Thursday, May 28, 2009
This week's topic: "Is there a book that you wish you could “unread”? One that you disliked so thoroughly you wish you could just forget that you ever read it?"
This is a tough one because I can usually find some redeeming value in any book. Ask my friends at my book club. I'm known as the one person who finishes and pretty much likes everything we've read in five years. Out of everything I've read over the years, there is only one book that I disliked so much that I truly regret ever opening the book. My senior year English class (high school, not college) required us to read Gulliver's Travels. Horrible. Seriously - Worst. Book. Ever.
I get the point that it isn't actually a novel, but really? Horses and giants and little people and is there really a point? It isn't the genre either. I like action and adventure and fantasy. I'm a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I just found nothing redeeming about this one. It just may be the only book where I wish I could scrub my brain.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Author: Boris Pasternak
No. of Pages: 558
First Released: 1958
Synopsis (Courtesy of Edmund Wilson of The New Yorker, 1958): "...one of the very great books of our time.... The incidents succeed one another with so much invention and vivacity, with such range of characterization and description, each submerges us so completely in the atmosphere of its moment of Russian life... Doctor Zhivago will, I believe, come to stand as one of the great events in man's literary and moral history. Nobody could have written it in a totalitarian state and turned it loose on the world who did not have the courage of genius.... His book is a great act of faith in art and in the human spirit."
Comments and Critique: Caution - this is definitely NOT the movie. The movie took liberties and focused on the love story between Lara and Yuri. For those who think that this book is going to be just like the movie, please take note.
Now that I have that out of the way, Mr. Pasternak's novel is very much a love story but rather than between man and woman, it is between a man and his country. Mr. Pasternak's love for Russia is evident in the care he takes with the scenery and developing the characters in such a way that the reader truly understands what it means to be Russian. His pastoral descriptions are breath-taking and make one want to move to Siberia. His dialogue is pure poetry.
There is so much that occurs in this novel that it is difficult to summarize them into one short assessment. Dr. Zhivago's life is truly tragic and mirrors pre- and post-revolutionary Russia. From the loss of his mother at a young age to the loss of his beloved Lara, Yuri faces world wars, civil war, imprisonment by revolutionaries, and so much more. Lara, too, faces her own trials and tribulations throughout the novel. In fact, the best description is that each major character faces his or her own personal revolution. Interspersed with the tragic details are details about life in revolutionary Russia.
Speaking of revolutionary Russia, as an American, the descriptions of life in the early stages of the U.S.S.R. is fascinating. Mr. Pasternak gives the reader a glimpse of a world that the Western world has vilified and which the Russian culture has kept secret from outsiders. It is an amazing study of culture and history, written by a man who truly does love his country. I feel privileged to have been able to get a glimpse of this mysterious world. In addition, it has helped me understand a bit more about the Cold War and the machinations behind it.
Make no mistake, this is an extremely challenging read. However, if you stick with it, you will be rewarded with a better understanding of Soviet Russia, the Russian culture, and with some of the most beautiful passages I have ever had the pleasure of reading. This isn't for the faint of heart, and I'll admit that I had to do some side research to make sure that I understood the history behind the story. In spite of that, I am extremely glad that I read this novel and would recommend it to others who are interested in Russian history.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Author: Carol Leifer
No. of Pages: 186
First Released: 2009
Synopsis: Stand-up comic and comedy writer Carol Leifer faced a critical dilemma and had only two options: either continue sharing her greatest childhood memory (seeing the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1966) or lie about her age. But the choice soon became clear: "I see now that when you deny your age, you deny yourself, and when you lie about your age, you deny your inauthentic twin. But most important, when you lie about your age, they win. (And of course by 'they,' I mean the terrorists)." Now, in this uproarious book, Leifer reveals all - her age, her outlook, her life philosophy - no holds barred.
Comments and Critique: When I was first asked to review this book, I was skeptical. I typically do not read this genre, and I was concerned that I wasn't in the correct age bracket to truly enjoy the book. It was presented to me that the book is about coming to terms with yourself, coming into your own, and becoming the person you are meant to be. Since turning thirty a few years ago, I am all about coming to terms with myself and coming into my own, so I took the plunge.
I wasn't disappointed. While I might not have been able to relate to some of the stories Ms. Leifer mentioned, her main message is for all ages. No matter what age we are, life is going to continue to throw us curve balls, but that is what makes life interesting. We can either sit in a corner and hide or we can adapt and grow. More importantly, we are never too old to continue to grow and learn.
Even more vital, Ms. Leifer's opinions about growing old gracefully are refreshing in this era of plastic surgery and fighting any hint of age on our face. While I still struggle with the idea of death, she did give me food for thought that every wrinkle is a testament to our journey through life, and we shouldn't be ashamed of that. And to erase those wrinkles (through Botox or face lifts) is not being true to ourselves. It's a message that I wish more in society would adopt.
In general, Ms. Leifer's novel was enjoyable. Her list of forty things she knows at age fifty cracked me up to no end. I seriously laughed out loud with that one. At other times, she was quite poignant about the twists and turns her life has taken. In all, she does give food for thought. It's a quick read that I would recommend to anyone interested in a bit of self-discovery.
Thank you to Anna Suknov at FSB Associates for the opportunity to read and review this novel!
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Author: Steve Luxenberg
No. of Pages: 2009
First Published: 386 pages
Synopsis (Courtesy of FSB Associates): "Washington Post associate editor Steve Luxenberg is a master of investigative journalism. The editor of two Pulitzer Prize-winning series, Luxenberg has now written his most compelling story: his exploration of his late mother's secret.
Beth Luxenberg always claimed to be an only child, but a chance mention led to the discovery that she had been hiding the existence of a sister, Annie. The girls had grown up together, living in a series of cramped apartments until Annie's commitment to a mental institution at the age of twenty-one. Why was Annie committed? How had Beth so thoroughly erased her sister's existence? Why had she wanted to? Annie's Ghosts is the engrossing, eye-opening story of Luxenberg's search for the personal motives and cultural forces that influences his mother's decision to create and harbor her secret. The deeper he digs, the more he finds himself in unfamiliar territory, struggling to balance his dual roles, the tenacious journalist and the empathetic son."
Comments and Critique: How would you react if you found out that you had relative that had been kept secret for decades? This is the unfathomable position in which Mr. Luxenberg finds himself shortly before his mother's death. His journey begins with his wrestling with the decision of what to do with the information - whether to confront his mother or leave it along - to deciding whether to dig a little further to find out who this missing aunt is and why she was kept a secret in the first place.
Mr. Luxenberg's research takes him across the nation and even to Europe as he attempts to discover Annie and understand why his mother chose to keep her sister a secret. Throughout the novel, his personal struggles to approach the topic as an impartial journalist versus a very eager and confused son shine through. His journalistic background will not let him rest until he uncovers as much as he can, while his duty to his family and to his late mother make him tread with caution for fear of uncovering too many secrets. To me, this struggle is what makes this an incredibly poignant and compelling novel.
I first found out about this book from Book Blogs and was instantly intrigued. As much as there are times where I might not particularly care for my family members, they are still family. I can't imagine pretending to the world that they don't exist, let alone keep the secret for decades. Added to this intrigue is a history lesson on early mental health treatments and institutionalization, as well as a foray into the Holocaust. The subject matter is fascinating. Mr. Luxenberg does a tremendous job explaining how things used to be in the field of mental health while not making excuses for treatments or opinions that would be vilified today. He also succeeds in understanding Beth Luxenberg's reasons for keeping Annie hidden from the world. We may not agree with it, but at least we, as readers, can understand why.
One other item that continued to amaze me while reading was the depths of research Mr. Luxenberg accomplished. He was able to essentially go back in time to understand public opinion, politics, and even the family and personal drama that was occurring at the time key decisions were made about Annie's future. Upon reflection, I had to ask myself if any family secret was worth the time, money and effort he devoted to discovering Annie. In the end, I realized that this is more than finding Annie and understanding his mother, Annie's Ghosts is a love story. It is a love story between a man and his family. As he immortalizes their triumphs and struggles, the good and the bad, he is doing so because he is proud to call them mother and father, grandmother and grandfather. For Mr. Luxenberg, it wasn't a matter of discovering Annie but discovering his family and sharing them with the world.
I thought this was a fascinating read and have already recommended it to others. Thanks to Julie Harabedian at FSB Associates for giving me the opportunity to read and review this novel!
Monday, May 18, 2009
So I've been on Twitter for a few months now, and I have to confess that I just don't get it. I don't. Don't get me wrong. I see value in almost every social networking site. I wrote my Masters' thesis about them. And I love Facebook. I love seeing pictures and seeing what's new with friends and family. Even the games, the quizzes, and the silliness are fun and funny. It's entertainment. With Twitter, I feel like it is too much work. I can't find users, and I don't understand how people can spend so much time on the website. I get updates on my phone and was getting so overwhelmed with them that I had to turn them off. I love getting the latest breaking news, but it doesn't appear to be the most pertinent or at least it is filtered. I'm thinking more and more of cancelling my Twitter account.
So am I doing it wrong? What's the fascination? How do others spend their time using Twitter?
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
1. What are your current obsessions? Other than blogging? School, all things Twilight related (of course), cooking, and reading.
2. Which item from your wardrobe do you wear the most often? My Green Bay Packers sweatshirt, followed closely by my pajamas. I'm all about comfort.
3. What's for dinner? Tonight, spaghetti with pancetta and pecorino. Or, as my kids call it, cheesy bacon spaghetti.
4. Last thing you bought? We spent Mother's Day planting roses and installing two cubic yards of river rock in my garden. Hopefully, this is the last time I will have to replant roses or any type of plant there.
5. What are you listening to? Muse is always at the top of my list, but these days, my iPod playlist also includes The Fratellis, Iron and Wine, The Killers, Death Cab for Cutie, and way too many others to count.
6. If you were a god / goddess what would you be? How about the Goddess of Driving? That way, I would have the power to punish all tailgaters, those who weave in and out of traffic, follow too closely, cut people off, fail to yield, run red lights, and every other god-forsaken traffic violation that drives me batty. Their punishment? Get stuck as a passenger with someone who never speeds and follows every single traffic rule to the letter. Take that!!
7. Favourite holiday spots? My favorite spot growing up was always Disney World, followed closely by the beach - specifically the beach by my grandparents' house in Anna Maria Island. Lately, I am partial to the mountain scene and adore Asheville, NC.
8. Reading right now? Two books, if you don't count my textbooks - Dr. Zhivago and Annie's Ghost.
9. Four words to describe you? Oooo, I just had to do this exercise for a work-related exercise, except it was ten words. If I have to pick just four, they would be honest, fair, tenacious, and intelligent.
10. Guilty pleasure? Twilight, and New Moon, and Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn, and way too many blogs devoted to them to count.
11. Who or what makes you laugh? My daughter, my son, and my youngest dog - Cullen. He's just plain silly.
12. Favourite spring thing to do? Read outside in the sun. Seriously, nothing better.
13. Planning to travel next? At this point in time, our travels are a bit sparse, since we're supposed to be saving money. Although the thought of not going anywhere this summer is depressing. However, Jim and I are going to see Muse and U2 in concert in Raleigh in October.
14. Best thing you ate or drank lately? Hmmm...Jim made some fabulous cowboy spaghetti a few weeks ago. My cheesy bacon spaghetti is also pretty decent. I think the one item that totally hit the spot recently was the brat I ate on Mother's Day. It isn't summer without eating more than a healthy amount of bratwurst!
15. Last time you were tipsy? It's been a while, since too much alcohol seems to bother my stomach these days. Hanging out with my brother-in-law, his fiance and Jim in the hot tub over spring break would have to be the one moment that stands out.
16. Favourite ever film? I don't have one particular favorite. I adore Animal House, as silly as it sounds. There is something so classic about John Belushi that just cracks me up each and every time. Gone With the Wind is my nostalgic favorite because it was the one I used to act out with my closest friend in junior high and high school.
17. Biggest life lesson you've learned from your kids? That they are the best mirrors for who you are as a person. I caught my daughter talking sharply to her dolls and scolding them to be quiet because mommy has to do her homework. I've never been so ashamed in my life and have made sure that those words or that tone have not come out of my mouth ever again.
18. Song you can't get out of your head? I avoided the radio today so I can't say that there are any songs in my head right now.
19. Spiders -- do you squish or relocate? In the house, squish on site. It invade my domicile and that means certain death. Outside, I stay a healthy distance away as much as possible. I understand their purpose and don't want to harm them, but in the house, there are no holds barred.
20. Favorite TV show? I'm still stuck on Lost, even though we are about six weeks behind the series. I'm also a huge fan of How I Met Your Mother. Two words - Barney Stinson. Awesome.
Who to tag, who to tag? I don't have many followers and have no idea who actually reads this thing. So, I'll have to go with my e-friend (we will meet one day), Hope, and my other e-friend and fellow book club member, Kristy, who is on a blogging sabbatical but I wanted to share the wealth!
(Rules of the meme: Respond and rework. Answer questions on your own blog. Replace one question. Add one question. Tag 8 people... or whatever. )
Now for an update - I received my first ARC ever!! Woohoo! Thank you Book Blogs and FBS Associates. As soon as I finish it, I will be sure to post the review immediately. Let's just say that after the first chapter, I am hooked.
My birthday has come and gone. Alas, Pocket Edward was not wrapped up and waiting for me, but my anniversary is in June, so I still have hope. On the plus side, I was the recipient of a very generous gift card to Ann Taylor Loft, my favorite retail store. Momma is going shopping!!
Six more weeks of school left, and yes, I have a mental calendar that I mark off every day. I'm still getting used to not having as much homework and am now spending some free time working ahead on the big assignments. I figure any assignments I finish early means that many more days to party when this journey is finally over.
Lastly, let me wax poetic here as my family hits a few milestones. We are in the throes of planning Connor's birthday party. My baby boy is turning 9 in sixteen days. What's even worse - Holly goes to her kindergarten assessment tomorrow. My baby will be entering kindergarten this fall. I know I missed a lot with my school work, but seriously, where did the years go?
Monday, May 11, 2009
Author: Charlaine Harris
No. of Pages: 304 pages
First Published: July 2003
Synopsis: Sookie Stackhouse is just a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. Sookie keeps to herself and doesn't date much because of her "disability" to read minds. When she meets Bill, Sookie can't hear a word he's thinking. He's the type of guy she's waited for all of her life, but he has a disability, too--he's a vampire with a bad reputation. When one of Sookie's coworkers is killed, she fears she's next.
Critiques and Comments: I am fascinated with the vampire world Ms. Harris created. To imagine a world in which vampires, paranormal activity, and other mysterious creatures do exist is like a dream come true. Ms. Harris' Louisiana is vivid and florid. The characters are flamboyant but extremely memorable. Honestly, I wouldn't expect anything different for a tale set in the vicinity of New Orleans.
Given everything it has going for it, I did find some faults. I struggled with how fast Sookie fell in love with Bill Compton. I do believe in love at first sight, but I got the impression that she fell in love with the mystery (and the satisfaction of her hormones) rather than the man/vamp. I also had issues with how Bill tried to shelter Sookie from knowledge of his world. If a woman can handle being alone or struggle through life having to listen to the thoughts of everyone around her, I believe she is strong enough to handle the mysteries of the vampiric world. However, it was a nagging issue that I quickly overlooked as the murder mystery deepened.
Speaking of Bill Compton, I wish Ms. Harris would have gone into more depths as to the "virus" that causes people to become vampires. Why did the government decide to recognize them as legitimate? Why the need for the virus pretense? I would have loved more back story, not of the individual vampires but how she got to the point where they were accepted (more or less) members of society. I hope that this is something that is further explained in the rest of the series.
It was easy for me to get sucked into the Sookie/Bill relationship without paying attention to the murder mystery, as they had amazing chemistry. At heart, however, this book is a murder mystery. Ms. Harris did an excellent job of building suspense and dropping clues, but I still failed to figure out the answer until the very end.
After finishing this book in an amazingly short period of time, I have to ask why it took me so long to find this novel? How have I missed it when it has so much? It has everything that has always piqued my interest - snarky, paranormal female; gorgeous mysterious males; vampires; incredible suspense and an intriguing mystery - need I say more?
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Teddy at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time has some great book giveaways. Of particular interest to me is the Mother's Day Giveaway. Check it out and let Teddy know that I sent you!
Lastly, for all you Harry Potter fans, if you have dreamed of owning your own invisibility cloak, apparently scientists are one step closer. Check it out!
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
I ask this because I still struggle with who I am and my roles in life. For the first thirty years of my life, I not only didn't know who I was but I didn't like who I was. In the past three years, I've made great strides in accepting and loving who I am. In fact, I am really enjoying me. However, there are times where I struggle to balance the mom versus the employee versus me. Exercises like having to figure out who I am stress me out and shove me back into that self-conscious girl I was five years ago, and I'm filled with doubts and worries and confusion again.
Is this normal? Does it ever get easier? Do we ever really know who we are?
Saturday, May 02, 2009
Author: Dan Brown
No. of Pages: 496 pages
First Published: 2000
Synopsis (Courtesy of B&N): "When world-renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to a Swiss research facility to analyze a mysterious symbol -- seared into the chest of a murdered physicist -- he discovers evidence of the unimaginable: the resurgence of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati...the most powerful underground organization ever to walk the earth. The Illuminati has now surfaced to carry out the final phase of its legendary vendetta against its most hated enemy -- the Catholic Church.
Langdon's worst fears are confirmed on the eve of the Vatican's holy conclave, when a messenger of the Illuminati announces they have hidden an unstoppable time bomb at the very heart of Vatican City. With the countdown under way, Langdon jets to Rome to join forces with Vittoria Vetra, a beautiful and mysterious Italian scientist, to assist the Vatican in a desperate bid for survival.
Embarking on a frantic hunt through sealed crypts, dangerous catacombs, deserted cathedrals, and even the most secretive vault on earth, Langdon and Vetra follow a 400-year-old trail of ancient symbols that snakes across Rome toward the long-forgotten Illuminati lair...a clandestine location that contains the only hope for Vatican salvation.
An explosive international thriller, Angels & Demons careens from enlightening epiphanies to dark truths as the battle between science and religion turns to war."Comments and Critiques: As with most books I've read during the past few months, I was looking for something light and which required little in the way of thought (in direct opposition to the work I was doing on my Masters' thesis). Angels & Demons did not disappoint on that point. In fact, there were times where rational thought had to be completely ignored in order to get through certain sections.
However, even though some of the sections are extremely unlikely and quite preposterous, Mr. Brown does an excellent job of creating an intriguing mystery. As with The Da Vinci Code, the book is fast-paced and suspenseful. It is engaging and definitely keeps you turning the pages in an effort to discover the next piece of the puzzle.
What is interesting is that in The Da Vinci Code, Mr. Brown takes a decidedly anti-Catholic bent. Angels & Demons concerns itself more with protecting the Catholic Church and questions scientific involvement in the downfall of religion. No matter what your opinion on the matters presented in either novel, Mr. Brown does give a reader food for thought.
The book itself is much bloodier, more violent, and more adult than The Da Vinci Code. Some of the science mentioned are quite highbrow, even though Mr. Brown does a decent job of presenting the topics in layman's terms for the general population.
In general, possibly due to the more adult themes, I found this a much more enjoyable read than other Dan Brown novels. In spite of the incredulity which accompanies some of the scenes, it kept my interest from the opening pages. It also took my mind off what I was trying so hard to forget for a few hours. I would definitely recommend this book to others, if they haven't already read it.