, Mr. Craven, Mary discovers a walled garden, neglected and in ruins. Soon she meets her servant Martha's brother Dickon, a robust country boy nourished both by his mother's love and by the natural surroundings of the countryside; and her tyrannical cousin Colin, whose mother died giving birth to him. So traumatized was Mr. Craven by the sudden death of his beloved wife that he effectively abandoned the infant Colin and buried the keys to the garden that she adored. His son has grown into a self-loathing hypochondriacal child whose tantrums strike fear into the hearts of servants. The lush garden is now overgrown and all are forbidden to enter it. No one can even remember where the door is, until a robin leads Mary to its hidden key. It is in the "secret garden," and with the help of Dickon, that Mary and Colin find the path to physical and spiritual health. Along the way the three children discover that in their imaginations—called "magic" by Colin—is the power to transform lives.

My Thoughts:
I found The Secret Garden charming and sweet and strongly encourage you to read it to your young daughters. Although you may want to skim over some of the fairly longish garden descriptions (I'll admit it, I did). And you may grow a bit frustrated trying to read the Yorkshire dialect.

But truly, Mary Lennox is a girl that all young girls should meet, particularly if they have days when they can be a bit bearish. Mary is a fairly horrid little girl when she arrives at Misselthwaite and she never entirely losses her temper which, as it turns out, is not always a bad thing.

Like all truly great children's books, The Secret Garden gives adults an extra layer to think about - common sense versus conventional wisdom, the transformative power of living things, the effect of positive thought, and the many kinds of "magic" including faith and science.

It seems odd to me that I have never read this book before considering that a) one of my all-time favorite books is Burnett's A Little Princess (in fact, it's a book I will sooner or later give to most young girls I know) and b) I bought this copy specifically to read to my daughter...which, apparently, I never did. This makes me very sad because I think I would have loved it had I read it through a child's eyes.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto

I am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto
Published February 2003 by Scribner
Source: my own audio and print copies
Narrator: Lorna Raver

Publisher's Summary:
The life of Virginie Gautreau, the notorious beauty of Madame X, John Singer Sargent's most famous and scandalous portrait, provides inspiration for this absorbing and intriguing novel. In this novel, Gioia Diliberto tells Virginie's story, drawing on the sketchy facts of Virginie's life to re-create her tempestuous personality and the captivating milieu of nineteenth-century Paris.

Born in New Orleans to two of Louisiana's prominent Creole families and raised at Parlange, her grandmother's lush plantation. Virginie fled to France with her mother and sister during the Civil War. The family settled in Paris among other expatriate Southerners and hoped, through their French ancestry, to insinuate themselves into high society. They soon were absorbed into the fascinating and wealthy world of grand ballrooms, dressmakers' salons, luxurious country estates, and artists' ateliers. Because of Virginie's striking appearance and vivid character, her mother pinned the family's hopes for social acceptance on her daughter, who became a "professional beauty" and married a French banker.

Even before Sargent painted her portrait, Virginie's reputation for promiscuity and showy self-display made her the subject of vicious Paris gossip." I Am Madame X is a compulsively readable immersion in Belle Epoque Paris. It is also the story of a great work of art, illuminating the struggle between Virginie and Sargent as they fought to control the outcome of a painting that changed their lives and affected the course of art history.

My Thoughts:
Diliberto is a biographer who became entranced by the woman known to the world as Madame X. She almost certainly thought to write the biography of a woman who had inspired Sargent to paint a portrait which would almost ruin his reputation when it was first shown. Lacking enough detail for a biography, Dilioberto instead crafted a novel based on what she did know about Virginie, Sargent, and Paris and Louisiana in the late 19th century.

The result was a novel that was uneven for me. Other reviewers have called Dilioberto's effort "competent" and "credible." The problem is that the story could have been so much more. Dilioberto does a fine job bringing both Creole and Parisian society life alive, filling her story with the kind of details that paint pictures in readers' minds. It is in her characters that Dilioberto falters.

In Virginie, Dilioberto has created a woman scarred by early loss and shaped by her mother's insistence that their very existence rests entirely on Virginie's looks. I should have cared about a girl who lost her beloved father and sister, whose mother cared so little about her that she allowed her to quite school because she just couldn't be bothered. Early on I did care. But the older Virginie got, the vainer she became and the less Dilioberto worked to make readers see her softer side. Most of the other characters are not fully developed and their purpose and motivation are not always clear.

Still, it was an interesting book as much for its historical setting and the art and music that play such big parts in it, as for Virginie's story. My enjoyment of it was vastly enhanced by Raver's narration. Virginie's story is told from her perspective as an older woman and Raver's voice is perfect for that; she adds to the emotion of the book, particularly its humor.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Bout of Books 9.0

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 6th and runs through Sunday, January 12th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional.

What better way to kick off a new year, especially when it's ridiculously cold out, than a read-a-thon. All of those challenges I've just signed up for, all of those goals I've just set for the year? I'm ready to get started on them! Here's what I'm hoping to get read this week:

1. Get caught up with Possession which I'm reading as part of a readalong (about 75 pages)
2. Finish Life of Pi. (about 200 pages)
3. Eleanor and Park (336 pages) which the Omaha Bookworms are reading for January.

All books I've been looking forward to or are already enjoying so it should be a good week!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Life: It Goes On - January 5

Happy New Year! Hope you all kicked off the year in great fashion, or at least better fashion than we did. Miss H brought home a flu bug at the beginning of the week and that's how BG and I kicked off the New Year. Whoopie!

On New Year's Day I saw a man named Jon Gordon talking about choosing one word for 2014 that will give meaning and purpose to your life rather than setting resolutions. I love this idea! My word is going to be "self." My goal in 2014 is to improve myself physically, emotionally, and intellectually. It's about being around for the long haul, being happy, and keeping my mind alert. What word would you choose and why?

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Jean Webster's Daddy Long Legs which I downloaded to my phone from Librivox. It's one of the books on my Classics Club Challenge list. I read the book as a young girl and remember liking it. But I'm more familiar now with the Fred Astaire/Leslie Caron musical adaptation.

Watching: Oh so much football!

Reading: Life of Pi after loving the movie so much and Possession as part of a Goodread readalong. I did just download Outlander to my Nook, thanks to Trish who pointed out that I could get it for $1.99 and Tampa by Alyssa Nutting - so much for trying to read more of the books on my shelf without adding too many more!

Wish this were my pantry!

Making: As you might imagine, nothing much more than toast.

Planning: On a kitchen reorganization. As part of my efforts to become healthier, my diet needs to change. I'm not going to do away with goodies entirely, but I need to make it easier to grab healthy options.

Grateful for: Sprite, blankets, and ibuprofen - yeah, it's been that kind of week.

Feeling: Happy to have everyone healthy again and the house all sterilized.

Thinking: This is the first year in decades that I have not been eager to get my holiday decorations down. There's a coziness to them that I miss when I take them down.

Looking forward to: Staying in the moment this week and getting back to a routine.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

One More Challenge!

If you've been following me long, you know I'm a sucker for the beginning of the year. Truth be told, most of the challenges I've signed up for really should be much of a challenge for me. We all know I'm going to read a lot of historical fiction, after all. But Colleen challenges me to find books that deal with a particular type of history, the immigrant experience, and that is a bit more of a challenge. I'm joining at the Just Off The Boat level, so I'll be reading 1-3 books (okay, I know, that's not REALLY challenging myself but hush!). But since I'm already reading Life Of Pi and will read Eleanor and Park soon, both of which qualify, I'll probably shoot for the next level. If you're interested in reading learning more about the people who braved a new life, check out the Immigrant Stories Challenge at Books In The City. Colleen even gives you some book ideas and Goodreads has pages of ideas.

Books I'm also considering are:
Beautiful Maria of My Soul by Oscar Hijuelos
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
Heyday by Kurt Anderson

Which of these should I definitely read? There are several books that were big hits in 2013 that I will likely pick up in the next few months that will also qualify but I want to focus, for now, on what I already own.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2014 TBR Pile Challenge

Why yes I have decided to join a TBR challenge after all. Because I need to seriously make sure I'm working on these books that have been collecting dust on my shelves. The Official 2014 TBR Pile Challenge is hosted by Roof Beam Reader and requires the challengee to read pick 12 books plus two alternatives published before 2013 that have been on your shelf for at least a year to read in the coming year.

My twelve books are:
1. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
2. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
3. The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner
4. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
5. P. S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern
6. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
7. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
8. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
9. The Portrait of A Lady by Henry James
10. The Warden by Anthony Trollope
11. The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer
12. Five Quarters Of An Orange by Joanne Harris

1. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
2. An Arsonist's Guide to Writer's Homes in New England by Brock Clarke

Wednesday, January 1, 2014