Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Book Reviews --- Do you have a system?

I recently read a great discussion on the B&B ex libris blog regarding "What makes a great book review" If you didn't have a chance to read the post -- and the follow-up comments, take the time to do so now. I found it very interesting and quite helpful for a newbie like me.

I do not want to duplicate the discussion, but rather deviate from it a bit. I am very curious HOW you go about writing book reviews. I know what I personally like in a book review and I try to deliver what I know I enjoy: very quick plot overview; character details; author's writing style (particularly use of words); major theme and/or purpose for the story; and personal thoughts associated with the overall rating. The issue with which I am having difficulty is coming up with a system. There are many times that I almost feel that I need to read the book twice before writing a review: once for overview and enjoyment; and again for details to include in the review. While this would be ideal, I simply do not have the time.

For example -- I have recently finished The Giver and The Bell Jar -- both rather deep, heavily themed books, and I am finding it very difficult to sort through all my personal thoughts on the subject. I always intend to take notes while I am reading to help me with this problem (I can't decide if the problem is old age, short term memory loss, or basic reading comprehension difficulties), but I become so engrossed in the story that I do not take the time to write notes. Then the time comes to write the review and I can't seem to recall significant details that I want to include. I also enjoy adding textual quotes to my reviews as I feel it adds to the credibility of the opinions being voiced (I constantly teach my students that you must support your ideas with text). However, I can never quickly find the quote I wish to use.

It would seem logical to keep a notebook handy as I read and jot down page numbers of significant quotes. Logical, yes - practical for me, no. The quotes that strike me as significant while reading are rarely the quotes I wish to use in the review.

Then there is the matter of detail. As I am reading the book I consciously think "I will certainly remember this -- there is no reason to take the time to write it down." But, you guessed it, when I want to recall the detail it has somehow vanished in the recesses of my mind. For example, as I was reading the Chocolate Chip Cookie Murders I recall that the protagonist had been working on her PhD when she felt the need to return to her hometown. I think the PhD was in English literature - but I'm not sure. I wanted to put that small detail in the review, but since I couldn't verify the fact without rereading the book, I chose to be very vague.

I am always so impressed with the reviews that I read on your blogs. Somehow you all - each in your own personal way - manage to succinctly recap the highlights of the novel without divulging any spoilers; you manage to adequately state your personal opinion of the story that either causes me to think that this is a story I would enjoy - or not (and you do so in a very diplomatic manner); and many of you select perfect quotes to support your opinions.

I would welcome any tips and/or advice that you would be willing to share to help me over this hump. Does it get easier with time?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murders

This was the first book that I chose to read for the 24 hour readathon on April 18. I was a little anxious about the readathon (it was my first time to participate in any capacity) and I decided to start with a book that I knew would be light and entertaining, and would also count towards one of the many challenges I have signed up for this year.

I must confess that it took me a while to get into this mystery --- not because it was difficult to understand, but because perhaps it was a bit too fluffy for me. However, now that I have finished the book and reflected on its content, I think this series is great for its genre!

The heroine of this story is Hannah Swenson, a PhD candidate who has chosen to return to her small Minnesota hometown after the passing of her father. Hannah now owns and operates the Cookie Jar, a very successful bakery and local hangout. The plot is set in motion when Hannah discovers the local milk delivery boy slumped over dead in his truck in the back ally of her shop. Hannah's brother-in-law happens to be the officer on duty and greatly desires to solve this case as he is up for a promotion. He asks for Hannah's assistance, which she is more than happy to give. In fact, it is Hannah who sources most of the clues - does most of the legwork - and ultimately solves the mystery. Her cookies seem to be a form of legal tender in this town, as she is able to pry information from nearly everyone in exchange for a dozen of her mouth-watering morsels. I think it is this aspect of the novel that keeps me from raving about the series. I find it rather hard to believe that a student of English literature and owner of a local bakery can have the skills -- and the time -- to hunt down clues and solve murder mysteries (I mean, come on...I teach English and love to bake and I have no desire to ever be involved in a murder investigation!)

Having said that --- there is plenty to enjoy about this book. The characters are diverse and entertaining. There is, of course, Hannah and her bakery assistant Lisa. I greatly enjoy reading about their preparations for large catered events, as I at one time considered that a possible profession.

Hannah's mother and sister also live in town and provide much humor to the story. Hannah's mother, Delores, is fixated on finding a suitable mate for her daughter and is constantly calling her up to discuss the latest available bachelor. I really enjoy Delores's character and look forward to watching her development! Hannah's sister, the one who is married to the police officer, also lives nearby and they have a young daughter who idolizes her aunt. Hannah's sister is a bit distracted with her real estate business - and in the beginning appears to take advantage of her sister and neglect her daughter --- but in the end the reader sympathizes with this character and learns that she really does have a compassionate side.

The potential love interest that is in the initial blooming stage is Norman, the newest dentist in town. I am sure that this character - and hopefully their relationship - will also be further developed in subsequent mysteries.

I must confess that I have not really read a series before - besides Nancy Drew when I was in elementary school. I am very interested to see how characters are developed - how relationships mature - and how the reader becomes a part of this smalltown lifestyle.

Another joy in reading this mystery are the recipes provided - and cooking tips explained within the pages of the book. It is truly amazing how Joanne Fluke seamlessly entertwines the culinary aspects of the story with the narrative elements. As someone who truly loves baking - and has always fantacized about owning a pastry shop, this aspect of the series has tremendous appeal. The recipes included in first novel include:
  • Chocolate Chip Crunch Cookies
  • Regency Ginger Crisps
  • Pecan Chews
  • Black and Whites
  • Chocolate-covered Cherry Delights
  • Old-fashioned Sugar Cookies
  • Lovely Lemon Bar Cookies
The most useful cooking tips I found while reading this cozy mystery was found on page 35:
"What's in those ice cubes, Hannah? They look cloudy."
"They're made from lemonade so they won't dilute it when they melt. I do the same thing with any punch I make."
And this one found on page 20:
"Hannah rushed home from school to make chocolate chip oatmeal cookies....but she hadn't checked to make sure she all the ingredients before she started to mix up the dough. The oatmeal canister was empty and Hannah had crushed up some Corn Flakes as a substitute. The resulting cookies had been wonderful...."
All in all I would say that Joann Fluke's culinary mysteries are very satisfying fare. I would not want to make a steady diet of them, but every once in a while a quick read or two will certainly hit the spot.

Interestingly enough, there are currently an exact dozen of the cozy mysteries published, the most recent one being Cream Puff Murder in March of this year. Being the organized, symmetrical, type-A personality that I am, I will probably read the books in the order in which they were written, which means that my next Hannah Swensen mystery will be Strawberry Shortcake Murder. Sounds like it will include some wonderful summertime recipes!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

TSS - Rebecca

This book has been on my TBR list for quite sometime. I was first introduced to this story about 30 years ago when my husband and I were just dating. He told me several times that his favorite movie of all time was Rebecca by Alfred Hitchcock. Now Geoff is the romantic one in this relationship and I avoided the book because, to be quite frank, I thought it would be either too romantic and/or too scary for me. However last year I had a student present a report on Daphne du Maurier, and Rebecca was the novel she analyzed. After reading and listening to her presentation, I was very intrigued and knew that this would be a book I would personally enjoy. It only took me year to get around to reading it -- but I was not at all disappointed.

If I were to classify the story I would say it is more of a gothic romance than anything else, as it has many of the required elements of a gothic novel:
  1. The setting is in a castle: Well, not a castle, but definitely a large estate called Manderley - which is quite somber and mysterious. In fact Manderley is as much a character in the novel as it is the setting.
  2. The atmosphere is suspenseful: Not only does the setting set the stage for mystery and suspense, but one of the major characters in the novel, the housekeeper, Ms. Danvers, is an ominous character and not trustworthy from the moment she is introduced. While Ms. Danvers appears to be sane, she is very reminiscent (at least to me) of the madwoman in the quintessential gothic novel, Jane Eyre.
  3. Woman threatened by powerful/impulsive male: The owner of Manderley, Maxim de Winter, is just recently widowed from his first wife, Rebecca. We are first introduced to him while he is on vacation in Monte Carlo, where he meets a young girl whom he eventually marrires and takes back to become the mistress of Manderley. Maxim at first appears very calm, stoic, and almost withdrawn. There are times in the book, however, when this serene exterior is completely overshadowed by an irrational, angry personality that seems to suddenly appear with little to no provocation.
  4. Woman in distress: Maxim's new wife is very young, naive, and self-conscious. She has little self esteem and while she feels comfortable being Maxim's wife, she has little confidence in being the mistress of Manderley. Her distress is caused by the overbearing personality of Ms. Danvers, and the irrational changes in her husband's demeanor.
  5. Melo-dramatic emotion: due to her young age, her lack of confidence, and the unsettled household, the young Mrs. de Winter is often highly emotional and is easily overcome by it all.
What adds to this gothic element is the style with which Daphne du Maurier wrote the novel. The novel is told in the first person from the young Mrs. de Winter's point of view. What makes it highly unusual, and therefore adds to the thrilling suspense, is that the reader is never told this young girl's name nor her age. We only know that the two of them meet briefly in Monte Carolo before marrying, and that she is significanltly younger than Maxim, who is in his early 40s. The title of the book is the name of Maxim's first wife, who was loved by all her met her and served her. It is only natural that his new wife be somewhat threatened by Rebecca's memory, and the reader often suspects her as a reliable narrator. It is this element of distrust in the reader's mind that constantly has us questioning the reliability of the story as it is presented to us --- and which allows us to be thoroughly surprised at the twist in the end.

I will most certainly re-read this novel - and perhaps again and again. I am giving serious thought to including this as the 20th century novel we study in my British Literature class. I think it will hold the attention of the graduating seniors, both male and female, and it provides an educational lesson in gothic literature and 1st person POV reliability. If you enjoy suspense, then I strongly recommend this modern-day classic.

Weekly Geeks - Lovable Labs

Well, just when I wasn't sure what to write about today I happened upon the weekly geek meme and all decisions were made for me. The prompt asks:
How many of us remember a favorite pet from our childhood? Or have enjoyed visiting the zoo? Or relish in walking in the woods and hearing birdsong, or seeing a deer leap away through the brush? How many of us have been thrilled by a soaring eagle? How often have we sought the comfort of a dog or cat, or wept tears of loss when forced to say good-bye to a furred friend? We are surrounded by our fellow creatures and often our lives are enriched by their presence, whether it be sharing our homes with them or simply being blessed to see them in passing. This week you are asked to share books (fiction or nonfiction) and/or movies which center around an animal or animals.
  • Which are your favorites?
  • Which touched your heart the most?
  • Which have found their way onto your wish lists or TBR stacks?
  • Is there a childhood favorite?
  • Have you ever named a pet after an animal from a book or movie?
At the risk of suggesting the same book as half the country right now, I simply must discuss the book, Marley and Me. This book has a very special place in my heart.
I have always been a dog person: almost any size, any shape, any breed (or mutt) I LOVE dogs. The problem for me is that I have allergies - not the occasional sniffle and sneeze allergies - but asthmatic allergies. Before I was born my parents had a cat, Mindy, who mysteriously ran away when I was about 3 years old. It was not until about a decade ago that I discovered the truth: my parents had to give Mindy to another family because of my health issues. The doctors kept saying that very often children outgrow their allergies -- but such is not my case.

When Geoff and I first got married we (well, I) desperately wanted a dog. I did the research and discovered that the Bichon Frisee breed was a great choice for those with allergies. We found a breeder, selected a puppy (her official name was "Bonne Chance" - which means "good luck" in French as she was born on our wedding day - but we called her Bonnie). I lasted 10 days. I was willing to stick it out, but when my boss told me that I had to get rid of the dog, I realized that I was trying to realize the impossible dream. It absolutely broke my heart to return Bonnie to the breeder.

While my allergies would allow us to have an outside dog, I don't feel that I can bond with an outdoor dog the same way that I can bond with a dog that lives indoors with me all the time. So, we gave up on the idea of having pets, and went on to have 3 children instead.

Fast forward to 2004. My youngest child was in 5th grade and terrified of dogs! Imagine my surprise when she spot a For Sale sign for Yellow Lab puppies and begged me to stop. After spending nearly 45 minutes with nine 7 week old yellow and black lab puppies, Mandy finally gained the courage to pick one up and hold him. It was love at first sight and needless to say, two days later we were bringing Ralfie home. Now the deal was --- Ralf was going to be an outdoor dog because of my allergies. I knew that the first two nights would be difficult sleeping for us -- but I did not think that it was fair to keep the entire neighborhood awake while Ralf grew accustomed to his new home. So we decided to keep Ralf in a crate in the family room --- where he has remained for the past 5 years.

I have chosen to manage my allergies with inhalers. Probably not the most healthy decision, but I would never give up the cherished time I have shared with Ralf -- Mia --- Jude - and now Bella, for anything. Yes, we are dog people. (we have actually had 3 litters of a total of 20 puppies in our house as well. The above picture is the first litter of puppies welcoming me home).

OK, Molly -- so how does the book fit in already?! (sorry, I get a little passionate when talking about my dogs). Marley and Me was released in October (as I recall) after we brought Ralf home in May. I rarely buy books spontaneously. Rather, I do my research, hem and haw, drive everyone crazy with my "should I or shouldn't I" - before I finally decide to try it at the library first. With Marley and Me, however, I saw the cover - picked up the book, walked directly to the front end, and paid for it. I came home and began reading the book immediately. The only problem was ---- I could only read 2 chapters at a time. I would find myself laughing SO hard that I was crying and simply could not see the words on the page. John Grogan has an absolutely amazing writing style!! He can capture the love, warmth and true friendship that humans share with their pets, while at the same time capturing the frustration we sometimes feel towards our pets with compassionate humor.

I must admit, however, that I did not finish the book. Not because I just "couldn't get into it" but because I knew how the book would end. It was inevitable, and I simply could not bring myself to face that essential part of life. For me, Marley is still the lovable lab that continues to bring joy and happiness to the Grogan family.

Unfortunately, I could not prevent the untimely death of one of my own beloved pets simply by closing the book before the last chapter and putting it back on the shelf. Last year, while I was studying for my Master's Degree in Santa Fe, NM, my dear, sweet Mia died in her sleep at home. She was barely 3 years old and I still to this day miss her terribly. I wasn't there to tell her good-bye, but I did journal my thoughts, feelings, and frustrations. It was the hardest thing I have ever written - but I am glad that I took the time to do so. I have my tribute to Mia posted for eternity, and if I ever want to try and recall her wonderful memory, all I have to do is revisit the post. My writing is not nearly as eloquent as John Grogan, but it is heartfelt and if you would be interested in reading my eulogy, feel free to visit here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

BTT - It's symbolic

Oh my -- this Booking through Thursday question is quite the mind-bender!

My husband is not an avid reader, and he used to get very frustrated in college when teachers would insist discussing symbolism in a literary work when there didn’t seem to him to be any. He felt that writers often just wrote the story for the story’s sake and other people read symbolism into it.

It does seem like modern fiction just “tells the story” without much symbolism. Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?

Symbolism is the single reason I disliked English in high school. Up until this time I had enjoyed pleasure reading from the time I was in pre-school - but somehow my high school English teachers managed to zap that joy, which unfortunately lasted a couple of decades. How ironic that I now find myself to be an English teacher - and attempting to teach students what I loathed myself.

First of all, let me say that I am really the "impostor" English teacher: I do not have the credentials (French and Political Science major with not a single English course taken in 4 years of college), but I do have the passion to learn - and to instill a love of learning in others. I do NOT have all the answers to the literary questions. Symbolism still often eludes me - but - I have a desire to learn and I am finding that the more I read, the more I discover hidden meanings on my own.

So, I think I have two items to share on this subject and then....I must go teach :)

When I was in high school I feel as though the teachers assumed that students understood symbolism. I do not remember being taught HOW to look for symbolism -- or that certain symbolic elements have been around for ages (I never head the word archetype until 3 years ago) -- or that novels have layers of meaning and how to discover those hidden layers. I just remember the teacher saying, "The river symbolizes life" and I was thinking "WHAT? The river is a river" No explanations were given. I felt like an idiot because I was apparently supposed to know this. So, I took copious notes in order to pass the class and gave up on any aspirations of reading the classics on my own.

In my attempt to learn from my past I truly try to TEACH symbolism and literary analysis. I start in the 7th grade introducing the basic terms - giving archetypical examples (students know symbolism - they just don't know it is symbolism) - and pointing out symbolism in the literature while explaining HOW and WHY it is a symbol. Each subsequent year I review and build upon this basic framework with the hope that once they reach 12th grade they are not afraid of the concept - and can actually identify symbolism in the classic British novels on their own.

Do English teachers (well, not me of course - but others - ha ha) read too much into a book? Could it be that the author just wanted the river to be a river? Absolutely!! I think humans can over-analyze anything. But...here's the thing....as long as the opinion can be supported by the text (which is absolutely key) --- then who is to say that the analysis is wrong? Does that mean that we can have (gasp) conflicting views? Of course --- and that is what makes the discussion of literature so fun and engaging. We need to learn to be accepting of others' views (again, as long as it can be backed up with the text) -- and learn to agree to disagree.

I strongly believe that the reading of a book is an ongoing dialogue between the author and the reader. The reader has a responsibility to be actively engaged (which is why I loved the concept of the readathon --- reading IS an activity not a passivity, which I preach to my students all the time). So if the reader discovers a hidden meaning that applies to his own life - that the author did not intend -- is that wrong?! Absolutely not. Fiction is a means to help us discover truth (not my words -- the words of Ted Dekker in his most amazing blogtalk interview). I will read a book from my Point of View -- which is a nearly 50 year old teacher living in the midwest. Isn't it understandable that I might find a different meaning in a book than say a 15 year old adolescent from the Bronx? I try to tell students that there is not one right way to interpret literature but this is a hard concept for them because they just want to be told the right answer and move on -- they do not like to try to discover answers for themselves. Those who DO get it, however, enjoy the times that they can find meaning that I failed to see -- and I also find great reward in their discovery.

I am not quite sure how to summarize my thoughts here. I think that symbolism needs to be taught -- I do not think it is an innate skill that comes to maturity when we hit 9th grade. I think that it needs to be taught because students need to learn to read on a deeper level -- they need to learn to think - to apply what they read to their own lives - to discover the potential layers of a well-written novel. Once students are given the skills, then it is up to them if they wish to hone these skills in their own pleasure reading or not. Is it ok to read a book for surface meaning only? Is it possible to enjoy a book without all the in depth analysis? Absolutely!! But....does the knowledge of these skills, however antiquated some think, add to the enjoyment of the novel? I believe that it does.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Midweek Mumblings.....

Not a great title for a post, but it is as creative as I can get right now.

It has been a tough week. Part of it, I am sure, is "let down" from the GREAT readathon this weekend. I think I was on an adrenaline rush all last week in preparation for the event - and a crash was bound to happen. I need to publish a review for Rebecca (I LOVED it) -- but I just haven't found the time to write something eloquent enough to publish.

In the meantime....Janel won my 50th follower give-away, and a few of you have asked what she won. I wanted it to be a surprise for Janel, but since she emailed me to say it arrived safely, I can let you in the prize. I found a very lovely writing journal - and matching notepad at Michaels. I thought the journal could be used to write memorable quotes from books (although I think Janel may use it to keep track of vacation plans (HOW fun!!!) and the decorative notepad is just the right size to carry the list of all the books she wants to read in her purse -- so it is accessible she is out and about at the library or bookstore. And the, of course, there was a bookmark. Like I promised, nothing big and extravagant, but definitely bookish. I hope Janel enjoys these items.

I am in the final weeks of school and it is definitely crunch time. I teach at 2 very small private schools - who are on opposite schedules (one school meets Monday - Wednesday - Friday and the last day of school is May 15; the other meets on Tuesday and Thursday and the last day is May 7). In addition to that schedule, I also teach one senior level class - which is on a completely different schedule due to graduation ceremonies. I teach mostly English and have 2 classes working on Narrative fiction; one class working on a school newsletter; and one class preparing to perform a portion of Midsummer Night's Dream. I simply do not know if I am coming or going at this point.

In addition to the stress and strain of teaching 7 different classes (with 7 different preps and umpteen papers to grade), I have also had to deal with a very frustrated parent whose child is failing my British Literature class (a senior level class whichh definitely affect graduation diploma). This is truly a heart-wrenching situation. The student, I truly believe, has suffered with a learning disability her entire life. Unfortunately, the child has never been tested and because she is a sweet, kind girl who tries very hard --- she has been passed along from grade to grade. I have a very difficult time doing that -- my convictions will just not allow me. We are now 2 weeks away from graduation and she will not pass. She did not pass first semester, and she will not pass 2nd semester. What am I to do??!! My compassionate side says to pass her -- my justice side says no. We are a college preparatory school and she is not prepared to enter college. By just giving in, I feel like I am diluting the grades of all the students who have strived to earn the A. By giving her the D I feel like I am the heartless monster of the staff. This is a no-win situation --- and it has worn me down.

Enough grumbling (all the complaining in the world will not make this situation go away)....I want to end on a positive note. I just discovered the pleasure of BlogTalk Radio. The scuttle-butt on twitter over the weekend was that Ted Dekker was going to be a guest on the program this past Monday afternoon. I didn't pay much attention, as I knew I would be in class. When I got home I learned that the interview had been recorded and could be listened to at anytime here. I followed the link, played the tape, and went about my everyday business. OH MY GOODNESS --- what an amazing interview. Not only did he share insights into his new book, BoneMan's Daughters --- but he gave an amazing creative writing class to anyone who cared to listen.

Since my 9th grade English class is studying Narrative Writing - and writing their own fictional story as a final paper -- I quickly changed my lesson plan to include listening to this amazing interview. The students took notes and we had a great discussion afterwards. What a rewarding experience - not only for me, but for my students. Now THAT is what teaching is all about!!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Well, I am awake and refreshed from the read-a-thon (and I only have 100 pages left in Rebecca, which I WILL finish this evening) --- so with the use of random.org I have selected the winner of my "bookish" prize: Janel of Janel's Jumble!! I hope you enjoy this little gift, Janel.

I want to thank all of you who commented -- and most importantly, all of you who follow my humble little blog. You are the best!

TSS: Read-a-thon Summary

All in all - this was a GREAT event!! If you did not participate this time, please consider participating next time (I believe these happen twice a year: once in April and once in October). The organizers did an absolutely OUTSTANDING job - and deserve a huge round of applause: Nymth, Hannah, and Trish!!

This was my first time participating and I learned SO much: both tips to help me next time and insights into my own reading pleasure. The tips that I learned for me (these may not apply to anyone else out there) are:
  1. Decide on a goal and select reading material to coincide with that goal. Do I want to read a lot of pages? Then pick books that are plot driven and easy to comprehend (for me - that would mysteries). Do I want to complete a lot of books? Then pick books that are short (YA novels would work great). Do I want to tackle my own TBR list? Then ignore the stats of others who are racing through reading material - and just focus on personal joy and fulfillment.
  2. If possible, set aside the entire 24 hours for this event. I am NOT a multi-tasker. If I want to avoid feelings of "failure" next time - then I either need to totally clear my calendar for that time period --- or choose the cheerleader option and not focus so much on reading goals (and...by the way....the Cheerleaders were STUPENDOUS!!!! Both the "official" cheerleaders for the event most notably Beth, Dawn, Natasha and Melissa - and bloggers who cared enough to write an encouraging comment)
  3. Create a comfortable reading environment. I LOVE my book nook -- it is my favorite escape place BUT.....I need to work on a temperature control device (probably an oscillating fan) as it is the dormer room of the house and can become VERY stuffy and warm (I think last night it was probably close to 80 degrees). Also....I need to diversify my instrumental music collection. I like "bookish" atmosphere of background music while reading, but I quickly realized that the 3-4 CDs I have downloaded on my iPod are not nearly enough variety. I will spending quite a bit of time on iTunes trying to remedy that situation before October.
  4. And finally.....a lesson that I need to apply to my entire life, not just reading....DON'T COMPARE!! As I have mentioned before, I am very much a type-A perfectionist, which has its good points and its downfalls. On the positive side, I am always striving to do my best and to improve. On the flipside, however, I can easily be derailed when I compare my "best" with the best of others. And...when I am not "best" I have "failed" I know -- totally illogical and untrue, but such is the insight into my brain. What am I talking about? Well, there are two readers in this marathon event who I think deserve recognition: Deborah at Books, Movies, and Chinese Food, who read a staggering 5170 pages and completed 19 books!!!! AND..... S. Krishna who read 3875 pages (in 17 hours) and completed 14 books!!! At one point during the day she was reading 5.5 pages a minute!!!!
It is so incredibly easy for me to look at those stats and say "why did I even bother" (again - I know it is faulty thinking, but it is the way I am wired). But here is the insight that I learned about me: I am sure that I can take speed reading classes, and while I will never read 5.5 pages a minute, I am certain that I could increase my speed. The thing is ..... I like savoring words!! I like reading the story for the plot but also...I like reading the story to analyze how the author wrote it. I like underlining beautiful passages and making notes. I like re-reading a particularly poetic passage that begs to be savored. AND....this is a big one....I feel very guilty if I do not read every word that the author has written (well, maybe not the articles, but all the other words). I know how long it takes me to write - and revise - this little blog. I simply cannot imagine the time and effort - sweat and tears - it takes an author to write a book. I know it takes weeks, months and sometimes years to complete a manuscript, and I feel guilty if I read the entire work in only a couple of hours.

Now please - do not hear what I am NOT saying. I do not think all readers should subscribe to this way of thinking. But I have learned this about myself - and I think I need to learn to accept this in order to find peace and joy in the next read-a-thon event.

So, with that insight in mind --- I am going to extend my own personal read-a-thon into today. It is a dreary, rainy, Sunday and all my lesson plans are complete. I am thoroughly enjoying Rebecca (in fact, I already know that I will want to re-read this book and take copious notes) and perhaps I can come close to finishing the book today.

My final stats for the official 24 hour read-a-thon are as follows:
  • books read: 1.5
  • number of pages read: 505
  • number of hours read: 9.5
I will post reviews for Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder and Rebecca later this week. For now, I am going to visit fellow bloggers and give them a note of congratulations --- and then enjoy another afternoon of blissful reading!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Read-a-thon: final post for the night

I am failing miserably. I had a feeling I would. Once I stopped the momentum and came home with a full belly, I knew it would be more difficult to focus and stay awake. Also consider the fact that my book nook is about 80 degrees (no joke!) -- I simply cannot stay awake any longer.

I am going to wash my face and perhaps try to read a bit in bed, but the eyelids are quite heavy. I will try to set the alarm in order to get in a bit more reading in final minutes of the contest, but sometimes the mattress rules.

So, the truth of the matter is --- I am not sure I read any more today than I would on a "typical" Saturday:

books completed: 1
book currently reading: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
current progress: page 120 out of 410
total number pages read: 440
total number of hours read: 7.5

Read-a-thon: 9:00pm post

Well, alas, I have not read a single word since the last post BUT hubby and I had a great dinner!

I am going to read some more of Rebecca now and post at least one more time tonight.

I may give thought to setting the alarm for about 5:00 am and squeezing in a couple of more hours of reading before the official ending time of 7:00am. I will not make my original goal of 12 hours of reading -- but I am going to strive for 10 hours. My type-A personality is screaming "failure" -- but the new, more positive me is saying "so what!" I have had a blast so far - and I still have quite a few more hours to go.

Thanks for all the wonderful comments! Cheerleaders are truly the best :)

Read-a-thon: 4:00 pm post

I've got to tell ya -- this read-a-thon came at absolutely the PERFECT time for me. Yesterday was a rotten, horrible, want-to-crawl-in-a-cave-and-disappear kind of day. I was totally humiliated at school and truly wanted to secede from the human race. My normal MOD would be to do just that: to not take part in this read-a-thon and just hide for the weekend. Boy...am I glad I chose to push myself and do this.

The support and encouragement from this community is GREAT!! I have learned how much a simple one-sentence comment can mean to a blogger - and I will try so very hard to improve my commenting techniques in the future. All of you who have taken the time to support me today are truly appreciated.

And...if that weren't enough.....I received an email from Dawn of She is Too Fond of Books to tell me that I won a copy of Girls in Trucks!!!! I have lusted after this book from the first time I saw the cover (which is totally inconsistent with the title --- thus my immediate fascination). OH boy --- what a difference a day makes :)

Ok -- so my current stats are as follows:

books completed: 1
book currently reading: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
pages read in current book: 60 out of 410
cumulative number of pages read: 384
cumulative number of hours read: 6.0

This book is amazing!! My husband ranks this as one of his top 10 movies, and I had a student read this book last year and she absolutely loved it. It is NOT a quick read however. Such great descriptive language and character development makes me want to linger over every written word. If I only cared about the number of pages I read for this event, I would save this book for another time and select another cozy mystery. However, I want my first read-a-thon to be meaningful ---- and so therefore I will continue reading, and enjoying, this classic work of literature!

I will be taking my hubby out to dinner tonight. He will be celebrating 50 years young on Tuesday, and this has been on the calendar for quite sometime. I plan to read some more tonight however, and will post a blog entry later (probably around 10:00 or so). I also plan to set my alarm early tomorrow - not to read, but rather to serve as cheer leader to those die-hards who are striving to read 24 hours straight.

Read-a-thon: 1:15pm post

Well this is double excitement --- I finished my first read-a-thon book AND I have published my 100th post! What an eventful weekend :)

First of all, my stats:

books completed: 1 (yippee!)
pages read so far: 310
number of reading hours: 4.0
book currently reading: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (will start after this break)

I am showered (although I now need to dry and style hair) - and I completed the Chocolate Chip Cookie murder. There was quite the twist in the end and in all, it was a good book to begin 12 hours of solid reading.

I have now decided that I need to increase my instrumental music collection for the next read-a-thon! I can't listen to music with lyrics while reading - or I begin to focus on the words begin sung rather than the written word. I have my iPod playing on the iHome -- but I am beginning to tire of the Nature Sounds CD --- Tune Your Brain to Mozart CD -- and Bill Evans Trio CD. I really enjoy the smooth jazz as background music, so I will have to focus on music purchases in that realm (do any of you have suggestions for great instrumental music? I would love to hear)

I am going to take some time to play cheerleader for other read-a-thon participants --- fix hair -- and then get back to reading.

Thanks again for all your encouragement and support :)

Read-a-thon: 11:15am post

Well, Joanne Fluke is starting to grow on me....I will definitely be posting a review of the book later this week -- after I have caught up on sleep :)

After a 20 minute power nap......I have managed to complete about 2/3 of the book.

book currently reading: Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke
number of hours read so far: 3
number of pages read so far: 224 out of 324

I am going to take a quick shower - and then I will finish reading the book before posting again.

I must say, however, that this is SO much fun. Reading is such a solitary activity (which I LOVE -- I am a hermit in disguise) --- but doing this singular activity, knowing that there are many others concurrently reading at the same time, makes it feel like a community event. I am reading for me, most definitely - but I also feel like I am a part of a team and my measly efforts somehow translate to a greater purpose.

Many bloggers are reading for a charity. I plan to do the same. I do not know which charity - or how to quantify my giving -- but it will definitely have something to do with literacy in America. If you have any suggestions -- I would love to hear!!

Read-a-thon: 9:00am post

You guys are so sweet --- I just logged on and 7 of you were kind of enough to post notes of encouragement. THANK YOU!!

Well, I decided to be efficient this morning and selected a cozy mystery as my first read so that I could also be reading for the Cozy Mystery Challenge as well as for the marathon. My "stats" are as follows:

book currently reading: Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke
number of pages read so far in the book: 114 out of 324
cumulative hours spent reading so far: 1.5 hours

What do I think about the book so far? This is definitely an easy going "cozy" and a good first book for the read-a-thon. I have enjoyed the setting of the story --- a cookie shop in Minneapolis in the late fall (in another life - I had a dream of owning a cookie/muffin shop and this brings back lots of vivid memories). I have found some of the writing a bit contrived (not sure that is the right word) -- the background information on the characters is too blatant for my taste -- but all in all it is a pleasant read.

After completing this book - I think my next book will something that has a bit more "meat" to it. I am thinking of reading Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier (however that is certainly subject to change according to my whim at the moment).

Well, the bowl of Grape Nuts has been consumed -- the obligatory potty break taken -- and I am off again for another 90 minutes or so of reading.

It's GO time.....

Well, as I write this brief entry it is 6:47 --- thirteen minutes until the official start of my first ever "a-thon" event -- reading or otherwise. I am SO excited! I feel like a kid on Christmas Even waiting to go downstairs to see what Santa brought. Isn't that silly?!

While some experienced bloggers are highly organized -- with caffeinated drinks planned at approrpriate times and plenty of water set aside for hydratiion; with a variety of snacks purchased to provide sustentance and indulgence; with piles of books pre-selected that cover a wide variety of topics --- and an elaborate reading schedule to follow.

While this high level of organization is my normal MOD --- I have decided to be very spontanteous in this first event. All my books are in my nook -- and I plan to do most of my reading in there. I have decided that if a book does not immediately grab my attention -- or if somewhere along the way it loses my attention -- I will pick up another book as the fancy fits. I will stop and eat when I am hungry --- check blogs and cheerlead others when I need a break -- and take my husband out to dinner for the big Five O birthday. In reality, I am really treating this event as a training tool for the next read-a-thon event :)

So....here I go. Drinking that last drop of coffee in my first cup --- pouring myself a second cup -- heading up to the nook --- and having a GREAT Saturday!!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Quick Surprise.....

Last weekend, when I was sitting at 45 followers, I was contemplating a prize giveaway when I reached the special blogging milestone of 50 followers (I am truly shocked and humbled that this many cyber "strangers" find my ramblings worth reading -- THANK YOU!!). Well, between computer issues, school assignments, read-a-thon training....I have not given this idea much attention. Today I logged on and discovered that I have achieved that magic 50 goal!! OH -- you guys are the best!

I want to follow through with that promise to myself. My problem is -- I never quite know what to give away. I know that books are always welcomed :) --- but truly the books that I would consider as a give away, many of you have already read. I will be giving away a $20 Amazon gift certificate at the conclusion of the Summer Vacation Reading Challenge - so I don't want to duplicate those efforts (and since my husband just recently found employment after a 4 month lay-off, I should probably watch my pennies a bit). As I was doing some shopping last night I was struck with an inexpensive "bookish" idea -- that hopefully you will fun and thoughtful as well.

So, here is the deal: Leave a comment on this post anytime between now and the end of the read-a-thon (which for me ends at 7:00am on Sunday - but I will probably not check my blog that early - so let's say 3:00pm Sunday afternoon) and I will enter your name in the drawing. I don't want to reveal the gift - let's keep it a surprise - but I know that I even though it isn't a big gift, nor a book, I would enjoy receiving it myself.

Thank you all again for being so kind, accepting and supportive during my first 4 months as an official "blogger"

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Blessing - A Disappointment - and a Breakthrough!

Well, I am typing this post on my returned laptop. I received an email last night at 9:03 saying that my computer was ready for pick-up. Of course, they closed at 9:00pm, so I had to wait until after school today to pick it up. Apparently they could find nothing wrong. The computer started right up for them --- they ran all diagnostic tests ---nothing. Now don't get me wrong --- I am absolutely thrilled that the computer is fine and all files are in tact. BUT...I did not make up that blue screen and the dreaded words "No operating system found" --- so who knows what went wrong. I will be sure to back up all files tonight, just in case.

So, that is my blessing. A working laptop in time for the 24 hour read-a-thon (can I tell you how very excited I am for this event?!). I need to organize an excel spreadsheet to keep track of book stats (yes, I am nerdy like that) -- and I will be ready to go.

I managed to finish Inkspell this week --- and I am not kidding when I say "managed to finish." I was so disappointed in this 2nd book after thoroughly enjoying Inkheart. This book just didn't do it for me, and it took me forever to get through the last 150 pages. I have tried to analyze why this book does not resonate with me, and I think there are a couple of reasons. First of all, the language is not nearly as beautiful; and I have discovered that I truly love words. This book is action oriented -- and I am learning that I am more drawn to books that focus on character development. The first book did a lovely job of developing the main characters in such an eloquent way. I found that the 2nd book relied on the characterization from book one -- really didn't add much to that -- and instead focused on the action of the story -- which seems to go on --- and on --- and on. In my humble opinion the book could have been half the length and I would have enjoyed it more.

I think the 2nd reason why I enjoyed the first book is because the setting of the story took place here on earth: Mo read characters into our world. The 2nd book takes place within the book's setting -- complete with fairies and brownies and little glass men. I am trying to appreciate fantasy fiction -- I really am. But I think I enjoy a book with just a bit of fantastical elements, rather than a huge focus on that realm. Now perhaps as I read more fantasy and learn to appreciate it better, this book would not be such a struggle for me. But at this point in my reading career, I would rather pass. I do not plan to read the 3rd book in the trilogy, Inkdeath, for quite some time --- although I will probably re-read Inkheart several times.

So you have heard the blessing and the disappointment. What is the breakthrough? I have listened to my first audio book (the entire book) and absolutely positively LOVED the experience!! I have tried listenting to audiobooks in the past, but it has always been such a struggle. I am a very visual learner --and my previous attempts with audiobooks have proved fruitless and frustrating. I would have to concentrate so hard to follow the story, that I would be absolutely exhausted within 20 minutes (not a good state of mind when driving in rush hour traffic on the highway). About a month ago I was reading my blogroll and JoAnn was raving about an audiobook she had just finished. I am not exactly sure what she said, but a lightbulb went off and I thought "I have been listening to the wrong books!" I need to listen to books that are "meant" to be read aloud. The first genre that came to mind was Fairy Tales -- and then immediately after that I thought "perhaps this would be the perfect time to try Harry Potter!" (yes, I am probably one of the lone people on this planet who have not read the books nor watched the movies --- you know, it is that fantasy fiction genre again that I have always avoided before).

I borrowed the first book from the library and began listening. I was immediately taken with Jim Dale's voices -- his dramatic reading -- the distinct personalities he draws out of each character -- and I simply could not stop listening. I found myself creating errands to run just so I could listen to the book. At times I simply laughed out loud -- at other times I was amazed at the mature themes that JK Rowling develops through this simple "children's" story. I am totally taken in by this series - and the audio format in which to enjoy them.

I have already borrowed the 2nd audiobook from the library and have listened to the first disc. I am thrilled to have this option for the read-a-thon to give my ole eyes a break. I am thrilled to have discovered that I don't have a faulty screw loose in my processing, but rather, I just need a particular kind of audiobook. Seeing how I have 6 more books -- and thousands of pages - to listen to until I finish the Harry Potter series, I think I am set for a while.

So how about you? Do you enjoy audiobooks? If so, do you recommend a particularly good series that might be good for a "visual" learner like myself? I would love to hear your feedback.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Ugh --- there is so much to blog about this week: the Book Expo of America.....the Read-a-thon... my first success with an audio book.....my first Harry Potter book (and I LOVED it).....the great posts that are out there about blogging - and the various purposes of blogging - and the insecurities of blogging..... and I find myself without a computer!!!!

I was doing find this morning at 5:30 am. I was checking email - making comments on blogs -- trying out the twitter thing. I shut down - packed up for school - unloaded computer at school -- turned it on (this has been my regular routine for the past 2 years)......and there is an awful clicking sound followed by a solid blue screen with the dreaded words: "OPERATING SYSTEM CANNOT BE FOUND"

WHAT???? Are you kidding me????

I just replaced this computer in October. It is less than 6 months old? How can this be happening?

Fortunately, I purchased the Geek Squad Protection plan --- so if they cannot repair the problem (which will be at their expense) - I will receive a new computer.

I am hopeful they can at least save all my files. Although if they can't - at least I backed up all school files 2 months ago, so that is not disastrous (of course, I have not backed up my excel spreadsheet of books read - books TBR, including the sites of those bloggers who recommended the books in the first place -- darn it!)

I hope to have my computer returned to me by the read-a-thon. I cannot tell you how excited I am about this wonderful event. If not, then my posts will unfortunately be few and far between --- but you can be rest assured that I am reading for at least 12 of those hours.

I miss reading your posts - and making comments. This blogosphere has become such an integral part of my life, and I now feel somewhat isolated. OH well, I guess this will allow me to actually read more books :)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Weekly Geeks - Cookbooks

What a GREAT Weekly Geeks topic!
What shall we cook today? It seems that for most of us, a bit of our book obsession would carry over to the cookbook genre, so this week for Weekly Geeks, let's talk cookbooks! Here are some ideas to get you started:

--Describe your cookbook collecti
on. How many cookbooks do you own? A lot? Just a few? None at all?
--Do you even buy cookbooks? Or do you gather family cookbook compilations and/or recipe files instead?
--Do you like to collect certain types of cookbooks? Say, from certain chefs? From places you visit? From a particula
r food group or style?
--When buying cookbooks, what do you look for? Does it need to have pictures? Spiral binding? A specific type of font?
--What is your favorite cookbook? Tell us the story behind it.
--Tell us about your most well-used cookbook. Is it different from your favorite cookbook? Or are they one and the same?
--Take a picture of your collection. How and where do you organize it?
--Share a
recipe from one of your favorite cookbooks. Include a picture if you can.
I have had an on-again, off-again relationship with cooking. When first married and living in New York City, I LOVED cooking. I enjoyed reading the monthly magazines (Bon Appetit and Gourmet were my favorites); I loved going to the local green grocer, bakery, pasta shop, etc and buying all the freshest ingredients; I frequently visited such food emporiums as Zabar's and Balducci's to expand my culinary education; I even took a couple of classes at the New School to hone such essential techniques as knife skills and basic baking; I was privileged to volunteer at the James Beard Foundation when it first opened. I thought nothing of working an 8 hour day and coming home to "relax" by preparing a 3 course dinner. At the time, my favorite cookbook author was Martha Stewart and I would pour over the lovely illustrations as I imagined entertaining my own guests at a holiday soiree.

The cookbooks that I used most often during this time period, and still do to this day, were the Silver Palatte Cookbooks by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso. I enjoy the food descriptions and the unique blending of everyday ingredients with more exotic herbs and spices. To the naked eye, the cookbooks are a mess - with accidental spills, handmade notes, and dog-eared pages - but to me, each one of those spills brings back vivid memories of an exciting time in my life.

Another series of cookbooks that I used quite often at that time - and still enjoy - are those by Sarah Leah Chase: The Nantucket Open House Cookbook and Warm Weather Cooking. The recipes are wonderfully classic fare with a slight modern twist. What I love most about these two cookbooks, however, are not the recipes, but the eloquent descriptions that the author uses to describe each dish. These are truly cookbooks that I could sit down and read cover to cover --- not just skim to find a particular recipe.

Once kids came on the scene - the love of cooking waned. The day that I slaved over a dish of homemade maccaroni and cheese - only to have noses turned up and voices screaming, "It's not like the blue box" -- I realized that I needed to put aside gourmet cooking for a while. And so I did. My children never did enjoy casseroles (so....the crock pot meals were out), and didn't really enjoy adventures on their meal plate (although they seemed to relish it any other time of day). I found a few tried and true staples and stuck with them in order to maintain peace.

I have ALWAYS enjoyed baking, however, and that is something that no child ever turned up a nose. At one point I would bake muffins for my husband's bank branch office every Saturday: 3 dozen mini-muffins each of 3 different varieties. I had a repertoire of about 20 muffins that I would rotate. I continued that practice when we moved from Connecticut to Kansas and I joined a Bible Study group. I would usually make 6 dozen mini-muffins each of 2 different varieties. It was a lot of fun and allowed me to experiment with the creative side of my brain. I even did a little (very little) catering during this time in my life - concentrating on hors d'oeuvres and desserts - and of course, muffins.

Christmas cookies have always been a huge deal in our house. Until recently I would usually bake about 8-10 different kinds of cookies including chocolate truffles, pecan crescents, decorated sugar cookies, and gingerbread houses. All 3 of my children would aid in the preparation of Christmas cookies from the time they were about 15 months old. We started slow - with M&M cookies - and for every 3 M&Ms that went on a cookie, 1 went in the mouth. Soon, however, they would progress to decorating sugar cookies, and now my youngest has pretty much taken over as the official cookie baker in our household. Some parents play games with their children - I bake cookies.

I think cooking is something that I will probably return to once I am retired. I am such a singularly focused invidual, that it is just about all I can do to manage the lesson plans for the 6 different classes that I teach; we eat a lot of frozen food, tuna, and pasta. Once my school work is more under control, however, I do think I would like to return to the kitchen. I really do enjoy the entire process of cooking: the research for recipes - the shopping for ingredients - the chopping and mincing and mixing - and sometimes, even the clean up (if it isn't too late). I will still refer to my favorite recipe books (as mentioned above) - but these days I also use the All Recipes site quite a bit. I have yet to not find a recipe (or several dozen) for a dish that I want to prepare. I can save all recipes in an online file, and I can print them off as needed.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Comments on Twitter

So this morning's Musing Monday question got me to thinking a bit more about this idea of cyber community and how we try to connect with perfect strangers with whom we know we share common interests. I know many of you out there also use Twitter. I jumped on the band wagon and signed up for an account. I actually managed to figure out how to follow others - and in turn, I have had some of them follow me (I have also had several total strangers - whom I do not know nor am I sure I have anything in common with at all - choose to follow me - and I have not reciprocated). Beyond that however, I am somewhat at a loss.

I like the concept of Twitter. I like the fact that I can quickly update my status - and must do so in 140 characters or less (I can sometimes be a bit verbose - if you haven't noticed). I like the fact that Twitter allows me to connect not just with fellow friends, relatives, bloggers, and acquaintances -- but also with "professionals" -- in my case, authors and publishing companies. I am, however, a bit uncomfortable replying to other tweets. I feel like I am intruding on a private conversation that just happens to be taking place in cyberspace for all to see.

So how many of you Twitter? Do you use Twitter to only update personal status? Do you use Twitter to carry on conversations? IF so, do you worry about butting in where you are not wanted (or is that just my own little self-esteem issue)? Do youTtwitter with professionals? (I personally am not certain that they would care to hear from lil ole' me). If so, what has been your experience? Do they seem receptive? Do you use Twitter for other reasons? I know some of you post updates to your blogs --- have you noticed an increase in blog traffic?

So many questions - and I am sorry. I feel like I have been living under a rock for a number of years and I have just been brought into the light! I have only recently discovered the blogosphere where others enjoy reading as much (and some even more) than I do; a twitter community of 140 character conversations (I was just getting the hang of Facebook); and a whole other universe of ARCs and Giveaways and Challenges. I think my mind is on sensory overload!

Musing Mondays -- comments

This week's Musing Monday question focuses on "comment etiquette" - something that I am sorely lacking and in desperate need of direction. The musing asks:

How do you respond to the comments on your blog? Do you try to email individually or comment on post yourself answering the comments above? What do you think is the best way to respond to comments and do you respond to all of them? Do you feel slighted if you don't receive a response back from the blog owner? (question courtesy of Jenn)

Truthfully, I haven't done much in this area - and I feel quite guilty about it. I absolutely LOVE comments! When I notice that I have a new comment on my blog - I smile before even reading it. I think I am just so humbled that someone out there thought enough of my little ramblings to take the time to write me a note. When I first started blogging - and the comments were few and far between - I would immediately follow the link to their blog and post a comment. What I found, however, is that my comment would not necessarily coordinate with their post, and I felt that it was awkward and out-of-place.

I have just recently noticed the practice of some bloggers who actually post responses to comments - on their own blog. I like this. I like the fact that all the comments pertain to the same subject matter; I like the fact that I can easily go to my blog - quickly personalize each comment - feel as though I have actually carried on a 'cyber' conversation - and be done in a relatively short period of time (I am already suffering from time management issues: how to fit in work - personal reading - personal blog entries - management of comments). My only issue has been --- do those posters actually read my response? Is this cumbersome for the commenter - or do you include site revisits as a regular part of your daily blogging experience? I have not quite implemented this plan of action into my blogging routine - but I plan to start that this week and see how it goes.

Do I ever feel slighted if a blogger does not respond to my post? NO! First of all, I have found this blogging community to be so incredibly kind, helpful, and friendly that all my questions have been answered in one way or another. Secondly, we all have lives outside of blogging (although sometimes I think my family wonders if I do). Life happens; distractions occur; emergencies crop up. I do not take it personally if a blogger does not respond to my question. However, if I find that I am making far more comments on their blog - and they never seem to comment on mine - my assumption is that I am perhaps being over-friendly or zealous in my commenting and will choose to back off. NOT because I am offended, but because I do not want to offend.

I am so very excited to read all the posts for this week's topic. I have so much blog etiquette to learn, and this is a great place to start.

So how about you -- do you have a routine for leaving/responding to comments? If so, please share below.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

TSS - 4.12.09 (short)

Happy Easter!! Yes, it is a glorious day and the rainy forecast will not dampen my spirits.

My day was rather lazy yesterday, as I spent most of the day reading Inkspell and learning the ins and outs of PhotoShop from my son who is home for Easter. It was a great relaxing day, but that means I must make up for it today. The family will come over around 5:00 for an Easter dinner of ham, brisket, potato casserole, baked beans and French Silk Pie. I have purchased all ingredients, but I have not prepared a single thing. Also, the house is a mess and it must be cleaned by 4:30. Not to worry, with a sweet hubby and willing teenager (cough - cough) we should have it in presentable shape in about an hour.

I am hopeful to complete Inkspell today (I have less than 200 pages to go) - but if that doesn't happen it will be ok. I am finding this book to be a bit more tedious than Inkheart (read review here), so I may not read these last few pages as closely.

I am very excited for the Read-a-thon on April 18 and have thoroughly enjoyed reading all your posts this weekend. I have added many new books (particularly YA books) to my TBR pile that I might attempt for the event - or I might save for another time. As luck would have it - my local library is having their huge annual Friends of the Library Sale this week. I plan to go to the special preview on Thursday night and hope to find some great bargains!

I hope this finds all of you in joyous moods today. Happy Easter Sunday!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Countdown to Read-a-Thon

Can I tell you how excited I am for my first 24-hour read-a-thon?! Even though I know I will fall short of the 24 hour mark (my goal is a half-marathon and read for 12 of the 24 hours), there is something very exciting about preparing for a community event where others will be embarking on the same adventure as myself. I had originally hoped to have several YA books available to read - like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - The Hunger Games - and The Graveyard Book, but according to the holds update at my local library, I am still #39 - #60 and #54 respectively. I don't think I will have them by next week.

Oh well, not to worry. When they become available I will gladly accept my turn and read them with great anticipation; but for the upcoming marathon event, I must come up with plan B. Thanks to your wonderful recommendations, I am not at all short of reading material. Current library books, ready to be called to action if the need arises, are:
  • Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story by Carolyn Turgeon
  • Beauty by Robin McKinley
  • The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R King
I also have many TBR books in my personal collection that promise to be ready at a moment's notice. For now, those that are in training (and which will also count towards the Cozy Mystery Challenge) are:
  • Bookmarked for Death by Lorna Barrett
  • Catering to Nobody by Diane Mott Davidson
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke
I have started reading Inkspell - the sequel to Inkheart - and hope to complete that book sometime during the challenge as well.

Several of you suggested that I include audiobooks as a part of this event- so that I can give my eyes a break from reading and yet still be a part of the marathon. Normally, I am not much of an audio book fan (I am a VERY visual learner and I have a very tough time concentrating on voice alone). However, I recently picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (I know - I am one of the few who have not yet read this series) and have found that I absolutely LOVE listening to the narration. I am a sucker for the British accent number one -- but even more than that, I love the different voices used for each of the characters. I find this audiobook immensely pleasurable (I have listened to 3 out of the 7 discs) and have acquired the 2nd audiobook in the series -- -just in case.

Yes, I think I am ready. I will continue to train by ensuring all school work is complete prior to the weekend. I will make sure that all books, highlighters, caffeine drinks, bottled water, and nourishment is in ample supply. I will strive to sleep 7-8 hours each night this week in the hopes of stretching my awake time during the marathon event. I am pumped!!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Summer Vacation Reading Challenge - 2009

I am so excited that some of you thought this challenge idea was worthwhile. I am really quite excited about it and hope it brings lots of fun, relaxing, reading pleasure for many of you. I have given quite a bit of thought to the particulars of this challenge over the past week, and have tweaked a few of the details. So, without further ado, here are the particulars:

Summer Vacation Reading Challenge:
I love to travel, but with the economy the way it is, a get-away summer vacation is not in the budget this year. However, books are very affordable (and libraries add new meaning to the phrase "price is no object"). I anticipate taking many 'literary' vacations over the course of the next few months, and I hope you can join me as well.

Dates: Friday, May 22 - Monday, September 7, 2009 (Memorial Day weekend - Labor Day weekend)

Requirements: Summer vacations are meant to be relaxing and fun - not stressful. However, some people interpret "fun" by doing nothing but going to the beach and vegging out -- while others like to maximize their sight-seeing adventures. To that end, I have developed two different levels of participation:
  • Beach Bumb: you will read 3 books during this time frame (a leisurely book-a-month); cross-over book selections from other challenges may count; and you do not have to list books in advance -- after all, summer vacation is a time for spontaneity.
  • Globe Trotter: you will commit to reading 6 pre-selected books during this time frame, but you may substitute up to 3 books due to changes in travel plans. Cross-overs for 5 out of the 6 books are allowed, but ideally one book will be read for this challenge alone.
Literary Genres: I personally enjoy travel memoirs, but you may read any literary genre that you enjoy - provided it allows you to "travel" to a different locale that you would like to visit: Perhaps a mystery that takes place in Paris? Perhaps a romance that takes place on a Californian beach? Perhaps a historical fiction novel that takes place in 16th century England? Or a science fiction novel that allows you to travel to a galaxy far, far away? It doesn't matter the genre, as long as it transports you to another place that you would like to visit.

Sign up and Reviews:
If interested in this challenge, please sign up using the Mr. Linky form at the bottom of the post. Once the challenge starts, I will try to set up a Mr. Linky for the actual links to your completed book reviews. I think it will be fun to be armchair travellers for one another.

Prizes: You bet! I will offer one "fun" prize for those who sign up for the challenge prior to May 15. All participants will be entered and a random name drawn. There are several ways to better your chances of winning:
  • one entry for signing up for the Beach Bumb level
  • two entries for signing up as a Globe Trotter
  • three entries for blogging and/or tweeting about the challenge
  • five entries for following my humble blog.
Please submit a separate comment if/when you twitter/blog; and a separate comment if you are/become a follower.

There will also be a prize awarded at the end of the challenge. You must complete the challenge in order to qualify for the drawing - but for each book read and reviewed, you will have one submitted entry. The grand prize will be a $20 Amazon gift certificate --- a great way to start the new fall reading season!

So there you have it -- my first hosted challenge. I hope I haven't omitted anything of great importance.

Please feel free to snag one of the two buttons that Robin made for this challenge and place it on your blog. Don't forget to sign up using Mr. Linky. I hope that this proves to be a fun, relaxing, stress-free challenge experience for everyone.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


I am always torn about when to write book reviews: Do I write them immediately after reading the book, while it is still fresh on my mind and my next read does not interfere and cause confusion (such is my middle-aged memory) OR do I allow myself the time to ponder my initial reactions to the book and let them meld into a more thoughtful response? As is my usual MOD - I will select option one because quite frankly, I do not trust my memory anymore.

Inkheart was a stretch outside my comfort zone. It is definitely in the realm of fantasy fiction (something my brain just can't seem to grasp yet)....but the idea of bringing characters from books to life was just too appealing to this self-confessed bibliophile. I must say that I am VERY glad that did not allow my preconceived ideas about genre affect my decision. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and I am looking forward to reading its sequel, Inkspell (this is actually a trilogy, which concludes with Inkdeath - but I am not sure when I will have the opportunity to read that one).

I posted my review of the first half of the book this week on TSS - so I won't be redundant here. The book grabbed my attention almost immediately - not because of the "fast paced" action (although that does come later), but because of the absolutely exquisite descriptions the author gives about reading books aloud (the main character is Mo - otherwise known as Silvertongue - and he is aptly named); about the physical beauty of books; and about the love, respect, and adoration these characters have toward their vast personal libraries.

I thought the author, Cornelia Funke, did a great job of developing many of the characters: most notably Mo and his daughter Meggie, her elderly great-aunt Elinor, and one of the misplaced characters from the book, Inkheart, Dustfinger. While Mo has experienced quite a bit of sorrow in his recent life (when he "read" certain characters to life, his wife was read into the book --- and unable to return to Mo or Meggie), he has a sweet, kind, gentle spirit that is evident toward everyone with whom he comes in contact. He is a great protector and friend towards his daughter, he is extremely patient and kind toward the cantankerous Elinor, and he is quite tolerant of the books' antagonists -- choosing to put himself in their shoes before judging them. I LOVE Mo! I love his work ethic; I love the passion he has for his work - and for books; I love his voice and magic ability to bring characters to life - literally.

Meggie is a spirited young thing - and we soon learn that she possesses the same magic skill of reading characters to life as her father. Her first successful attempt brings Tinkerbell from Peter Pan into our world - and the author's skillful writing, along with my wisp of imagination, made this seem believable; in fact - as I read this portion of the novel I kept thinking, "If I possessed this magic power - which character would I want to bring to life first? How would I want to interact with them? How would I expect them to react to our foreign world?" I think this is why I liked the book so much --- it helped me to find my creative side -- to ask "what if" and really consider the possibility.

While Dustfinger is definitely one of the "bad guys" and can rarely be trusted, the author has a way of evoking much sympathy for him. Dustfinger just wants to return home. He doesn't know how his story ends (do any of us know how our story will end?!) -- but he wants the comfort of the known - rather than living in a world of the unfamiliar. While he is not the most trustworthy character - and he definitely looks out for number one quite often - Dustfinger also shows compassion towards others. The ending of the book indicates that Dustfinger will definitely be a featured character in Inkspell.

My only real complaint of the book is that I did not think the other "bad guys" - Capricorn, Basta, Flatnose, etc., were as scary as I was told they should be. Now don't get me wrong, I actually enjoyed the fact that this book was not filled with graphic details of blood, guts and physical abuse -- but somehow there was something missing and it failed to capture my imagination that these were truly evil characters. Of course, this PG rated book makes it perfect for the YA fantasy genre in which it is categorized, but quite honestly, I found the book perfectly suitable for this adult audience as well. It is a long by anyone's standards - especially young adults (approximately 550 pages) - but quite captivating. I would imagine that this would be a GREAT audio book - if the narrator reads this story as eloquently as Mo. I would think listening to the various voices of each of the main characters would add further depth and enjoyment to this great tale.
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