Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Review: The Archivist

The Archivist
by Martha Cooley
Little, Brown and Company
Copyright 1998
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I honestly do not remember when I first heard of this title, or if perhaps it was an Amazon suggestion that coordinated with another book (it is currently being bundled with The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I read last year and greatly admired). At any rate, I was inspired to obtain a copy from the library and read it over the read-athon weekend.

It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel. The multiple layers of stories, the interwoven themes and the literary allusions make for a rather complex storyline. Mathias Lane is a 65 year old widower who is "the archivist" at an unnamed university where he is in charge of, among other things, the T.S. Eliot collection of letters written to Emily Hale. In the first portion of the book Mathias slowly details his early life and what led him to this position. His mother was a religious fanatic who tried to impose her fervent beliefs on her son (he was in fact named Mathias after the apostle who took the place of Judas Iscariot). She had few friends, was discouraged to make friends by his father, and eventually became an overweight, sickly recluse. His father was an unhappy man who worked all day, visited the local bar each night, and came home in a rather foul mood. Given these circumstances it is not surprising that Mathias was a loner and found books to be his soul comfort and escape from this dysfunctional family.

While going to school for library science, Mathias met a woman named Judith. Not only did they share a literary passion (she wrote poetry) but they soon learned that they had a similar upbringing: Mathias was essentially left to fend for himself by his biological parents; Judith was orphaned at the age of one and ultimately raised by her carefree uncle and his wife. For the first time in his life Mathias felt as though someone in real life (rather than books) understood his plight, and the two of them eventually married.

Their marital bliss was short-lived however, when Judith became more and more disheartened with the war in Europe and the news of the concentration camps and treatment of Jews. While not raised in a particularly religious family, Judith was Jewish and she identified with those being persecuted overseas. Over time Judith's outrage over these horrific attacks began to cause her mental anguish. She tried to use her poetry to release this frustration, but it was almost as though it was an addiction: the more she read, the more she had to write, which led her to want to read more. She had trouble sleeping, taking care of herself and relating to others. Eventually Mathias felt the need to have her institutionalized, "only until she got better."

The middle portion of the book is the journal that Judith kept while institutionalized for 5 years. The reader slowly witnesses her decent into a mental breakdown. It is in this portion of the book that we learn Judith's detailed past. Her parents had not died in a car crash, as she had been led to believe all these decades, but rather they had been killed in Russia. Once she learns the truth it is as though it pushes her even further over the edge of insanity. It is hard to imagine how one might react if after decades of being told one story of your life - you find that it is a fabricated lie. Would we be willing to accept the new truth without any repercussions?

While this relationship is the main focus of the book, there is a secondary storyline that takes place in the present day. While presiding over his archival duties, a young graduate student comes to Mathias in the hopes of reading some of the TS Eliot letters. Roberta Spires has an interesting past of her own, which somewhat mirrors that of Judith. Roberta was raised Christian and does not discover until her late teens that she is in fact Jewish. Her parents managed to escape Germany during the war and when they arrived in America they chose to convert to Christianity. Roberta is incensed that she has been kept in the dark about her real ancestry and she hopes to discover answers to her questions of conversion through the Eliot letters.

In the end Mathias hopes to right a wrong that he feels he committed with Judith by helping Roberta discover some answers. In compromising his professional duties does he in fact atone for his personal transgression? I am not sure, and I think this ending leaves me somewhat baffled.

Overall, I liked the book. It held my interest. I could totally relate to Mathias and I thoroughly enjoyed the episodes where he is in the library discussing literary tales and his love of books (in fact, I wish there were even more of these scenes in the novel). I was intrigued by the many layers of the stories and the various character developments. I could understand the sense of betrayal and the need to discover meaning in life when everything you have known has been turned upside down. I am inspired to read TS Eliot's Wasteland and Four Quartets so that I can read in context what was often quoted in this book.

And yet......I am somehow left feeling "so what" --- especially with relationship to Roberta's character. Perhaps it is my lack of literary knowledge (particularly with regards to Eliot) that prevents me from relating to her intense need to read his letters to Emily Hale in order to give her insight into her own life. I also surmise that there are many parallels that can be made between TS Eliot's life and those of these fictional characters, but those connections are unfortunately lost on me. This leads me to feel intellectually inadequate, which I am sure also contributes to my ambivalent feelings towards the book.

I admire the author's writing style and ambitious attempt at weaving together so many story lines, character relationships, and important themes. The fact that I was captivated by the story from the beginning to the end - despite my lack of detailed understanding - is a testament to the author's skill and talent.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Review: A Big Little Life

A Big Little Life
by Dean Koontz
Hyperion (ARC obtained at BEA 2009)
Copyright 2009
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Now I will admit that I am a sucker for a good dog story. Somehow these furry canine friends have a way of pulling at my heartstrings and never letting go. So when I was walking down the Book Expo of America aisles this past May in a bleary-eyed state of over-stimulation and noticed a free ARC with an adorable golden retriever on the cover, I was instantly attracted. The fact that the book was written by a well-known author (although I had not yet read any of his novels), I could not resist taking a copy. Unfortunately I had to immediately start summer school upon returning from the Expo, and the book has sat on my shelf ever since.

The week before the read-athon I had some free time and knew I didn't want to start a "deep" novel. While perusing my collection for a lighter read, this book seemed to fit the bill. I began reading on Wednesday night and finished early on Saturday morning. It is a quick read - but not fluff. I instantly fell in love with Trixie, but more surprisingly, I grew to admire Dean Koontz.

I believe you can tell a lot about a person's character by the way they behave around animals, and as I stated in one of my read-athon posts, Dean Koontz is an obvious man of character. He has been married to his wife for over 32 years, and while they have never had children, they both considered Trixie to be their daughter.

Dean and his wife have worked together for decades and their daily schedule is to be admired. They typically put in 10+ hour days and, until recently when they purchased a beach house to force them to take time off --- they also worked on weekends. While the old saying is partially true "you can't teach an old dog new tricks", the Koontz family had no problem assimilating this new pet into their hectic workaholic lives. Trixie would accompany them everywhere, and because she was a released service dog, she was very well trained.

I enjoyed hearing about the Koontz's devotion to the Canine Companions for Independence and the services that this organization offers to those in need. I have a personal interest in this kind of organization, and this book has caused me to want to learn even more. I have done some internet research in my own area and while Canine Companions does not have a local chapter in Kansas City, I did find an organization, Dogs Helping Humans, that does. I hope to someday visit their location and perhaps do some of my own research for a possible story idea.

Dean Koontz would say that his life was greatly enriched by having Trixie as a part of the family. I would argue that Trixie was also blessed to be a part of the Koontz family. While I dote on my three yellow labs (some would argue to excess), both Dean and Gerda lavished love and praise on Trixie. But they also spared no expense. Trixie had many health issues that required several surgeries and many different kinds of medical "procedures." They were fortunate to have the financial means to give Trixie the best care available. I am not sure that I would be able to do that for my canine children, so I will instead pray for their continued good health.

After finishing this book I felt compelled to read more of Dean Koontz's work. Since he is such a prolific writer (and continues to write and publish new material), I was somewhat overwhelmed by the selection. Ultimately I chose The Darkest Evening of the Year because of the great cover picture and the fact that the protagonist has "dedicated her life to the rescue of abandoned and endangered golden retrievers."

In closing this review, let me leave you with one of the many profound quotes I read in this memoir:
One of the greatest gifts we receive from dogs is the tenderness the evoke in us. The disappointments of life, the injustices, the battering events that are beyond our control, and the betrayals that we endure from those we befriended and loved can make us cynical and turn our hearts into flint on which only the matches of anger and bitterness can be struck into flame. Other companion animals can make us more human, but because of the unique nature of dogs - their clear delight in being with us, the rejoicing with which they greet us when we come home to them, the reliable sunniness of their disposition, the joy they bring to playtime, the curiosity and wonder with which they embrace each new experience - they can melt away cynicism and sweeten a bitter heart. (page 190)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Review: Confections of a Master Baker

Confections of a Master Baker
by Gesine Bullock-Prado
Broadway Books
copyright 2009
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This book initially caught my eye when it was sitting on the "new release" table at the local bookstore. The summary quickly told me that this memoir was right up my ally: a financially successful Hollywood business woman, totally dissatisfied with her day job, finds solace at night by reading recipes, making grocery lists, and baking sugary confections. Eventually she decides to risk giving up the rat race of LA to become a pastry shop owner in small town Vermont. This story chronicles that transformation in honest detail.

Now, the fact that the author is also the younger sister of Sandra Bullock, A-list female actress extra-ordinaire, truly has nothing to do with the enjoyment of this real-life story. While Gesine mentions Sandy quite often, this is really the story of Gesine, her relationship with ALL the significant female relationships in her life - particularly her mother and grandmother - and the courage and determination it takes to discover one's true place in life. Gesine was a trained lawyer and worked for her sister's production company for several years. In terms of financial stability - she had made it! But she was miserable. First of all, Gesine is an introvert, not the typical Hollywood wheeler-dealer type:
I'd been forever struggling with my crossed wiring since childhood. On the one hand, I was born pathologically shy with severe misanthropic tendencies. From day one, I wanted nothing to do with humanity. (page 28)
Secondly, she constantly felt used, as if she did not exist but was solely "Sandy's sister" and therefore good to help secure interviews with her more famous sibling.

It took nearly a decade, but eventually Gisene and her husband Ray moved to Vermont, found a small storefront, invested all their life savings into the renovation of the place, and opened up shop. Gisene not only prepares her famous macaroons in this shop, but she also bakes delicious whole wheat bread, decadent croissants, sugary pastries, and exotic German desserts. Each chapter includes a recipe from her shop, including one for her mom's amazing pecan chocolate torte, otherwise known as Orgasm Cake.

The story is told in chronological order of a typical day at the bakery, starting with the chapter entitled, The Witching Hour - 3:00AM and ending with the chapter entitled Running Regrets - 6:00 PM. Intertwined between the day-to-day narrative of running a small town bakery with a large internet business, are flashback stories of visiting her grandmother in Germany and memories of European culinary traditions. While Gisene has found true contentment in this life's vocation, she is very quick to point out that it is definitely a labor of love which mandates total commitment. Many home bakers, myself included, secretly harbor a desire to some day own a dessert company, and to us she offers these words of wisdom:
Don't do it!.....If I could do it again, I'd get my ignorant self educated. Because someone at some point would have said to me, 'You know, if you go out on your own and open a bakery, you're not allowed to sleep.' At the very least I would have learned how to manage such a place. So my first instinct is to tell that home baker with the big dream that they should hold fast to the joy they receive in baking for pleasure. And if they must pursue a career in it, go to school. Or work in a hard-core bakery, where the hours are abysmal and the production monumental. Don't mortgage your life to bake unless you know what the hell you're doing. (page 203-204)
While these are harsh words, she is also quick to add that she truly cannot imagine doing anything else. This work fulfills her life's calling.

This book is a very easy book to read - I managed to finish it in about 3.5 hours during the fall read-athon event, and there are several recipes that I would like to try, most notably the Focaccia bread, Golden Eggs, and of course, the Orgasm Cake. It was an eye-opening experience to read all the nitty gritty details involved in being the proprietor of a bake shop. I think I will stick with my day job for now.

Read-athon: 6th Post

Total hours read: 7.5 hours
Total pages read: 572 (132 since the last posting)
Total books read: 4
Total book reviews written: 2
Prizes won: 2 books (this is SO exciting!! I selected Still Alice by Lisa Genova and Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay)

Well, the evening hours were a bit slower than I anticipated. My eldest daughter stopped by with a Pumpkin Spiced Latte to help re-energize me (LOVE the fall lattes!) ....and she stayed to visit for a while. My hubby spent the entire afternoon mowing the grass and bagging the leaves, so when he finally showered and cleaned up he was too tired to go to dinner. I fixed a quick pasta meal and spent some down time with him in front of the television (we had both hoped the Yankees would be playing tonight, but I guess the game was rained out).

Anyway, I did not actually start reading again until a little after 9:00, but I did manage to finish the book Confections of a Master Baker and even wrote the review -- yippee!!

I will probably try to start one more book - but I think I will go for something a bit more serious this go around. Right now I am thinking perhaps The Ghost Writer by John Harwood or The Archivist by Martha Cooley. But you never know...something else may strike my fancy as I peruse the bookshelves.

I will probably not post again this evening --- I am getting weary and my daughter would like to use the laptop --- BUT my plan is to continue this read-athon through tomorrow. Ideally I would like to read another 6 - 8 hours tomorrow for a grand total of 16 hours for the weekend. I will probably write a Sunday Salon post that summarizes my weekend reading totals.

Read-athon: 5th Post

Total hours read: 6.0 hours
Total pages read: 440 (90 since the last posting)
Total books read: 3.5
Total book reviews written: 1

Well, I have had a few breaks here and there -- mostly time spent trying to cheer fellow read-athoners on. I think the mini-challenges this fall have been so creatively wonderful - and the periodic links to 5 other blogs (most of them new to me) have been fun to read. One challenge that would have been fun to blog about - but I was unable to do so - was the collectible challenge. My husband and I used to collect cookie jars (to the tune of over 150), but alas they are currently stored in our attic and I am unable to take their photo.

I am currently reading Confections of a Closet Master Baker (not sure why I am into these culinary narratives this weekend - but they are enjoyable) by Gesine Bullock Prado (younger sister of Sandra Bullock). The book details her journey from Hollywood executive to Vermont pastry shop owner and she includes some scrumptious sounding recipes to boot. I am about half way through the book (page 91 out of 224), so I will update the blog when I finish it.

I think the hubby and I will go out to dinner this evening (he is currently cutting the grass for hopefully the last time this season) and then will have to clean up. So it will be a late dinner, which will mean an even later update.

I hope y'all are having as much fun this literary weekend as I am :)

Read-athon: 4th Post

Well, it has been a few hours since the last post, but I have been productive!

Total hours read: 4.5 hours
Total pages read: 350 (150 since the last posting)
Total books read: 3
Total book reviews written: 1

For some reason I was led to pick up Muriel Barbery's newest book, Gourmet Rhapsody, and I managed to read the entire story in one sitting. Once I finished the book I felt inspired to immediately write the review, as I had such conflicting thoughts and I wanted to sort through them while the book was still fresh on my mind. If interested in reading the review, you can find it here.

Now, as for the next reading adventure.....I have no idea. Fortunately I have a large pile of library books to peruse, as well as several bookshelves of TBR books waiting patiently for their turn.

Review: Gourmet Rhapsody

Gourmet Rhapsody
by Muriel Barbery
translated by Alison Anderson
Europa Editions
copyright 2009

I absolutely adored The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which is one of the first books that I reviewed for this blog. You can imagine my excitement, therefore, when I heard that the author had just released a new book. The fact that my local library had a copy available for this weekend meant that I was destined to read this book for the 24 hour read-athon.

I did not enjoy this book as well as her debut novel, I think primarily because I really do not care for the main character - a pompous food critic who is on his deathbed spending the last hours of his life trying to discover the one food he wishes to taste before he dies - rather than spending quality time with loved ones that he will leave behind. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy the book and absolutely savored her detailed descriptions of taste sensations.

I managed to read the book in one 2.5 hour sitting (it is only about 150 pages) and while I did not care for the characters, I did enjoy the author's writing style. The book is told in several short chapters, from a variety of view points. Every other chapter focuses on our food critic and his quest through the recesses of his memory to find the ultimate taste sensation with which to end his life on earth. The other chapters detail a different point of view of those who will be left behind: his children, his wife, the doctor and others (even the family cat is given a chapter). I found that I would often skim through these chapters - not because they were not well-written, but because they were truly depressing. This man alienated himself from all who should have been important in his life. His own children did not care for him, and his grandchildren do not have fond memories. While our food critic had a refined palate and a talent for writing beautiful culinary prose, he hurt those who loved him the most.

However, if you enjoy gourmet food - and all things associated with epicurean delights - then the chapters that focus on these refined aspects of life are worth the read. Let me share two such examples. The first deals with pastry:
No one was the least bit hungry anymore, but that is precisely what is so good about the moment devoted to pastries: they can only be appreciated to the full extent of their subtlety when they are not eaten to assuage our hunger, when the orgy of their sugary sweetness is not destined to fill some primary need but to coat our palate with all the benevolence of the world. (page 35)
Or there is the delectable description of the tomato:
The raw tomato, devoured in the garden when freshly picked, is a horn of abundance of simple sensations, a radiating rush in one's mouth that brings with it every pleasure. The resistance of the skin -- slightly taut, just enough; the luscious yield of the tissues their seed-filled liqueur oozing to the corners of one's lips and that one wipes away without any fear of staining one's fingers; this plump little globe unleashing a flood of nature inside us: a tomato, an adventure. (page 63)
I am not sure that this story is for everyone, but I do know that it was for me. I truly love Muriel Barbery's detailed writing style - and her diction is impeccable. I would rate this 3.5 out of 5 stars and I am looking forward to her third book, on which she is currently working.

Read-athon: 3rd Post

Read-athon Stats:
  • Total reading time: 2 hours
  • Total pages read: 100 pages (30 pages since last posting)
  • Total books read: 2 (both started prior to the Read-athon
I just finished Dean Koontz's book, A Big Little Life. I have never read any this author's works before, but I am very anxious to start reading him now. Not only is this book a loving tribute to Trixie, the Koontz's faithful, compassionate, and intelligent Golden Retriever, but this book also gave me insight into this talented author. I believe you can learn a lot about a person's character through their relationship with their pets, and Dean Koontz is an amazing man of character.

While I plan to write a more in-depth review at another time, let me leave you with just one of the many memorable quotes from this book:
No matter how close we are are to another person, few human relationships are as free from strife, disagreement, and frustration as is the relationship you have with a good dog. Few human beings give of themselves to another as a dog gives of itself. I also suspect that we cherish dogs because their unblemished souls make us wish - consciously or unconsciously - that we were as innocent as they are, and make us yearn for a place where innocence is universal and where the meanness, the betrayals, and the cruelties of this world are unknown. (page 264)
I am not sure which book I will begin for the next hour of the read-athon. I think I will do some skimming and see which one entices to me to read more.

Read-athon: 2nd Post

Well, it is nearing the 3rd hour of the read-athon for me in here in the midwest. I have read a total of 90 minutes --- read 70 pages --- and finished the book, The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker. I plan to write a more detailed review of the book later this week, but for now let me just say that I thoroughly enjoy it. I first read about the book in the most recent issue of Bookmarks Magazine and immediately requested a copy from the local library. Earlier this week I posted the rather large mountain of books that I picked up from the library, and after skimming all of them, this was the one book that really hooked me to read it in its entirety. It is an easy read - but not fluff. There is a rather light-hearted plot, but what really grabbed my attention was the educational experience offered to the reader. I know precious little about poetry and for that reason alone do not appreciate it. This book has inspired me to learn more and start reading it on my own!

I am finding it a bit difficult to stay focused on just one thing this read-athon. There are so many wonderful challenges each hour, that I want to make sure that I check out the read-athon website on a regular basis --- which invariably leads me to check out a few blogs --- which then leads me to check out the chatter on Twitter. SO...I may not read as many pages as I had originally hoped -- but I am having a blast so far and that is what this challenge is truly all about (at least for me).

I am now off to get a shower - and then hopefully I will try to finish the book, A Big Little Life by Dean Koontz.

Review: The Anthologist

The Anthologist
by Nicholson Baker
Simon and Schuster
Copyright 2009
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I was first tempted to pick up this book when I read the recent edition of Bookmarks Magazine last week. Their summary read:

literary non-fiction -- this is GREAT
no appreciation for poetry (like art) - but want to
Great lessons --- inspired me to want to read more

Read-athon: 1st Post

It is finally here and I am SO excited! I set my alarm this morning for 6:00 am (one hour before my official start time) so that I could have my mandatory 2 cups of coffee before attempting to read. I am now one hour into the read-athon and thoroughly enjoying The Anthologist (I am currently on page 179 --- but I started the book on Thursday night). I am now taking a break for my morning Grape Nuts breakfast, and thought I would participate in the welcome meme:

Where are you reading from today? I am reading in "my cozy book nook" in Kansas City.

3 facts about me: I have been married for 27 years --- I have 3 children (ages 23 - nearly 21 - and 16) and I have 3 adorable yellow labs.

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? Well, I consider all my TBR books on the nook's shelves to be at my disposal this weekend --- so maybe 150??

Do you have any goals for the read-athon? Just to have fun doing my most favorite activity for the entire weekend. I plan to read quite a bit over the 48 hour time period - but certainly not staying up for 24 hours straight (I am too old).

If you are a veteran read-athoner, do you have any advice for those participating for the first time? Well, I have only participated in one other read-athon, so I would hardly consider myself a veteran. However, the one thing that I learned last spring was to NOT compare myself to others. I am not a fast reader - nor do I aspire to be. I enjoy savoring each and every word. My advice is to make this an enjoyable experience for YOU --- whatever that means :)

Well, I am off to try to finish The Anthologist before the next post (which, by the way is a VERY excellent book and one that I know I will want to add to my personal library for future reference).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Library Loot: 10.21.09

Boy did I have fun going to the library yesterday! More than half of my holds had arrived and I was as a giddy as a child on Christmas morning. Now, please do not think that I have any intention of reading all of these books within the three week loan period! I read much too slowly to harbor any of those expectations. I do, however, plan to skim all of them, read some of them, and decide if others are enough to my liking to check out at another time, or if I would just rather return to them unfinished.

Most of these books were recommended by you, my dear readers. A few of them I found while browsing the Kindle store (I downloaded the sample and enjoyed them enough to check out the book), and one or two were found while reading Bookmarks magazine on Monday night.

Here is the list of glorious literary finds:
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (audio book recommended by Sandy) - I have read the book numerous times but I am anxious to listen to Sissy Spacek's narration.
  • Amazing Gracie by Dan Dye and Mark Beckloff
  • Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery
  • The Archivist by Martha Cooley
  • Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado (Sandra Bullock's sister)
  • Living the Vida Lola by Misa Ramirez (I was contacted by the author to review her 2nd book, so I thought I should preview her debut book first)
  • Half Minute Horrors (reviewed by Lenore)
  • Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen (by Fay Weldon)
  • From Baghdad, with Love by Jay Kopelman
  • Get Real by Donald Westlake
  • Woman in Red by Eileen Goudge
  • Domestic Affairs by Eileen Goudge (I have not read any of her material and I couldn't decide which one I might enjoy most)
Have you read any of these books? Do you have any suggestions for which one I should start first? Which one(s) might be good Read-a-Thon material?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bookmarks Magazine

All the literary stars must be aligned this week. Not only is it the Read-a-thon weekend, but last night my husband walked in from the mailbox with my most recent edition of Bookmarks Magazine! I immediately dropped what I was doing (and for the life of me I do not remember what that was) and began reading this favorite periodical from cover to cover.

If you are unfamiliar with this terrific gem - please visit their website. There are back issues to peruse and an opportunity to sign up for an annual subscription. I first picked up a copy of Bookmarks at my local bookstore last fall (Barnes and Noble and Borders both carry it) - about a month before I discovered the book review blogosphere. The professional quality of the pages, the neat, concise layout, the summary reviews for each book (and I find that they pull a broad range of reviews so that I can ascertain a fairly objective opinion of the book), and the breadth of books chosen for review (not only the best sellers in each of the major genres, but also lesser reviewed books that are worthy of distinction) are just some of the reasons why I love this magazine.

Here are just a few of books that I have added to my TBR list as a result of last night's read:
  • The Magician's Book by Laura Miller
  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  • Deaf Sentence by David Lodge
  • Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan
  • The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
  • Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
  • Possession by AS Byatt
  • The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker
  • Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
  • Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan
  • Get Real by Donald Westlake
  • An Expensive Education by Nick McDonnell
  • Blame by Michelle Huneven
  • A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
  • Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro
While most of the books are new releases, many of them have been around for while, but they are new to me (Prince of Tides in particular). I like that the magazine introduces me to all types of literature from all different time periods!

The magazine always spotlights an author (the most recent edition features Margaret Atwood, but many times they feature a classic author such as Charles Dickens or Louisa May Alcott). They also devote one page to a book club - which I always enjoy since I am not a part of one (yet!). The Nov/Dec edition also focuses on books about Inventors (and several are mentioned - both adult and young adult), as well as books that we bibliophiles would consider "Guilty Pleasures" -- you know, those books that we are embarrassed to admit that we enjoy as much as the literary classics.

All in all this magazine feeds my book acquisition addiction -- which I have decided is a good thing. I am starting to request more books from my local library (I think I have about 15 on reserve at the moment) and then decide if I would like to add them to my personal collection. This way I feel that I can have my cake and eat it too: instant gratification to read what I want to read when I want to read it without the guilt of having to serve PB&J sandwiches (again!) for dinner.

I am curious of any of you use other media to foster your reading habits? Are there other magazines, periodicals, or websites that I should investigate?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about the read-a-thon

Are you planning on participating in the upcoming 24 Hour Read-a-thon (either as a reader or cheerleader)? Have you made any preparations for the event? And, veterans out there, any tips you’d like to share with the newbies?

Well, if you have read my blog at all over the past several weeks you know that I am VERY MUCH looking forward to this read-a-thon. This will be my second time to participate and while I do not consider myself a veteran marathoner, I do have a better idea of what to expect of myself this go around.

First of all, I do not plan to read for 24 hours straight. I am way too old to be doing that kind of activity anymore (who am I kidding - I never did that activity when I was young!) and I know that if I do not get some good sleep over the weekend my weekly school routine will suffer. That said, I will try to modify the read-a-thon rules to meet my particular needs. It is my goal to read at least 12 hours of the 48 hour weekend. Ideally I would like to read 6-8 hours on Saturday and then another 6-8 hours on Sunday. This will leave time for family - time to sleep - and plenty of time to accomplish lots of reading.

I know that lots of bloggers pre-select their read-a-thon book lists. While there are several books that I think I might like to read over the weekend, I know myself well enough to know that I need to be loose and flexible. I will read what I feel like reading - period. One thing that I did learn last go around is that I need to have a good selection of different length books (short stories - shorter novels, in addition to the traditional size novel). I also learned that I need a great variety of genres. For me that will include YA novels, cozy mysteries, more serious thrillers, memoirs, and perhaps a few recent releases that have peaked my interest over the past few weeks. Due to my many bookstore trips lately, as well as recent visits to the local library, I know that I do not have a shortage of literature to fit any mood.

Some bloggers lay in lots of favorite snacks, beverages, music selections, etc. I truly do not obsess about those issues. I rarely snack while reading and my normal beverages are always in plenty of supply. Thanks to my brother who heard my dilemma last read-a-thon, I have a great selection of classic and smooth jazz tunes to play softly in the background which lends a cozy, bookshop feel to my small intimate book nook.

I think the greatest lesson I learned last time - that I will try to rectify this go around - is that I need to plan my blogging time. I think every 2 hours or so is a nice pace for me. I will try to quickly update my blog to reflect my reading progression - I will quickly log onto to Twitter to catch the buzz (this was a great way to get refreshed and encouraged last time) - and I will spend about 20 minutes or so visiting fellow bloggers and commenting on their great efforts. So in essence, spend 30 minutes on the computer for every 2 hours with a book. In addition, I know that I will need to allow time to reflect on my reading so that I can write a semi-cohesive review at the end of the weekend.

I think the true key to a read-a-thon success is just to have fun -- whatever that means to you! Some bloggers will read LOTS of books very quickly - and if you spend too much time comparing yourself to others you will become discouraged. This is an opportunity to take what is typically a solitary activity and add an element of camaraderie to it. I hope you will consider joining us --- for one hour or 24 hours. You deserve to do this for you!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

TSS #2 - RIP mini reviews

Over the past couple of weeks I have been quite inspired by the RIP challenge (well, that accompanied by our unseasonably cool weather with cloudy dreary skies) to read several suspenseful, gothic thrillers. I have managed to complete two novels, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, dismiss a third, Angelica, and read several short ghost stories. I sure hope that Carl decides to host a RIP V challenge next year, as I have already started creating a list!

Almost immediately after finishing The Haunting of Hill House (my review found here) I picked up Shirley Jackson's other novella, We have always Lived in the Castle. Again, I would not characterize this story as "horror" - but it is definitely a suspenseful thriller. I think it is Ms. Jackson's way of developing odd characters that somehow evoke sympathy from the reader, while at the same time concocting a storyline that keeps the reader on the edge of his/her seat that makes her writing so intoxicating! The gothic setting is still another element of the story that immediately draws the reader in and keeps the reader entranced; it is almost as if the houses (Hill House and the Castle) are characters themselves. This story opens with two sisters living alone in the house with their elderly uncle. Constance is the older sister who stays at home tending the garden, cooking the meals, and nurturing Uncle Julian. Mary Catherine (Merricat) is about ten years younger and somewhat of a wanderer. She is the one who goes into town twice a week to pick up the necessities, but she also entertains herself by playing pretend with her cat and burying household objects in the backyard. The reader is left wondering why Constance never leaves the house - and why Merricat is still forbidden to do certain tasks (making tea, for instance) or visiting certain parts of the house.

Early in the story the reader learns of the catastrophic event that keeps the towns people leery of the two sisters, and explains why the two sisters prefer to stay alone at the castle. Soon, however, a long-lost cousin enters the picture and once Charles shows up the reader knows that he is up to no good. This is a fast-paced story that will keep the reader's attention throughout the 160 pages and can easily be read in an afternoon. I plan to make it a new October tradition to re-read both of these Shirley Jackson's short stories.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is an entirely different sort of thriller. The protagonist, Flavia Luce, is a precocious 11 year old girl who has an affinity for chemistry; and while the Buckshaw manor provides a required gothic setting, the overall tone of this piece is more humorous and light-hearted than anything Shirley Jackson might write. I truly wanted to LOVE this book - and many in the blogosphere have. But for some reason I was not totally enamored with it. I liked it - don't get me wrong - and I look forward to reading the further adventures of Flavia and seeing how her character develops (I believe Alan Bradley is under contract to write at least two more in the series and there is an entire website devoted to our young detective). But for some reason this one did not leave me begging for me. I think perhaps it is my lack of chemistry understanding (this course and pre-calc were the bane of my existence in high school) that perhaps led me to believe that an 11 year old was smarter than this reader (I still suffer from some low self-esteem issues), and hopefully I will mature as a reader as Flavia matures as an amateur sleuth. In the meantime, if you wish to read a very well-written review in praise of this debut novel, please read Carl's review here.

The one book that I started for this challenge, but simply could not bring myself to finish, was Angelica by Arthur Phillips. I do not necessarily think that this is a fault of the author, however. The story is definitely gothic in nature and did capture my attention in the beginning. But somehow I just couldn't stay focused long enough to get through the first portion. There is an unnatural closeness that Mrs. Barton feels for her young child - and the reader is unnerved by this relationship from the start. The Goodreads summary for this book compares it to the Haunting of Hill House and Turn of the Screw, both novels which I thoroughly enjoyed. I just think that my recent book buying sprees (and therefore plethora of reading choices) kept me from focusing on the book like I should. I think I might try this one again for the RIP Challenge 2010.

Finally I have enjoyed reading a few short ghost stories from two different anthologies. I found a copy of the Victorian Ghost Stories: an Oxford Anthology on sale for a $1 about a year ago, and I am very glad that I jumped on that bargain. I have read several stories from this anthology already, namely An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street by J. S. Le Fanu, Miss Feromette and the Clergyman by Wilkie Collins, and At Chrighton Abbey by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I look forward to reading several others, particularly those by Charles Dickens, Henry James, Sir Author Conan Doyle, and R. L. Stevenson.

I also picked up a copy of Victorian Ghost Stories by Eminent Women Writers compiled by Richard Dalby from the library and have read a handful of these amazing narratives as well: Napoleon and the Sceptre by Charlotte Bronte; the Old Nurse's Story by Elizabeth Gaskell; and The Cold Embrace by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. It was this collection of ghost stories that inspired me to visit the Kindle store and discover the wonderful "complete works of" series by Mobile Reference.

TSS #1- Current Reads

I have been quite fortunate these past 10 days or so to have a relatively "easy" school load. This is, of course, the calm before the storm. I spent a month preparing lesson plans and grading schedules to allow me to participate in the 24 hour read-a-thon. This will mean, however, that the weeks of October 26 - November 8 I will be making up for this time off. Oh well, it will be well worth it next weekend when I will have little guilt while enjoying one of my favorite past times.

I have already written about my book buying sprees - both in reality and virtual bookstores - but I have also spent quite a bit of time reading. I am learning, however, that if I don't write the review right away, I lose momentum for the story and have a VERY difficult time recalling appropriate details. I hope to develop a good reading/reviewing schedule to follow in my 2nd year of blogging, but for now I plan to rectify that problem with a series of mini-reviews.

Over the past couple of weeks I have completed 2 books - and left one book unfinished - for the RIP IV challenge. These books will be reviewed in a forthcoming post (otherwise this post would be WAY too long). These books include: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and Angelica.

This week I managed to finish reading a modern day classic, The Catcher in the Rye, began listening to the audio book, What the Dead Know, and started the memoir, A Big Little Life. Yes, my literary life has been full, even if I have not blogged much about it.

A couple of weeks ago I asked you to recommend audio books in an effort to help me expand my literary horizons. You had some GREAT ideas and I immediately ordered The Shadow of the Wind and The Historian from my local library. When I went to pick them up, I also decided to take a gander at other audio book offerings sitting on the shelf. I found What the Dead Know by Laura Lipman, a book that has been on my TBR list for quite a few months. I checked out all three and immediately began listening to the latter. I am now on disc 4 and thoroughly enjoying the narrator (who provides different voices for each of the characters --- the voice of the male detective from Long Island is just perfect!). Not only is the narrator a pleasure to listen to, but the story itself is quite captivating. Unfortunately I have not done much driving since I obtained the book, and since the CDs remain in my car, the "reading" of this novel is rather slow going.

On this same trip to the library I decided to take a chance and see if Catcher in the Rye was available on the shelves. While I have heard of this book since high school (although for some reason I was never required to read it), I had really forgotten about it until this summer when one of the professors shared an essay that he had written comparing Holden Caulfield to some of the Russian protagonists of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. While I found his essay to be compelling, I am sure that I would have appreciated it far more if I were familiar with any of the writing to which he referred. I decided to start with this American class which is only 248 pages, vs the Russian masterpieces that run well over 800 pages.

On the one hand I can understand why this book is a classic. The way in which J. D. Salinger captures the heart, mind, and soul of a tormented 16 year old prep school adolescent is quite fascinating. It is almost as though the reader is witnessing a constant stream of consciousness of this young man's life. We read every thought, we are told every visual description, we are present for every conversation that he has over the three day course of the novel. My overall reaction to the book, however, is somewhat mixed. Perhaps if I had read this book in high school I might have had a different reaction to Holden's commentary. As a nearly 50 year old woman, however, I did feel sincere compassion for this young man who is obviously still struggling with the death of his brother. I am not sure that he has found a way to properly grieve for Allie, and so instead he wanders aimlessly through life, managing to get expelled from several of the top academic prep schools on the East Coast. Unfortunately, his constant cussing and blasphemous talk made it incredibly difficult for me to even finish the book. I haven't decided if the language is needed and in part helps to make the statement - or if the language is so offensive that it causes many readers to stumble and miss the thematic points. In either case, I did rate the book 3 out of 5 stars.

I finished Catcher last night and was hoping to begin something a bit more light-hearted. As I was browsing my bookshelves I came across A Big Little Life by Dean Koontz, an ARC that I managed to pick up last May at the BEA (Book Expo of America). I am now about half way through the book and I must admit that it is just what the doctor ordered. I am ashamed to say that I have never read a Dean Koontz fictional novel, but that will soon change. I truly enjoy his writing style, his sense of humor, and his life's priorities. At the time he and his wife Gerda adopted their golden retriever, Trixie, they had been married for 32 years! They have an amazing work ethic (in fact, they purchased a beach house for the express purpose of forcing themselves to take a break and "only" work 60 hours a week) and apparently a mutually respectful, loving relationship.

This story is not a Marley and Me knock-off (something that I was afraid might be the case). This is a story of how one dog can instantly turn a couple into a family. Trixie was trained to be a service dog, but due to elbow surgery at the age of three, she had to retire. Dean and his wife are avid supporters of the Canine Companions for Independence and had toyed with the idea of adopting one of their released dogs. Trixie became available, they accepted her, and instantly their life was changed for the better.

While I know how the book will end (the dog always seems to die).....I am most anxious to finish the story. The author manages to infuse a sufficient amount of humor with the poignant tales of love and compassion. If this book is any indication of Koontz's typical writing style, I would be most grateful for any recommendations of his novels if you are familiar with his works. I have become so taken with his love of Trixie, that I would like to get to know his fictional characters as well.

So that is my personal literary week. On the education front, we are about half way through the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales in my British Literature class; we have read through chapters 11 of To Kill a Mockingbird in my 9th grade English class; we will be finishing Tuck Everlasting in my 7th grade English class; my 8th graders have had a great time blocking and practicing the first two Acts of A Midsummer Night's Dream; and the lunch time book club has elected to read the Sherlock Holmes' Adventure - The Red-Headed League.

I hope you have had a great literary week as well --- and that you are giving consideration to participating in the Read-a-thon this coming weekend!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kindle Shopping

I have no idea what sparked my recent Kindle shopping expedition. It could have been influenced by Savidge Reads Sensation Season and all the talk of Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Susan Hill. could have been influenced by Carl's RIP IV challenge that I have taken to like a fish takes to water (who would have thought that I had such a dark side?!) But whatever the influence, I took out my Kindle today and visited the Kindle store - in the comfort of my own home (it was a nasty day today with cloudy skies and a high of 48 degrees --- I had no desire to get out in today's weather).

Now I am well aware that Kindle users can download hundreds, if not thousands, of free public domain classics from numerous sites (I tend to use and, but the primary problem with these free downloads is that it is somewhat cumbersome to navigate through large "chunksters" --- which is what I tend to read (you know -- the 500+ page books of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Alexander Dumas). When browsing through the Kindle store, however, I discovered the wonderful world of "Complete Works of......" by Mobile Reference. Not only do these very reasonably priced (ok -- CHEAP) ebooks provide great reading material for a nominal sum, but the table of contents is hyperlinked to each novel/short story, and then each novel has chapter hyperlinks as well. The text is VERY easy to read, and the dollar value makes this frugal blogger smile :)

Here is a run-down of what I purchased today (now granted, I still had Amazon gift certificates leftover from last Christmas - so in actuality, these downloads cost me absolutely nothing. If any of my family members are reading this post, however, I have completely depleted all gift certificates and would covet these as possible Birthday / Christmas gifts for 2009)

I purchased the Works of Charles Dickens --- over 200 --- for the nominal price of $4.79

I also purchased 50+ works of Wilkie Collins for $4.79 as well.

The works of Elizabeth Gaskell, including her biography of Charlotte Bronte for $3.99

The novels of Mary Elizabeth Braddon for $3.99

And then, for an amazing $1.00 EACH I received:
Other collections that I have downloaded samples, but not yet committed to the purchase, include: Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Louisa May Alcott, Alexander Dumas, and George Eliot.

I realize that the Kindle is not for everyone. And I am learning that the Kindle is not for ALL my reading needs. But as far as collecting the classics in a manageable format (I can take my entire classic collection with me at all times for under 2 pounds!) and at a fraction of the cost of traditional books, I simply cannot help but shout from the rooftops that I truly LOVE my Kindle!

In case you have not heard about the Kindle, you can read my initial review of this eReader here.

Now, if anyone knows how to add more hours to the day --- I will be all set!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fall Festival Recipe Exchange

God bless Amy! I am not sure how she finds the energy, much less the creativity, to come up with all these blogger community activities, but on the heels of Book Blogger Appreciate Week she has now organized a Fall Recipe Exchange for all those autumn enthusiasts who appreciate cool weather, warm colors, and spicy aromas wafting from the kitchen.

I must admit that it was mighty hard to get up this morning and face another week at work. I decided to begin the day (as I usually do) with a cup of coffee and reading a few blog entries. My melancholy spirits were immediately lifted when I read Booking Mama's post for this spectacular online event. I immediately ran to my recipe box and began this post.

While I enjoy a good pot of chili, or a hot bowl of chowder, or a slow roasted chicken for a cool evening meal, my real culinary love is desserts (that is why I need to get started on the 100 mile fitness challenge!!). I could post several recipes, but I think I will limit my post to three: Apple Pie, Ooey Gooey Pumpkin Cake, and Poor Man's Pecan Pie.

If you would like to take part in this virtual recipe exchange, visit the original post here and then you can link your recipe post here.

Apple Pie (from Southern Living Magazine circa 2004?)
  • approx 9 apples - peeled, cored, sliced (I use Honey Crisp apples)
  • 3/4 C brown sugar
  • 1/2 C white sugar
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 1/4 C butter
  • 2 pie crusts
  1. Prepare the apples and sprinkle with lemon juice to keep from browning.
  2. Melt butter in a large saucepan and saute the apples about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and cook until thick.
  4. Let cool.
  5. Place apples in deep dish pie crust and top with 2nd crust.
  6. Brush with egg wash (if desired) and cut small slits in top crusts (steam vents)
  7. Bake at 425 degrees for about 40 minutes.

Ooey Gooey Pumpkin Cake (courtesy Paula Dean, as seen on Rachel Ray)

For the Cake:
  • 1 18.25-ounce box yellow cake mix
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine cake mix, egg and butter, and mix well.
  2. Pour into the bottom of prepared 9x13 pan and set aside.
For the Filling:
  • 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 15 ounce can pumpkin pie filling
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 16-ounce box confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 C melted butter
  1. In the mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth
  2. Add pumpkin pie filling, eggs and vanilla.
  3. Dump in confectioner’s sugar and beat well.
  4. Reduce speed of mixer and slowly pour in butter. Mix well.
  5. Pour filling on top of cake mixture and spread evenly.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 40-50 minutes (You want the center to be a little gooey; so don’t bake past that point!).

Poor Man's Pecan Pie (courtesy mom - I have no idea where she originally found the recipe)
  • 2 large eggs - beaten
  • 1 C white sugar
  • 1 C dark corn syrup
  • 1/2 C melted butter
  • 1.25 C quick cooking oats
  • pie crust
  1. Beat eggs in large bowl.
  2. Beat in sugar and dark corn syrup
  3. Slowly beat in the melted butter
  4. Stir in quick cooking oats until all are coated
  5. Pour into prepared pie crust
  6. Bake at 350 degrees approximately 35 - 40 minutes

Sunday, October 11, 2009

TSS - Preparing for the Read-a-thon

We are having a near-record cold snap here in the midwest which would normally lend itself to cozying up next to the fire with a cup of tea and a good book. Unfortunately I have yet to have the opportunity to do that this weekend. Perhaps later today........

Earlier this week I posted my (crazy) consideration of joining the 100 Mile Fitness Challenge and asked for some audio book recommendations. Many of you suggested some GREAT titles and I did request two from my local library: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I need to transfer the CDs to my iTunes library and download them to my iPod in the hopes that I will start on the treadmill this week. I think I will start with The Historian, as that was already on my list of possible books to read for the RIP IV Challenge, and I have heard such wonderful reviews of her newest book, The Swan Thieves, due to be released in January.

Many of us in the blogosphere are anxiously counting down the days until the fall 24-hour Read-a-thon the weekend of October 24-25. Several bloggers have already published their list of books that they plan to read over the course of the weekend. I participated in my first read-a-thon last April, and while I did not read 24 hours (or even the 12 hours that I had initially pledged), I did read for several hours and learned a number of details about myself.
  • First, I should plan what I think I might like to read over the weekend, but I need to allow myself to read whatever I "feel" like reading at the moment.

  • Second, I have plenty of books on the TBR shelves that I will be able to find something to fit whatever mood I may find myself. There is no need for a special trip to the library or bookstore (although I may feel the need to visit both places for other "addictive" reasons).

  • Third, I should have a number of fairly short books (under 300 pages) in the queue, as well as a number of books that are fairly easy reads -- meaning, they are quick to draw the reader in and full of suspense to keep the reader motivated to continue.

  • Fourth, I need a game plan that allows me plenty of uninterrupted reading time, but also allows me time to visit other blogs and socialize in the community. Last time there were so many wonderful cheerleaders who kept everyone energized and motivated, and I want to be a part of that crowd.

While I will not commit to reading the following books over the weekend, these are ones that are viable possibilities:

  • The Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
  • Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  • Victorian Ghost Stories by Eminent Women Writers by Richard Dalby
  • Willow by Julia Hoban
  • Still Life by Louise Penny
  • The Wednesday Sisters by Meg White Clayton
  • The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • Just after Sunset (collection of short stories) by Steven King
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  • A Big Little Little Life by Dean Koontz
As you can tell, this is quite an eclectic group of books --- some YA titles, some mysteries, some contemporary fiction, some short stories, and a couple of memoirs.

Hopefully I will be in the routine of walking on the treadmill, so I plan to take exercise breaks and continue "reading" The Historian via my iPod.

I am VERY much looking forward to this special weekend. I have totally cleared my personal calendar (and hopefully it will stay that way) and I have scheduled all student papers due AFTER the challenge (so that I won't feel guilty that I "should" be grading rather than pleasure reading). How about you? Will you be able to join the rest of us bibliophiles for an insanely fun weekend of reading pleasure?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Review: The Haunting of Hill House

Let me start off this review by saying how much I admire Shirley Jackson's short story, "The Lottery." I was first introduced to this story in 7th grade when each English class watched the 20 minute movie. I was absolutely stunned by the ending and it continues to haunt me to this day. Last year I decided to use this short story as a teaching tool in my 12th grade English class (no, it isn't British Literature, but it is a GREAT story and most students have not read it). I always start off asking the students to try to predict the nature of the book by reading the title. Most say that it will be a happy story that involves winning money in a lottery. We then read the story together paragraph by paragraph. I want students to learn what it means to "read closely" and at the end of nearly every paragraph I stop and we discuss what we have learned - and how the author chose to tell the reader that information. I instruct students to pay close to attention to how the mood subtly shifts from a happy summer day filled with sunshine and laughter, to the more solemn lottery drawing, to the horrific ending. I ask students to pay close to attention to language (the lottery is referred to an annual event - a tradition - a ritual) and how the use of that language contributes to the mood shift. The end of the story always evokes the same disbelieving response in my students as I had when I first watched the movie over 30 years ago.

If you have not had the opportunity to read the Lottery, I strongly encourage you to do so. It will take you less than half an hour, and I guarantee it will stay with you for a long time afterwards.

I review that short story to preface my review of her longer work, The Haunting of Hill House. I came to this book with expectations, and often times that results in disappointment. I had read that this book was one of the greatest horror stories of all time - and I had prepared myself to be scared stiff. I made sure that I read the book when other family members were home (I tend to imagine noises when I am alone), and I made sure that I read the book early in the evening, so as not to induce nightmares. Now don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it certainly kept me in suspense --- but I am not sure that I would consider it "the greatest horror story."

The story focuses on 4 main characters. Dr. Montague is conducting research into the supernatural and has rented Hill House for the summer because of its haunting reputation. He has invited several others who have experienced dealings with the supernatural, but only two answer his letter: Eleanor Vance, a spinster woman who took care of her ill mother until her recent death, and Theodora, a somewhat happy-go-lucky woman who seems to take life as it comes and enjoys a good time. Luke S rounds out the group, as he is the future heir of Hill House and is mandated to stay with them while they conduct their research.

I think my issue with this book is that I had a difficult time understanding the relationship that develops between Eleanor and Theodora. At times they appear to be the best of friends, almost bordering on the romantic, and at other times they have no patience for one another, hurling spiteful comments that cut to the quick. It becomes evident fairly early on that Eleanor is an unreliable character, and the reader often questions whether she is mentally stable. This certainly adds to the suspense of the story, and seems to resolve itself in the final scene. I almost want to go back and re-read the story, focusing on how this relationship is developed and perhaps that would help eliminate some of this confusion.

Hill House is as much a character in this story as a setting for the novel. I understand that there have been two movies made from this book, and I would love to see how the directors visually represented the house in the films. It is described as the quintessential "haunted" house, complete with rooms at odd angles, doors that automatically close, winding twisting pathways that confuse the inhabitants, and inexplicable noises in the night. I am quite certain that if I saw the film, I would be scared out of my wits. I am sure that the proper sound effects, lighting, and camera angles can add detail to the horror aspect of the story.

I liked the book. I would read again. I am glad that I picked it up and have read it for the RIP challenge. I think my only issue with this story is that I am not sure that I would categorize it as "horror" --- but that is probably just me. It was highly suspenseful, very well written, characters were well developed, and the abrupt ending definitely added to the thrilling nature of the story. In reading other reviews of this book, I noticed that several compared the story to Henry James's, "The Turn of the Screw. " I would totally agree with that assessment. I did not find this story to be "horrific" either, but I did find it highly suspenseful with an unusual twist ending.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Audiobook Recommendations.....?

I feel like several aspects in my life are beginning to collide....

I will be hitting the half-century mark come December(thanks for catching that error JoAnn!!), and while I truly believe that you are only as old as you feel (and I feel about a decade younger)....but body is beginning to notice the effects of gravity and old age. Somehow my favorite pair of jeans are a tad too snug, and I am beginning to feel 'frumpy'

I am also finding that contrary to my popular belief that as the children got older (and moved out of the house), I would have gads of free time, that is simply not the case. This is due in part to the 6 classes that I teach and the prep and grading time that involves. While I do lots of reading, I am not reading books of my personal choosing.

Last spring I realized that I could take advantage of driving time (that is, the 45 minutes basically "wasted" in the car going to and from school) to listen to audio books of my choosing. It took me a while to find the "right" audio book, as I am most definitely a visual learner and need a GREAT narrator to keep me focused on the story. The Harry Potter series fit the bill.

I think I am now ready to expand my horizons - and perhaps at the same time diminish my middle. Trish is hosting the 100 Mile Fitness Challenge in which I would like to participate. I am not sure that I could manage the 100 miles between October 1 and December 31, but I would love to begin an exercise routine that I can actually stick with. There seems to many of you out there in the blogosphere who plan to take part --- and you also plan to get lots of "reading" done by listening to audio books while you walk around town or on the treadmill. I am seeking your advice.

I have read and re-read the website. I am nearly ready to try the trial membership of $7.50 a month for the first three months. I just want to ensure that the first 3 books I select are going to be a good fit for me. Do you have any recommendations? I have heard that it is often best to listen to an audio book as it is read by the author --- do you find this true? Which authors would you recommend? I also know that some narrators have a great reputation for providing a dramatic flair. Are there particular narrators that you look for? Finally, for those of you who have a subscription to, do you find that it is easy to download from the website and upload to your mp3 player? I have an iPod (which I rarely use), so I am hoping that this is a fairly easy, pain-free process.

I thank you in advance for any tips you can offer me.

I'll let you know if I follow through with any of these "end of the year" resolutions.
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