Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why I Love...Paperback Books

With the new development of gadgets that allow you to access books with the simple touch of a button, the entire way that we read has shifted.  We now have the ability to carry around thousands of books in one single device.  While I like the convenience of this trend, I just can't jump on board.  For that reason, this edition of "Why I Love" is dedicated to the paperback book, otherwise known as my favorite book form/format.

I am probably one of the few "literary-driven" people left who does not own an e-reader of any kind.  My sister (who doesn't read nearly as much as I do) got one for Christmas and, while I did enjoy playing around on it, I was so much more excited to receive an actual book.  One that I could grasp, physically flip through, and smell.  These are all traits that I cherish when I think about books or reading.

I like to hold onto books (I carry one with me at all times and normally read multiple books at a time) and feel the weight they give to whatever bag I'm carrying.  Of course this is probably not the greatest thing for my back or shoulders, but I always find that something comes up when I need to fill a little down-time during my day.  I've been known to read in my car while waiting at the train tracks.  While I could do this with an e-reader, it just wouldn't be the same because I'd have to power it up and all that jazz.  Not something I would look forward to.

This same notion of having to access power qualifies yet another reason I prefer paperbacks over e-readers.  I actually do a bit of traveling and, unlike those who bring e-readers to occupy their time on an airplane, I don't have to power my paperback down.  I can continue reading and immersing myself in another world as the plane takes off and lands.  Though there is a downside to this, I admit.  Because I'm a quick reader, I have to bring more than one book on any trip I take which adds to the weight of my luggage (if I check it).  But I don't find that to be too much of a burden, honestly.

Also, I find that, because my job requires so much work staring at a screen and researching on the internet, I don't like to spend my free reading time staring at yet another screen.  I do like the fact that there isn't a glare on the e-readers, but I would rather look at a dull page in a physical book and leave electronics behind for a little bit.

I think the main reason that I enjoy a physical book so much is due to the fact that I absolutely love the smell of them.  The paper, the ink, the glue...all offer a sense of comfort and nostalgia that remind me of wonderful times when I escaped this world and lived vicariously through the characters on the pages.  I remember a time when my dear friend Sandy, who I've been friends with for nearly twenty years, told me, jokingly, to go spend time with my "real" friends (those pesky characters).  It's still something we refer to every now and then and laugh about because she has become a more avid reader as we've aged.  

These are all reasons that add to my love of paperback books.  Plus, I really enjoy breaking the spine :) 

I managed to make a nest out of Michelle's bedding and such one day in Edinburgh...note the paperback!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Teaser Tuesday...Oddities in Portland

This week's teaser is going to be a little different than the normal installation.  I was in Portland at one of my favorite coffee shops this last weekend catching up with my German professor from undergrad and a dear friend, Jenna.  After our elixir of life get-together, Jenna and I decided to hit up one of my favorite used bookstores in the area (not Powell's...that's on the other side of town) and browse through the book-packed rooms of the establishment.  While on this adventure, I came across Portland Noir, a collection of contemporary short stories written by local authors, edited by Kevin Sampsell.  So, because this isn't a traditional book, I will be teasing a line from every selection!  Here goes:

Karen Karbo "The Clown and Bard"
"Now Charlotte's lying on my bathroom floor, wedged between the hot water pipe and the toilet.  Is it laying or lying?  Charlotte would know.  She has a master's degree and a daily subscription to the New York Times." (19)

Luciana Lopez "Julia Now"
"Henry Lewis laughed out loud, a choking sound that brought up something from deep in his lungs. 'He cheats,' Henry Lewis said.  'You ain't caught him, but he cheats.'"  (51)

Ariel Gore "Water Under the Bridge"
"I got up to use the bathroom.  No Ladies and Gents at Dots Cafe.  Just It, Doesn't, and Matter.  I walked into Matter." (55)

Floyd Skloot "Alzheimer's Noir"
"Jimmy can see anyway.  He leads me and I follow.  The trail rises and dips, follows the contours of the bluff.  I think I'm doing well with the tricky footing for an old man.  Then I realize Jimmy is carrying me." (76)

Dan DeWeese "The Sleeper"
"The next time I saw the boy, I was glancing through the screen door as I always did, my eye scanning the bright rectangle of light.  The adults were there as usual, smoking cigarettes and watching television, but standing at the door was the child in his sleeper, looking back at me." (90)

Jonathan Selwood "The Wrong House"
"She leaves the room and I'm left to ponder why she speaks native Mex slang, who the hell Esteban is, and why the bitch doesn't even know what's in her own medicine cabinet.  I look down again at the bullet hole in my hoodie.  There's still no blood." (108)

Monica Drake "Baby, I'm Here"
"The tavern air was murky, thick with sweat, beer, and smoke, but warmer than outside.  And it was dark.  Instant night, in the middle of the day.  Scattered popcorn on the carpet was the glow of stars.  I looked for the North Star, some guiding light in that mess, like an explorer let loose on a new world." (123)

Bill Cameron "Coffee, Black"
"The only reason I originally agreed to the stakeout was because of her.  RJ has been trying to get me involved in freelance investigation since I retired, but it took a coffee case and a fat paycheck to get my attention." (148)

Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones "Gone Doggy Gone
"One thing they don't teach you in the movies...when you're running for your don't have the time to think.  You just act." (163)

Jess Walter "Virgo"
"Then one day in early October, when we'd stopped having sex altogether, I did it.  I goosed her horoscope.  Virgo was supposed to have three stars and I changed it to five." (180)

Chris A. Bolton "The Red Room" 
"Sometimes they smoked a joint in bed afterwards and she told him stories about all the weird customer incidents at Powell's." (192)

Justin Hocking "Burnside Forever"
"I take a bad slam on my elbow.  I lie there for a while, looking at the underside of the bridge, all black and sooty and painted with pigeon shit, like an old cathedral.  My elbow turns into a swellbow, the size of a baseball, the way it always does." (211)

Zoe Trope "Hummingbird"
"Inside, I help her decipher the wall of fake wieners." (221)

Gigi Little "Shanghaied"
"I get the egg-on-the-head thing, the kick in the gut, but my eyes grab hold of hers and don't let go.  Panic turns so easy into thrill.  I stare her down until she turns away." (240)

Megan Kruse "Lila"
"I slept deeper that night than I had in what felt like years.  In the dark I reached out and felt the curve of Lila's bare back, the raised scar on her shoulder blade, and then slipped into some dream that later I couldn't remember." (255)

Kimberly Warner-Cohen "People are Strange"
"Whoever said Portland was a friendly city stated it from the comfortable vantage of already knowing people." (257)

And there you have it.  A wonderful collection of Noir stories based in Portland that showcase the seedier side of the once very seedy town.  It's been quite good so far!

A beautiful view of Portland with Mt. Hood in the background.
Keep it weird, Portland! 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Amanda Rogers aka Portia de Rossi (Book #16...or 17...I can't count)

"It seems to me that it's only since around 1970 that the concept of diet and exercise has existed in the way it does now, which is based on exertion and restriction being the key to weight loss, and yet since then, we have seen an increase in obesity in countries that have adopted it.  (These are also the countries where the fast-food industry boomed during that time.)  The diet industry is making a lot of money selling us fad diets, nonfat foods full of chemicals, gym memberships, and pills while we lose a little of our self-esteem every time we fail another diet or neglect to use the gym membership we can barely afford." (302)
~ Portia de Rossi

It's interesting, but I've never really thought about dieting as an industry as the above except from Portia de Rossi's memoir, Unbearable Lightness:  A Story of Loss and Gain, declares it to be.  And, honestly, I have to say that I agree with her.  There are so many different fad diets out there that claim you'll lose weight quickly, you'll be in the best shape of your life, you'll feel better than ever.  What they neglect to tell the consumer is that, as soon as you stop taking their "magic" pill, you gain everything some.  It really does wreak havoc with your self-esteem, your body image, and your body in general.  You do feel like a complete failure.  It's disheartening and disingenuous.  Shame on you diet industry!

De Rossi does a great job of bringing the reader into the mind of self-denial and delusion that one suffering from anorexia and bulimia believes.  Some of the "truths" are absolutely shocking.  The extremes that she would go to in order to "look good" for Hollywood were heartbreaking and atrocious.  To imagine you were never thin enough at 82 pounds is mind-boggling.  The blame she places on her father and her mother at times, only to realize that they had no control over how she reacted to comments and judgments directed toward her, shows the reader the lack of responsibility that she felt toward her condition.  I think that her foray into the modeling industry at such a young, developing age was more the culprit than anyone or anything else.  To be told at the age of 12 that you have a saggy ass and need to work out has to be devastating and definitely has a negative effect on the body image of a developing teen.  It's no wonder de Rossi had such horrific body image issues.

 Left:  A glimpse at one of her lightest points.  Right:  A more healthy de Rossi.

She chronicles her struggles with constant weight issues, moving from the most extreme weight loss and weight gain.  She also explains the struggle she still faces every day when it comes to her weight.  Yes, she's at a healthy weight for her body type and height.  Yes, she's finally happy with who she is and where she is in her life.  All in all, it's a beautiful journey filled with tragedy...and very few calories.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Help and a Lesson in Fighting for What's Right

"You is kind.  You is smart.  You is important."

After putting off Kathryn Stockett's The Help for months, I was finally forced to read it for one of my many (and ever-growing) book clubs.  Thank you Misty (and whoever from the group suggested it be our next book)!  I think I put off reading it for so long because of how much it's been touted since it's publication.  There has been so much hype and so many people saying how fantastic it is that I was terrified it wouldn't live up to it.  That it would fail at impressing me and leave me even more jaded with public opinion (cue Justin Bieber).  However, now that I've read it, I can honestly say that this novel DOES live up to everything that's been said about it.  It's absolutely wonderful!  It is sharp.  It is witty.  It is sad.  It is infuriating. It is so much.

The novel takes place in the early 1960s and centers around three women:  Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter.  Two of these characters, Aibileen and Minny, are black maids in the homes of two Jackson, Mississippi families, while Skeeter is a young, privileged, white woman, also in Jackson, who happens to be "friends" with the families Aibileen and Minny work for.  Skeeter's goal in life is to become a writer and move to New York; essentially to get out of Mississippi and the pressure she feels from her family and the entire community.  She ends up applying for a job at a magazine that she is clearly not qualified for and striking up a "relationship" with the editor of the magazine.  This is where the adventure for these three characters begins.

Skeeter knows that, in order to achiever her goals, she must write something that is unprecedented.  Something that stirs controversy.  Something that forces her to probe social issues.  She comes across the notion of writing a book from the perspective of the help through Aibileen.  And everything stems from there.

I don't want to give anything away.  Most people know the premise of this book due to the trailers of the Hollywood version that was constantly promoted leading up to the film's release, so the above is nothing new.  What I will not give away are the intricacies of the relationships that Stockett does a brilliant job of developing.  Her characters are deep, thoughtful, complex, and varied.  This lends such a richness to the text that it causes the reader to feel like they "know" these people.  We identify with them.  We feel for them.  We want to fight for them.  We also cheer for them.  I think that's what Stockett wanted.  She wants the reader to do all of these things.  She wants us to hate Hilly...and boy do we!

“Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why I Love...Flawed Characters

It feels like Wednesday's come around all the time now...and you know what that means:  "Why I Love..."  This week's topic is one that can go so many different ways and include so many different things.  But, for the sake of this post, favorite types of characters, I have to say that I love when a character is not perfect, has flaws, and still manages to capture my heart.

There are so many characters that fit this description, but my ultimate #1 flawed character has to be Severus Snape.  From the time I started reading the Harry Potter novels, Snape held a special place in my heart.  Everyone was convinced, and tried to convince me, that he was evil and a terrible person, but for some reason I had this gut feeling that he wasn't as bad as he was made out to seem.  I held onto that opinion and that undying love completely paid off.  I think that his final scene in the novels was one of the most difficult for me to deal with.  Yes, he had his faults, but underneath his severe, angular exterior was a character with a massive heart and incredibly complex feelings.  Because of this, he was always my favorite character in the series.  No matter how much I wanted to hate him for how he treated Harry (who, at times, absolutely deserved it), I couldn't bring myself to dislike him.  And that's why I love him.

I think that a close second is a new character I've come across:  Minny, from Kathryn Stockett's The Help.  At first I really didn't like her.  I thought she was so mean and always looking for a fight.  This feeling completely changed the further I got into the novel.  I soon found that she was quickly becoming my favorite character.  This happened for several reasons.  1) She stands up for what she believes in.  2) She would rather the wrath and consequences of the book be directed at her than Skeeter or the other maids.  3) She attempts to better her situation at the end of the novel.  4) She is judgmental yet completely loyal.  These are all qualities that hinder her, yet completely endear her to the reader.

There are dozens of characters who fit into this category, and plenty that I would count among my favorites, yet these two probably hold the highest honor as of now.  I don't think that Snape will ever depart from the top spot of favorite flawed character.  There is just something about him that I can never abandon.

Runners Up:
~Oly from Katherine Dunn's Geek Love
~Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark from Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games
~Saleem Sinai from Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Teaser Tuesday...Fighting for What's Right

Today's teaser comes from Kathryn Stockett's The Help.  I've had this book for nearly six months now and have kept meaning to read it, but for some reason I always chose something else.  I think I was scared that the book wouldn't live up to the hype.  Thankfully it was chosen by one of my book clubs and I've had to start reading it.  So, without further ado, here's the teaser:

"I cry and cry right there in front of everybody.  I look over at Minny, and she laughing.  Funny how peoples show they feelings in different ways.  I wonder what Miss Skeeter would do if she was here and it kind of makes me sad.  I know ain't nobody in town gone sign a book for her and tell her she brave.  Ain't nobody gone tell her they look after her." (467)

If you haven't read The Help yet, please do so!  My review should be posted in the next day or so.  I've got about fifty pages left.  Happy Tuesday!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pittacus Lore Strikes Again! (Book #16)

“The key to change is letting go of the fear.”

I've been waiting for Pittacus Lore's The Power of Six to come out since I finished I am Number Four a few months ago.  And boy was the wait worth it!  Personally, the second installation to the Lorien Legacies was so much better than the first in the series. 

The book starts by introducing a new member of the Garde, Marina.  Marina has been living in an orphanage in Spain with her Cepan, Adelina, for several years.  The two of them are at odds because of Adelina's attitude toward the role they have been destined to play since being shipped off of Lorien.  Because of this, Marina has constant questions about her legacies and the other members of the Garde and feels like she is completely alone in the fight to save her home planet.  Adelina has done nothing to assuage these fears and questions.

The reader is also taken back to where I am Number Four left off.  We see the journey of Six, John, and Sam.  We know what they're up against and that they are constantly on the move.  We discover what was in John's chest, what Henri's letter entailed, and a bit about Six's background.  We also find out a lot about Sam and his father.  In addition, Sarah almost acts as a ghost that floats throughout the entire novel.  She does appear in "person" once in the book and this has catastrophic consequences that set the climax of the novel into motion.

I really liked how this book was laid out.  Lore jumps back and forth between the two main story lines to show the progression in time and plot.  This gives the novel a sense of continued immediacy and puts you in the thick of all the action on two different continents.  Other great things about this novel are the discovery of yet another Garde member (Nine...who has AWESOME Legacies), a surprise tenth Garde member, and the introduction of the leader of the Mogadorian race (Yikes!).  Of course the book leaves so much left unsaid and you're almost in a state of panic over some of the unknown aspects and questions.  What's going to happen to Sam?  Where and who are Five and Seven?  Where do they go from here?  Needless to say, I CAN NOT WAIT for the next one to come out; there's speculation that it's in April or August of next year.  Sooner, please?!?

“I’ve done what Lorien has intended me to do, and that’s to undo damage that’s been inflicted on those who don’t deserve it.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Imma Gonna Write a Novel, Pa!

"Writing a novel is like heading out over the open sea in a small boat. It helps, if you have a plan and a course laid out." 
~John Gardner
I've always said that I want to write a novel...a good one (hopefully).  Really, I'd like to have a career writing novels, drinking good coffee, and traveling, but I just can't seem to bring myself to sit down and write it.  I've got ideas; loads of them.  Yet, somehow every time I sit down to write nothing comes out.  Just blah and a blank page...mostly.  It's really a disease that I've had for as long as I can remember.  Well, I take that back.  When I was in elementary and early middle school I would write short horror stories.  This was due to the fact that, at the time, I was OBSESSED with R.L. Stine books.  Not the Goosebumps series, but the Fear Street ones.  The ones meant for an older audience :)  Obviously that's not the vein I want to go in now.  I'd like to think that my taste in the written word has become a little more honed.

Anyway, my friend Mandy sent me a link to this great site/organization where, for the entire month of November, all you do is write a novel.  No matter how poor it is, your goal is to simply get to 50,000 words.  I think I can do that!  Since I don't work on Tuesdays, Thursday, or the Weekends (yeah, I have a lot of time on my hands now), I feel that I can spend some time actually trying to achieve this goal.  Though I really should spend those days, at least Tuesdays and Thursdays, prepping for my courses and grading papers, I need something not related to campus and teaching grammar/essays.  This will become my deviation and means of procrastination!

I haven't yet decided what kind of novel I want to write (Chick Lit, Historical Fiction, Crime Caper, Etc.), so I think that's my goal for today; figure out what I want to write and whatnot!  I talked to Mandy the other day and she's way ahead of the game (type of novel, title, character sketches, and I'm sure more), so I need to get my butt in gear.

If you would like to join in on this wonderful adventure (I'm thinking about you, BINKS!), here's the link to the National Novel Writing Month website.  Let the writing commence!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Jasmine...It's a Sweet Scent

I posted a teaser for Jude Deveraux's The Scent of Jasmine yesterday and managed to finish the book yesterday evening.  And, I have to say, the book was a pleasant surprise.  Most romance novels have a set in stone formula, which this one does stick to, but for some reason I found this book much more compelling than most.  I've read some of Deveraux's other novels, but none seem to stick out in my mind.  This one does that.

The book follows Catherine Edilean Harcourt, lovingly referred to as Cay, and Alexander McDowell's adventure across the Southern states.  Cay has inadvertently placed herself in Alex's protection after helping him escape from prisoner for a crime he claims he's innocent of committing.  Along the way they encounter obstacles which must be overcome.  They discover certain truths about each other and their respective circumstances.  They grow as people. 

I think what I like most about this book was the characters.  Cay was funny, thoughtful, smart, and a smart-ass.  A wonderfully developed character.  Alex was lonely, introverted, scared, and angry but, with Cay's help and encouragement, he develops into a warm, caring, funny, roguish leading man.  These two were played wonderfully off of each other and showed that first impressions can be deceiving.  

Jasmine is part of the Edilean series and, now that I've read this one, I think I want to read the others in the group.  We'll see how those stack up.  Overall, I enjoyed this quick read after the heaviness of the last book I reviewed.  Good work, Deveraux!

Why I Love...Harry Potter!

“We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are.”

It's that time of the week again for my contribution to "Why I Love."  I thought long and hard about this edition because there are so many series that I love, but, in the end, the choice was obvious.  So, my choice for favorite book series goes to...drum roll please...Harry Potter.  I mean, come on!  How can you go with anything else?!

I remember not wanting to jump on the Harry Potter bandwagon when it first arrived on the scene.  And I didn't.  It wasn't until a fateful camping trip during the summer before college, well after the third book had come out, that I managed to finish both of the books I had brought with me before the weekend was over.  Because of this I had to scrounge around the camper for something stashed away by my mom.  Low and behold, I found Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets hidden away in a cupboard with some board games.  It was then that my adventure to Hogwarts began and what an adventure it was!

Since that wonderful discovery of all things in the non-Muggle world, I have been a devoted follower of Ms. Rowling and the Boy Who Lived.  I have wished that I could attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, whip up a batch of Felix Felicis, hunt for a Horcrux, hang out in the Gryffindor common room, and have dreadful tea with Hagrid.  I've wanted to fly on a broom, play Quidditch, visit Diagon Alley, and drink some butterbeer.  I've wanted to go on adventures with Ron and Hermione, become friends with Neville, fight with Draco, and be lectured by Professor McGonagall.  The closest I got to any of these wishes was an amazing club in college, Dumbledore's Army:  The Harry Potter Literacy Club (awesome fun...complete with themed holiday parties and wand making), and living in Scotland for a year.

This was actually before I moved to Scotland.  At this time, I was living in Vienna, Austria and took a week long trip to London, Edinburgh, and Dublin before flying back to the States for the summer before Grad School.

But most of all, I've wanted to immerse myself in the wonderful, rich text that Rowling weaves throughout the seven books.  Each book adds yet another layer and complexity to the ones that came before it.  The Sorcerer's Stone sets the mood and premise.  The Chamber of Secrets starts to bring the imminent darkness to the story and shows how far some will go to achieve their means.  The Prisoner of Azkaban shows that it's not only Harry who has suffered at the hands of Voldemort and that everything is not always what it seems.  The Goblet of Fire brings integral outsiders into the mix and presents the idea of cooperation across borders.  The Order of the Phoenix shows the reader that there are people willing to fight for what's right.  The Half-Blood Prince opens up the past in a way that leaves the reader with an internal struggle and shows that even those in powerful positions are not immune to the destruction that Voldemort brings.  And, finally, The Deathly Hallows takes the reader on a voyage of discovery, salvation, determination, and the ultimate fight between good and evil.  Once started, it is impossible to NOT finish this wonderful series.

To all the Harry Potter naysayers who refuse to give the series a chance, all I can say is "Shame on you."  I, too, was once a naysayer to this series and I can honestly say that I am grateful I changed my mind and caved to the mainstream.  These books truly have everything:  adventure, friendship, heartbreak, fear, joy, family, and so much more.  It promotes the power of doing good and perseverance in the face of darkness; qualities that every single person should strive to accomplish and possess.  These are only a few of the many reasons why Harry Potter is my number one choice for favorite book series.

“We're all human, aren't we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”

Runners Up for favorite Series:
~The Hunger Games Trilogy
~The Stephanie Plum Series
~The Twilight Series (despite the absolutely atrocious writing and overdone plot)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Teaser Tuesday...Smelling of Jasmine

After reading the truly heartbreaking memoir by Mary Karr, The Liar's Club, I had to choose something light and easy.  Because of that, I present an excerpt from Jude Deveraux's The Scent of Jasmine:

"Puzzled by what she'd said, Alex began to hurry across the fields, and Cay stayed with him.  After they'd been running in a zigzag pattern for nearly twenty minutes, Cay was tempted to remove the cloak and her gown and run in her underwear.  And if she did that, she'd use the Scotsman's knife to cut her corset strings.  Right now she needed to breathe deeply more than she needed a tiny waist." (46)

Amen, Sister!!

Monday, October 10, 2011

There's a Whole Lotta Lying Going On (Book #15)

Mary Karr's The Liar's Club was a very interesting read.  I started reading this book at the end of September (along with about two others) for YET ANOTHER book club I've joined (I think I'm becoming a book club junky).  This one is actually a campus book club made up of students and faculty.  We meet once a month or so to discuss the book and eat food (the bonus of this club).  That being said, the club started this book over the summer and I picked it up on September 19th after my summer department meeting.  Needless to say, I had a later start than everyone else.

The book is actually a memoir about Karr's rather traumatic childhood.  This poor girl grew up with an alcoholic father, an alcoholic and CRAZY mother, and had some pretty horrific things happen to her.  From being raped by a neighbor boy to nearly being killed in a car accident with her mother, from being molested by a male babysitter to nearly being detained in Mexico for crossing the border illegally with a clueless adult, you would think that Karr would have a very jaded view of life.  Not so.  She manages to find the humor in every single situation she presents to the reader.  You find yourself laughing despite the tragedies that continually occur.  Karr presents a moving picture of her life in East Texas with her word choice and the images and episodes she includes in the text.

There were two aspects of this book that we hashed over in our meeting.  The first that came up was the obvious jump from childhood in the first couple sections of the book to a time in her life that was nearly 20 years later.  Why the jump?  Why skip forward over so much life and then include with this portion?  I've come to the conclusion that this purposeful jump toward the death of her father and the death of the Liar's Club as being two things that HAVE to end together.  Neither is able to continue if the other is no longer a part of it  (this makes sense to those who've read the book; I promise).  She had to show that her father's death, the death of the Liar's Club, and, subsequently, her banishment from the Club were ALL connected in a way.  The second question that came up and was heavily discussed in our meeting was the title and how is effects the way in which you read or conclude the book.  The very title, The Liar's Club, automatically suggests that, maybe, not everything that you read is going to be true.  Afterall, Karr was a member of the club.  And furthermore, how accurate of a memory does a seven year old have?  Something to be considered.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed this book.  It was disturbing, heart-wrenching, comical, and sends your heart racing at times.  Definitely worth the read. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Why I Love...Elizabeth Gaskell

Throughout the literary world, there are several authors who are severely underrated.  I don't really know why or what causes such authors to be considered "not as good" as those high-brow, canonized writers of literature, but, without fail, those poor, under appreciated authors somehow manage to eek out a loyal following.  So, in honor of the hidden gems in the literary world, I am honoring my favorite underrated author for this week's "Why I Love..." edition.

That being said, cue the wonderful, talented, and severely underrated Elizabeth Gaskell.  Who? most ask.  Well let me tell you!  Mrs. Gaskell, as she's often referred to, is a British writer from the Victorian era.  Most notable are her novels:  Cranford, North and South, and Wives and Daughters.  She's also quite notable for writing the first biography of Charlotte Bronte.  The majority of her work deals with social issues and the likes.  However, she is also a quite accomplished writer of Gothic fiction, prodded on by Charles Dickens and published in his Household Words

Though most of her work sticks to the parameters of the Victorian norm, she does branch out and actually critiques attitudes, the roles of women, working conditions, and so on.  These divergent themes help her to stand out in an otherwise constrained style of writing.  In addition, the wonderful BBC production company has turned some of her novels (mainly the ones mentioned above) into absolutely wonderful mini-series and they are definitely worth the watch.

And for a small treat...a portion of the BBC production of North and South (my favorite)!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Texas Trash

Sometimes you just need a romance novel to lose your mind in.  Thank you Diana Palmer for providing me with something mindless and fun to read in Nora.  Of course, as nearly all romance novels do, Nora follows a pretty predictable pattern:  boy meets girl, girl hates boy, boy sets out to get girl, boy gets girl, boy and girl fight, boy and girl make up and live happily ever after.  It's pure romance gold! 

Nora follows Eleanor "Nora" Marlowe out West from her comfortable, sophisticated, SNOBBY home in Virginia and chronicles her time spent in Tyler Junction, Texas.  Here she meets Cal Barton, who might not be exactly what he seems, and quickly falls in love with his rugged persona.  There are ups and downs, social constraints, personal heartaches, legal deals gone bad, secrets kept and told, and so much more.

You really don't have to stretch your imagination far in these novels and that's exactly why I pick them up.  After spending years reading "college" literature, and continually gravitating toward it, I do like to relax every now and then with a smutty romance novel.  Preferrably historical (because I'm a nerd like that).  Preferrably set in Europe.  Though I don't turn my nose up at those set in the States either...just as long as they're set in the past...the distant past.  I also like these books because they are a super quick read (normally less than a day) and, sometimes, you need that quick escape. 

What Color Was I Born On?

 Daniel Tammet meets Kim Peek (the inspiration for Rain Man)

Absolutely fascinating.  Thought-provoking.  Interesting.  All of these describe Daniel Tammet's Born on a Blue Day:  Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant.  I picked this up for my Page by Page online bookclub, after originally passing it by in the first place, and am glad that it was the chosen book for the month.  I learned so much about the mind of a high-functioning autistic and was enthralled from the beginning.

In Born on a Blue Day, Tammet sets out to explain how his mind works.  He thinks in colors, numbers and shapes.  All aspects are unique and all hold a special place in his mind and heart.  To see (or read) exactly how he approaches life and different situations was eye-opening.  The process he has to go through every second of every day is mind-boggling and heroic!

The parts of the book that made me most angry were those where Tammet described how he was tormented by his peers throughout school.  It's so heartbreaking to see how he was treated and looked down upon for something he had no control over.  Even some of the teachers treated him with disdain.  I don't understand how people can be so cruel.  I do understand the frustration, but that frustration is ALSO felt and experienced by the person being treated unfairly.  Something to think about.

The latter half of the book focuses on his adult life.  It ranges from teaching English in Eastern Europe, reciting Pi for a World Record, interviewing with David Letterman, and filming a documentary about his life.  All are truly fascinating and worth the read!

Teaser Tuesday...Poor Johnny!

Excerpt from Jerome Charyn's Johnny One-Eye:  A Tale of the American Revolution:

"They tied me to a pole, took paintbrushes out of their britches, dipped the brushes into the caldron, and started slabbering me with tar.  I was like a hog that had to be basted on a hot spit.  The tar went into my eyelashes, into my hair, into my armpits, into the webs of my fingers, into the fork between my legs, covered my member with a black well.  I hollered holy murder.  My body was an island of burning skin." (70)

I've been trying to read this book for awhile.  One day I hope to finish it!  So far, I'm on page 74 of 479.  My bookmark's been in that spot for awhile...