Sunday, September 30, 2007

Missing Witness by Gordon Campbell

Missing Witness by Gordon Campbell
William Morrow, 2007
Mystery; 431 pgs

Completed: 09/29/2007
Rating: * (Good +)

First Sentence: Dan Morgan had a tattoo.

Reason for Reading: I put my name in for this book through Harper Collins First Look Program and was selected to review it.

Comments: Douglas McKenzie returns to his childhood home in Arizona to take a position in a well-respected law firm after being promised a chance to work along side the legendary defense attorney, Daniel Morgan. It soon becomes clear his presence is more likely a political move by the firm’s senior partner, Paul Butler, hoping to maintain one of the biggest and wealthiest clients the firm represents.

Paul Butler has positioned himself to reap the most financial gain and wants Dan out. As a defense attorney, Dan’s cases bring in little money, often costing the firm in the end. Dan needs a big case that will bring in the money if he is to keep a solid footing in the law firm.

When Travis Eddington, son of that most important client, Ferris Eddington, is shot to death, his wife Rita and twelve-year-old daughter Miranda witnessed walking out of the trailer after the shots were fired, and Rita holding the gun, that big case falls right in his lap. Ferris Eddington hires Dan Morgan to represent his daughter-in-law, believing full heartedly in her innocence. Doug finally gets his chance to watch the master at work, joining Dan in the defense of Rita Eddington.

It is no wonder Dan Morgan is one of the best at his job. He puts his all into his cases and adeptly maneuvers through the legal system to reach the outcome he seeks. He is sharp and on top of his game. He does, however, have a tendency to get too close to his clients, something that sometimes weighs heavily on his shoulders. The narrator, Doug McKenzie, is a young attorney just getting his feet wet. He looks up to Dan and is eager to learn all the tricks of the trade. He has a strong sense of justice and ethics, which is challenged more than once during the trial.

In his debut legal thriller, author Gordon Campbell takes readers into the heart of the courtroom and behind the scenes of the defense. With the more minor details about the inner workings of a law firm, including case assignments, billing, and office politics, Mr. Campbell creates a credible setting for his book. Although set in 1973, it is easy to forget at times as the story could very well have been written in the present time. The little historical tidbits sprinkled here and there are what set it apart.

While the whodunit becomes obvious fairly quickly, there are still enough plot twists and surprises that add to the intensity and suspense of the novel. Missing Witness is a very good start to a promising writing career. I will be keeping my eye out for future novels by Gordon Campbell.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Nonfiction Five Challenge Wrap Up

Although I do enjoy reading some nonfiction, it is often my last choice when I am considering something to read. To motivate myself to read some of those nonfiction books that had been languishing on my shelves, I joined Joy's Nonfiction Five Challenge. The goal was to read 5 nonfiction books of my choosing over a 5 month period, from May through September.

I had quite a list of books to choose from and narrowing it down was hard. I hoped to read some of my alternates in addition to my main selections, but I was not able to. I did, however, read two nonfiction books that were not on my list during the course of the challenge. Because they were not on my list to read for the challenge, I am not including them in this wrap up.

My Nonfiction Selections:
Death's Acre by Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson
The Nazi Officer's Wife by Edith Hahn Beer
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak by Jean Hatzfeld
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach

What was my favorite Nonfiction book of the five I read?

Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak was one of the most powerful of the books I read this past summer. It was difficult to read about the ruthless and violent killings of so many innocent people based solely on their ethnicity. The fact that their friends and neighbors were the ones that turned on them made it even more frightening. Machete Season offered some insight into the the minds of the killers. The author, Jean Hatzfeld, took great care with his subject matter and presented it as plainly as he could. It was not a book he intended to write, he didn't even want to write it at first, but it was something he eventually came to feel he should write.

Following in at second is Edith Hahn Beer's The Nazi Officer's Wife, which is one woman's story of her life in Europe during World War II. She was a Jewish woman who passed herself off as a Christian in order to survive the Holocaust. The author was forced to work in labor camps and a factory before seeking refuge under a new identity. She lived with a constant terrifying fear of discovery and was cut off from her family and friends. This was a heartwrenching and informative story to say the least.

What book could I have done without?

Of all the books I read for the challenge, there is not one I regret reading. I purposefully tried to pick a variety subject matter wise, not wanting to overdo it in one area or another.

Did you try out a new author for this challenge? If so, which one, and will you be reading that author again?

I had read books by only two of the authors before, those being Mary Roach and Jon Krakauer. Both had written books I thoroughly enjoyed and resulted in my wanting to read the two books I chose to read for this challenge. Into the Wild was a bit of a departure for me. Had I not read the author's book, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, and then heard so many good things about Into the Wild, I probably would not have picked up the book in the first place. I am glad I did take a chance on it though. Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach was very much up my alley, on the other hand. The subject matter fascinates me. I was quite taken with her first book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and so it seemed only natural to read Spook.

This was my first opportunity to read books by the other three authors. I would definitely not mind reading more by Jean Hatzfeld. He has another book out related to the Rwanda genocide that I hope to read someday. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson have a new book out called Beyond the Body Farm, which I may read down the road. I definitely do plan to read the authors' fictional series, beginning with Carved in Bone. As to Edith Hahn Beer, I do not believe she has written another book.

What was the best part of the Nonfiction Five Challenge?

The best part of the challenge was finally getting to read a handful of the nonfiction books I had been meaning to get to but always seemed to pass over. This was a great excuse to find the motivation to dive right in. I am so glad I did. My only regret is that I did not get to read any of my alternates.

As always with challenges like this, I have enjoyed following the progress of other participants and seeing what everyone else is reading. My wishlist and TBR collection continues to grow each time I come across a book someone else has read that sounds too good to pass up. Because my interest mostly lies in fiction, I am not always up to date on all of the nonfiction books out there. Challenges like this are a great way to find out about books that might interest me and to meet new people.

Many thanks to Joy for hosting this fun challenge.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Friendship

Buy a Friend a Book Week is October 1-7 (as well as the first weeks of January, April, and July). During this week, you’re encouraged to buy a friend a book for no good reason. Not for their birthday, not because it’s a holiday, not to cheer them up–just because it’s a book.

What book would you choose to give to a friend and why?

I mostly give books to friends or family as presents for gift giving holidays, but every now and then I give a book away at random. Maybe it is a book a friend took an extra special notice in while I was reading it or maybe the book had that person's name all over the cover when I discovered it in the store. I do my best to match the book with the reader depending on taste and preference.

As it turns out, I discovered a couple of duplicate books among my TBR collection. A rare occurence, but unavoidable now and then given the size of my TBR collection, I suppose. I would like to find homes for them, and what better time to do so with Buy a Friend a Book Week just around the corner? I think a drawing is in order!

The Books:
The Fencing Master by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult

If you are interested in one of the books listed above, leave me a comment specifying which of the two books you might like to add to your TBR collection. You are welcome to put your name in for one or both.* October 4th will be the close off date and a name will be drawn on the 5th.

*Overseas entries welcome.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Kathrin's Classics Reading Challenge Wrap Up

My hunger for the classics was piqued with Booklogged's Winter Classics Challenge, and so when Kathrin announced that she was going to host her own Classics Reading Challenge, I could not resist joining in. There are quite a few classics sitting among my TBR collection, and so there was no shortage of books to chose from. Kathrin tasked her participants with reading three to five classic novels over the course of five months, from July 1st to November 30th. I selected only three books for this challenge because I wanted to avoid being overwhelmed with this and all my other reading commitments.

My Classics Selections:
Persuasion by Jane Austen
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

What was my favorite Classics novel book of the three I read?

You would think it might be Arthur Conan Doyle's novel considering how much I like mysteries, but in truth my favorite by far is Persuasion by Jane Austen. It was an entertaining and uplifting story. I enjoyed spending time with the characters and losing myself in Jane Austen's world.

What book could I have done without?

I can honestly say that there was not one book I regret reading. Although I have mixed feelings about Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, I am still glad I read it.

Did you try out a new author for this challenge? If so, which one, and will you be reading that author again?

Both Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle were authors whose work I had not read before. Being a mystery lover, I felt it was about time I read a novel featuring the famous Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson. I will most likely read more by Mr. Doyle in the future should one of his novels come my way. As for the other, I had long been fascinated with the character of Dorian Gray and thought this would be the perfect time to read the book in which he was born. The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde's only novel, but he has written poetry, short stories and plays. I may someday try reading some of his short story work since it's been recommended, however, I will not be rushing out to do so. And I would never pass up the opportunity to see one of his plays again if circumstances make it possible.

Persuasion was the third Jane Austen novel I have read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope to eventually read all of the author's novels.

What was the best part of the Classics Reading Challenge?

For the most part, I enjoyed many of the classic novels I have read over the years, even as required reading in school. My enjoyment of reading spans a broad spectrum of subject matter and time periods. There's still a hesitancy in selecting a classic novel to read over, say, a more contemporary piece of work, however. Somehow reading a classic carries the stigma of being work or something that requires more effort than perhaps I want to put into it. Sometimes that is true, but many times, I have found, it is not--at least not on a personal level. The classics are not so different than any other book I read, not really. They may hold a more honored place in literary history because they are older and have stood the test of time, but my expectations when I read them are the same I have for any other lesser known book. I read for a variety of reasons, but nearly always for pleasure. Reading is something I do as a hobby. Whether I am seeking knowledge, escape, comfort, inspiration, some deeper meaning, to feel, or simply to go on an adventure, I want to have fun doing it. I have found all of that in the classics as well as the non-classics.

All this to say that Kathrin's Classics Reading Challenge inspired me to renew my interest in the classics, reminding me yet again how much I do enjoy reading them. Most of the time, anyway.

Thank you, Kathrin, for hosting this wonderful challenge.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Medical Mystery Madness Challenge Wrap Up

I jumped at the opportunity to join in on Debi's Medical Mystery Madness Challenge as soon as I heard about it. I went through my TBR collection looking for the perfect books to read. I have so many medical mysteries that it made the final decision difficult, but I finally settled on some older books that had been sitting on my shelves for quite a while. The challenge was to read two or more medical mysteries between July 1st and November 1st.

Medical Mystery Selections:
Brain Dead by Eileen Dreyer
Life Support by Tess Gerritsen
The Society by Michael Palmer
The Pumpkin Seed Massacre by Susan Slater

What was my favorite medical mystery novel book of the four I read?

It is such a close call for this one. I am going to have to go with Michael Palmer's The Society, followed closely by Life Support by Tess Gerritsen.

What book could I have done without?

None of the books I read for this challenge turned out to be a disappointment. And while none of them knocked my socks off, each were entertaining, and I came away satisfied overall with my reading experience.

Did you try out a new author for this challenge? If so, which one, and will you be reading that author again?

Three of the authors were completely new to me. Tess Gerritsen was the only author whose work I had read before, and I had only read one of her books before, that being Life Support. I definitely hope to read more by all four of the authors.

What was the best part of the Medical Mystery Madness Challenge?

The best part of this challenge was trying new authors I had been wanting to try for quite a while now. Susan Slater's book had been in my TBR collection since before I began keeping track and Michael Palmer's since 2004.

I also enjoyed visiting the blogs of other challenge participants and learning what other medical mysteries are out there. There are a variety of authors I have yet to try, some I had never heard of before, and even more I have heard of that I haven't yet read. My wish list has been growing by leaps and bounds, not only because of this challenge, but all of them.

Many thanks are due to Debi at Caught Between Worlds for hosting this fun challenge.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Life Support by Tess Gerritsen

Life Support by Tess Gerritsen
Pocket Star Books, 1997
Suspense/Thriller; 372 pgs

Completed: 09/24/2007
Rating: * (Good)

First Sentence: A scalpel is a beautiful thing.

Reason for Reading: This is my final selection for the Medical Mystery Madness Challenge.

From the Publisher: New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen weaves authenticity into another novel of searing medical suspense, as a dedicated woman doctor probes into the cause of a mystifying and lethal outbreak.

The quiet overnight shift at Springer Hospital ER suits Dr. Toby Harper just fine -- until she admits a man in critical condition from a possible viral infection of the brain. The delirious man barely responds to treatment -- and then disappears without a trace. Before Toby can find him, a second case occurs, revealing a terrifying fact: the virus can only be spread through direct tissue exchange. Following a trail of death that winds from a pregnant sixteen-year-old prostitute to her own home, Toby discovers the unthinkable: the epidemic didn't just happen -- someone let it loose . . .

Comments: It was not my intention to pick two books for this challenge which involve the suspicious deaths of the elderly and main characters who are caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s Disease. The similarities between Eileen Dreyer’s Brain Dead and Tess Gerritsen’s Life Support end there. Well, almost. There is a little romance and Dr. Toby Harper is not the type of woman to take anything lying down. She is tough, intelligent and read to defend her good name, whatever it costs. All of which bears a resemblance to the main character in Brain Dead.

Tess Gerritsen certainly has the talent to write a page-turner that is full of suspense. She is also not afraid of tackling serious ethical issues (to give away the ethical issues would give away a major plot point). She succeeded with her novel Harvest, the first book I read by the author, and she does it again with Life Support. Her medical knowledge and research add to the realism of what may at times seem like an unbelievable story--at least a story that a person would rather not believe. The reality of it is just too frightening to consider.

While I did not always agree with Toby’s recklessness, I admire her determination. The strain on her shoulders both professionally and on a personal level as the mystery unfolded was clear and painful to see. The author did a great job of bringing that out in her writing. I wanted very much for Toby to land on top. Dr. Dvorak, the medical examiner, was the perfect balance for the at times high-strung Toby. His reserve and logical manner suited her more assertive flare. The side story, that of Molly Picker the teenage prostitute, pulled at my heartstrings. The poor girl had no one to turn to and was dependent only on her pimp and the kindness of others. Both she and Toby were in a race against time, one for her life and the other in search of the truth.

I was left with a few questions near the end regarding the events as they unfolded, but in general, Life Support is an enjoyable thriller that was both entertaining and compelling. I look forward to reading more by this author in the future.

Favorite Parts: Early on in the novel, just as the trouble is beginning to start, Toby comes home from work, relieves her mother’s hired companion and is planning to go to bed and try and sleep. Instead, she joins her mother in the garden where her mother is pulling weeds. The love and loyalty that Toby feels for her mother could not be more clear in that moment. It was a heartwarming scene.

Another one of my favorite scenes is when Molly and Toby meet. Seeing Molly put her trust in someone and the way Toby responded to Molly gave me a sense of relief for Molly, who I had come to care about quite a bit. Molly suddenly was not so alone in the world.

One of my favorite author's blogs just happens to be Tess Gerritsen's blog and website. Stop in and take a look. She has links to her books and other interesting tidbits you might find

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Dover, 1993 (Originally Published in 1891)
Fiction; 165 pgs

Completed: 09/21/2007
Rating: * (Fair)

First Sentence: The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.

Reason for Reading: This is my final selection for Kathrin’s Classics Reading Challenge and my second for the Book to Movie Challenge. I first decided I wanted to read this book after seeing the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Although the movie itself didn’t impress me, several of the characters did, especially Dorian Gray.

From the Publisher: Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray makes a Faustian bargain to sell his soul in exchange for eternal youth and beauty. Under the influence of Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life, where he is able to indulge his desires while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only Dorian's picture bears the traces of his decadence. A knowing account of a secret life and an analysis of the darker side of Victorian society, The Picture of Dorian Gray offers a disturbing portrait of an individual coming face to face with the reality of his soul.

Comments: I am not sure what to say about this book. It is difficult to take on a classic, a book revered and analyzed by many. I read this novel more out of curiosity than to gain a deeper meaning. Dorian Gray is a famous character that is mentioned and alluded to in all forms of media. I wanted to experience the “real” Dorian Gray and read his story.

Oscar Wilde is well known for his play writing, but he also wrote poetry and short stories. I had seen one of his plays in college, The Importance of Being Earnest, and remember enjoying it. The Picture of Dorian Gray is Wilde’s only novel, and it caused quite a stir in its day. It was deemed as being immoral, in part for its theme of aestheticism, which places value on youth and beauty, as well as hedonism and a rather superficial view of society. The other concern that many people in Wilde’s day had was the homoerotic undertones throughout the novel; this theme would play a part in the author’s own life, resulting in his arrest and conviction in 1895 on charges of gross indecency under British sodomy laws.

I was not overly impressed with Mr. Wilde's novel. The author’s penchant for poetry was obvious in his descriptions and drawn out thought sequences, which occasionally left my mind to wander. The playwright in him ensured there was heavy dialogue during the first third of the novel where the characters seem to engage in endless discussions. The conversations were at times amusing and had definite political and social overtones to them fitting to the time period. There was quite a bit of melodrama in both the characters’ speeches and actions throughout the book. I wish now I had counted how many times someone flung himself onto a couch, chair or whatever during a moment of anguish.

I did not care for most of the characters. I did have some sympathy for James Vane, the brother of Sibyl Vane who was a young and beautiful actress that fell madly in love with Dorian. Lord Henry Wotton annoyed me quite a bit in the beginning of the novel; however, he was one of the more interesting characters. He was quite comical, really. I cannot say if that was intentional or not. Basil Hallward seemed out of place most of the time, overly anxious, and only occasionally the voice of reason. His part was well played against Lord Henry during their discussions—the two balanced each other out both in opinion and manner.

Dorian Gray himself was somewhat in the shadows for the first half of the novel, only solidifying later on. A lot of his actions go unwritten but are alluded to throughout the book. I found myself feeling sorry for him early on, during his more impressionable moments, while at the same time wanting to shake him and tell him to stop being so egotistical. The author did a good job of conveying the pain and frustration that Dorian felt over his situation.

The last fifty-eight pages of the book were by far my favorite part. Oscar Wilde spent quite a while setting the stage for those final chapters, and once the book reached the twelfth chapter, the story took off, the plot moved forward quickly, and I did not want to put the book down.

I can see why The Picture of Dorian Gray is considered a classic. It captures several of the social and political movements of its time and stirs up controversy even today. The character of Dorian Gray is one that has become an icon of sorts through the years.

I am glad I took the time to read The Picture of Dorian Gray. I did not dislike it so much as to want to toss it in the unread pile. I liked it enough to finish it.

Visit The Official Oscar Wilde website for information about the author and his works.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Brain Dead by Eileen Dreyer

Brain Dead by Eileen Dreyer
Harper Collins, 1997
Mystery; 406 pgs

Completed: 09/20/2007
Rating: * (Good)

First Sentence: The angel of death came at dawn.

Reason for Reading: This is my 3rd selection for the Medical Mystery Madness Challenge.

From the Publisher: When trauma nurse Timmie Parker moves from California to her old hometown in Missouri, it seems her hope for turning her life around will finally be realized: She is miles away from her bitter ex-husband, respected and admired by her new coworkers and renewing her ties to her family. Then the bodies begin to pile up.

Elderly patients from Restcrest, a highly regarded and innovative senior citizen care facility attached to the hospital, keep dying in her ER, and Timmie wants to know why. But when she tries to search for answers, she gets caught in a tangled mystery that seems dangerously linked to her new friends and to the welfare of her own father. She finds an ally in Daniel Murphy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who offers her much-needed support. Together, they embark on an investigation that promises to send Murphy soaring to the top of his profession, but which also threatens to suck Timmie into a deadly conspiracy that could cost her not only her job and peace of mind, but also her life.

Comments: After reading Lynne's thoughts of Brain Dead, I was a little worried. I reminded myself that I enjoy books like this in general and had heard good things about other books by the author. Fortunately, my experience with Brain Dead was more favorable than hers had been.

I was not sure how I felt about Timmie at first, but she grew on me fairly quickly. Timmie is definitely the rebel, a woman with her own mind and who jumps into the fray readily. She thinks fast on her feet and can handle just about any crisis that comes her way. Professionally, she’s the best at what she does. She is a bit of an adrenaline junkie, working best when under pressure. Her personal life, on the other hand, is not so well nurtured and cared for—and it shows. She is the mother of a 6-year-old daughter who desperately needs her mother’s attention after her parents’ bitter divorce; the ex-wife of a drug addict who continues to harass her; and the daughter of man suffering from stage 2 Alzheimer’s, a man she is struggling to care for on her own without much success.

I liked Daniel Murphy, Timmie’s sidekick, from the start. He is smart and laid back. Although at first reluctant to get involved, he knows he would not be able to help it. Like with Timmie, getting to the truth is in his blood. He is not a perfect leading man, by any stretch. Like the best of characters, he is flawed, having moved to Missouri to get away from personal demons of his own. Daniel and Timmie balance each other out well.

Just when it seemed that there was too much going on at once, the author begins to bring the story together, fitting all the pieces together and tying up loose ends. It came as no surprise, as I suspected early on what the ultimate motive was. The who did evade me for a while, but I had that figured out long before Murphy and Timmie did.

The novel was full of other interesting characters as well, some better developed than others. Most seemed typecast and two-dimensional. This is definitely a plot driven novel, as most mystery novels tend to be. It picks up speed rapidly near the end although was relatively suspenseful throughout. There was always something going on and it’s a wonder Timmie was able to hold it together for as long as she did. Overall, I enjoyed Brain Dead. It is probably not a book that I will remember a year from now; but in the moment, it was well worth the time spent reading it.

Favorite Part: There is a moment in the book when Timmie lets down her guard with Murphy and shares with him the turmoil she’s been feeling and keeping inside for so long. Her father, so loved by everyone in the community, had a darker side. She struggled with warring emotions: loving him on the one hand and hating him on the other. Although it’s obvious how she feels right from the start of the book, she never fully admits it to anyone until her talk with Murphy. Eileen Dreyer captured the pain and anguish Timmie felt perfectly in that moment.

For information about the author and her books, visit Eileen Dreyer's website.

Miscellaneous: I am struggling with what to read next. I have two review books I need to read, but the book that is calling my name the loudest right this moment is not either one of those two. I hate it when this happens.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Fill-In #1

1. I think . . . my dog looks awfully cute curled up in the cat's bed.
2. I desire . . . more rain right about now (why won't it rain on my day off when I can really enjoy it?).
3. What if . . . people took the time to get to know their neighbors better?
4. The best thing about . . . having so many books around the house is that I will never run out of something to read.
5. When will . . . we be able to replace our old windows?
6. The best thing that happened to me so far this week . . . is that I reached today with my sanity intact.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to cuddling on . . . the couch with my husband and animals and watching a movie or a DVD, tomorrow my plans include . . . nothing yet decided (maybe a movie and lunch out?) and Sunday, I want to . . . sleep in, lose myself in a book, and pretend I don't have to go to work on Monday!

Thanks to Tanabata at In the Spring It Is Dawn for introducing me to this meme. (Meme originates from Fond of Snape.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Sunshine and Roses

Imagine that everything is going just swimmingly. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and all’s right with the world. You’re practically bouncing from health and have money in your pocket. The kids are playing and laughing, the puppy is chewing in the cutest possible manner on an officially-sanctioned chew toy, and in between moments of laughter for pure joy, you pick up a book to read . . .

What is it?

Yesterday would have been the perfect reading day. It was overcast, rainy, not too cold and not too warm. Oh, how I wished I could linger in bed, wake up at my own speed and not have to go into work! Alas, duty called and off I went to the office. I should have stayed in bed. It was that kind of day.

Under the most perfect of reading conditions, I am drawn to all the usual sorts of books I like to read. My biggest dilemma would be deciding what to read next. There is not one sort of book that stands out above the rest.

I may want to celebrate the moment by reading something breezy and light, something funny, or perhaps something dark and intense. Or this may be the perfect opportunity to settle in with a longer more serious book, one that is thought provoking with a writing style to savor. Depending on my mood, I may want to transport myself into a completely different world or surround myself with real life situations. A visit with old friends or familiar places might be nice, but then, I would not mind meeting someone new and traveling to parts of the world I will never set an actual foot in. There are times when I prefer to solve a riddle or a puzzle, study human nature, go on an adventure with lots of ups and downs, or take it easy with something inspiring. This would be the perfect time to read a book that would make me feel deeply--one I could cry over, get angry and roll my eyes or mutter my outrage under my breath, or even laugh out loud in spurts without drawing the attention of anyone other than my animals.

Under the perfect reading conditions, I think I might want a little bit of everything. Maybe if I had an entire day . . .

Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Spook by March Roach

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach
Norton, 2005
Nonfiction; 311 pgs

Completed: 09/16/2007
Rating: * (Good)

First Sentence: My mother worked hard to instill faith in me.

Reason for Reading: This is my final selection for the Nonfiction Five Challenge (wrap up to follow). I was first introduced to Mary Roach through Reader’s Digest where her articles never failed to make me smile. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her first book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and so eagerly looked forward to reading this, her second book.

Comments: I am a bit of a skeptic much like Mary Roach. I understand the concept of faith and certainly have my own ideas on the subject, but there is something comforting and solid in having actual proof of scientific evidence to hang my hat on. In researching and writing Spook, author Mary Roach sets out in search of scientific evidence of the afterlife. It is not so much a question of whether or not the afterlife exists but whether or not science has been able to prove its existence. If you are looking for a book about the cultural and religious aspects of the afterlife in all its connotations, this is not the book you are seeking.

One of the things I most like about Mary Roach is that she is a lay person. She is not an expert, and so her research tends to come from a more basic level, one that is easy to relate to. While I found it extremely refreshing in her previous book, Stiff, this time around it was not quite as endearing. I think in part that had something to do with the subject matter. Unlike researching and writing about what happens to dead bodies, discussion surrounding the afterlife is much more circumstantial. It is not an easy subject, especially from the scientific viewpoint, to wrap the mind around.

The book opens with research into reincarnation, specifically the research being done in India, comparing memories of young children who are believed to have been reincarnated to that of the family and friends of the deceased the child is believed to have been in the past life. I imagine the case studies the researchers have collected would make for interesting reading. (Aside: This particular study reminded me of an article I read recently about the Chinese government making the pronouncement that they would decide who would be the reincarnate of the Dali Lama. I imagine their definition of reincarnation in this case is quite different from that being studied in India, where there does not seem to be a choice in regards to who a person may become in a later life.)

From reincarnation, the author ventures into the question about the whereabouts and development of the soul from birth and on into life. She also discusses psychic abilities in relation to communication with the dead, ending with the scientific research into near death experiences, which is a subject I read quite a bit about earlier in my life.

In true Mary Roach fashion, the author goes off on the occasional tangent and sprinkles her discoveries with the expected humor. Although I did enjoy Spook, I do wish the author had taken the time to touch upon more of the cultural and religious aspects, despite that not being the intent of the book itself. I think it would have made for a fuller and more complete picture of the subject matter (not to mention a very long book--maybe not such a good idea after all). I do not think the outcome in Mary's thinking would have been any different, but it certainly would have been intriguing.

Favorite Part: I most enjoyed the look back in history at the beliefs and theories that were postulated about the soul. The ectoplasm stories in particular held a certain fascination for me. The lengths some people will go to . . .

Saturday, September 15, 2007

New England White by Stephen L. Carter

New England White by Stephen L. Carter
Knopf, 2007, ARE
Fiction; 551 pgs

Completed: 09/03/2007
Rating: * (Good +)

First Sentence: Rumors chase the dead like flies, and we follow them with our prim noses.

Reason for Reading: When I discovered this title among the Curled Up With a Good Book picks, I could not resist putting in a request for a copy. I had read the author’s debut fiction novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park, which I enjoyed by the time I finished it, although I admit to having my doubts along the way. I also knew this would be a book that would take me some time to work through, the author’s writing style and the complex tales he weaves playing a large part in that.

Comments: Author and Law Professor, Stephen L. Carter raised the stakes of literary thriller fiction with his best selling novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park. His latest novel, New England White continues in that tradition, raising the stakes even more.

Readers of the author's debut novel may remember mention of the Carlyle family, a prominent and wealthy African American family residing in Connecticut. The family becomes the main focus in New England White. The newly appointed president of the university and former Assistant U.S. Attorney, Lemaster Carlyle, and his wife Julia discover the body of Professor Kellen Zant on their drive home after a fundraising event one night.

Before that moment, life had already been strained for the Carlyle family. Their teenage daughter, Vanessa, had set her father’s Mercedes on fire in an apparent act of rebellion and was obsessed with a local 30 year old murder of a young woman around her age. The eldest Carlyle son seemed to be avoiding the family, staying as far away from them as possible, not even returning home for the holidays. Julia was not quite happy with her marriage, which she knew was more a marriage of comfort and security as opposed to one of passion, a stark contrast from the relationships she had had with Kellen Zant before she married Lemaster all those years before. And yet family was the most important thing in Julia’s life, and she would do anything to protect them.

Despite the death of Kellen, Julia found that his name kept coming up in conversations. When she is approached by a well known journalist and author who believes Julia is protecting something of Kellen’s and then later by an attorney with shady and powerful clientele who threatens that his client will not tolerate her lack of cooperation, Julia refuses to be drawn into whatever trouble Kellen had evidently been involved in. The body count mounts, and the secret Kellen was hiding is in high demand. Despite her efforts, when questioned by one of the investigating detectives on the case and the university’s Director of Safety, Bruce Vallely, both of whom suspect her daughter, Vanessa, may have played in Kellan’s recent activities, Julia knows she has no choice but to search out the truth herself. Kellen, while alive, had anticipated that and set out clues that only Julia could understand and follow. One way or the other, the truth would come out.

Julia is not sure who she can trust and so sets out on her own, afraid of what she might discover about her own family’s secrets and yet determined that knowing the truth is the only way to protect them and perhaps in the end, seek justice.

Stephen L. Carter weaves an intricate and detailed web that will keep the reader guessing until the very end. The author tackles racial and political issues, as well as greed and cover up. And what of justice versus striving for the greater good? Julia’s fascination with antique mirrors is more telling than a simple hobby. Mirrors symbolize truth but can also be used to create illusion. Secrets and lies permeate every corner of the novel. Each of the characters is complex and multi-layered, not one is without faults. Julia who in the beginning of the novel is annoyingly compliant and comes across as weak in the beginning of the novel finds her legs and brings to the forefront some of that moxie that she has suppressed for so long.

New England White is not a book that can be read quickly. It is one that requires thought on the reader’s part and close attention to detail or else an important piece of the puzzle may be overlooked. This is more of an intellectual thriller than an action-packed one; at times it moves rather slowly, but it is well worth the time it might take to read it. Originally published at Curled Up With a Good Book © Wendy Runyon, 2007

Favorite Parts: When the viewpoint switched temporarily to Bruce Vallely, the director of safety. Up until that point, the focus had been on Julia and the author spent a lot of time developing her character, inserting the reader into her thoughts and concerns. I could have done with a little less of that, to be honest. I was not too fond of Julia during those early chapters. It was also at this point that the book really took off for me. I had no issues with Julia’s character after that.

Bruce Vallely was among my favorite characters in the book. He had a good head on his shoulders and wanted to do what was right even when he felt forced to make the wrong choices.

Miss Terry was another of my favorites. I liked her style and attitude. I would not have minded seeing more of her in the novel, although I think that would have only detracted from the story since hers was only a minor role.

My favorite scene in the book is not my favorite because I agree with the behavior of the white people in the neighborhood (obviously I don’t), but because it was turning point for Julia in the novel. She is seeking aid in an unfamiliar neighborhood and no one will open the door for her. Although Julia had no doubt experienced prejudice in her life, she had lived a privileged life and was among the elite. Her experience of the hardships and challenges that many others have had to face were not her own. She heard about it and read about it, but it was still something that was distant from her own life. Not a part of her world.

Another of my favorite parts was when Julia walks in on her daughter dancing. She is listening to funeral dirge music. It is a defining moment for both mother and daughter, both for themselves as individuals and as mother and daughter.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Comfort Food

Okay . . . picture this (really) worst-case scenario: It’s cold and raining, your boyfriend/girlfriend has just dumped you, you’ve just been fired, the pile of unpaid bills is sky-high, your beloved pet has recently died, and you think you’re coming down with a cold. All you want to do (other than hiding under the covers) is to curl up with a good book, something warm and comforting that will make you feel better.

What do you read?

(Any bets on how quickly somebody says the Bible or some other religious text? A good choice, to be sure, but to be honest, I was thinking more along the lines of fiction…. Unless I laid it on a little strong in the string of catastrophes? Maybe I should have just stuck to catching a cold on a rainy day….)

On the upside, a rainy day is my favorite kind of day. After I dry my eyes, wash my face, get into some very comfortable clothes, mentally set out a plan of how to deal with the mess I seem to have gotten myself into--prioritize, maybe make a call or two to defer some of the bills, see where I can cut corners and outline a tight budget, update my resume, hide all the pictures of my beloved pet so I don't break down again, destroy that favorite baseball cap my ex left behind, and take a little medicine, I may be ready to curl up with a book. Up until then, I most likely would vegetate in front of the television, flipping through the channels and trying to get the motivation to do anything at all. I'm the kind of person who likes to set things in some semblence of order if I expect to seek comfort after a major life catastrophe. I cannot relax otherwise.

I realize though that this is not the point of the question. Less disaster would be much more conducive to creating a desire to tuck my legs underneath me on the couch, pull the afghan up to keep warm, and seek comfort in the pages of a book. This in an effort to fight off a cold and put distance between whatever other trauma I've suffered in my life recently.

Comfort comes in varying ways. Much depends on where my mind is and what I am going through at any particular moment. My first inclination is to say that a comfort read for me is something light in subject matter, perhaps on the funny side, maybe easygoing, and not especially thought provoking. While that may be true when I have had an especially stressful day at work and my brain feels overworked, it isn't necessarily always the case. When I most need to take my mind off of things, I like to read a mystery or a suspense/thriller--something fast paced and so engrossing and intense that I forget about all else. It can be funny or serious, maybe some of both. Sometimes I just want a bad guy to despise and some evil to fight against. If I want to be cheered up, definitely something with a happy ending is in order.

It is difficult to name one particular book that I turn to for comfort since I rarely reread a book. I often think of Charlaine Harris, Jan Karon, Jane Austen, and James Patterson among the authors whose books I might find soothing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Broken For You by Stephanie Kallos

Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos
Grove Press, 2004
Fiction; 371 pgs

Completed: 09/10/2007
Rating: * (Outstanding)

First Sentence: While the woman sleeps and dreams of all that breaks, come into the house of many rooms.

Reason for Reading: This is my 9th selection for the TBR Challenge, my third selection for the Saturday Review of Books Challenge (whose review by 3M encouraged me to read this one sooner than I might have otherwise), and 1st for the Unread Authors Challenge.

From the Publisher: Broken for You is the story of two women in self-imposed exile whose lives are transformed when their paths intersect. Stephanie Kallos' debut novel is a work of infinite charm, wit and heart. It is also a glorious homage to the beauty of broken things. When we meet septuagenarian Margaret Hughes, she is living alone in a mansion in Seattle with only a massive collection of valuable antiques for company. Enter Wanda Schultz, a young woman with a broken heart who has come west to search for her wayward boyfriend. Both women are guarding dark secrets and have spent many years building up protective armor against the outside world. As their tentative friendship evolves, the armor begins to fall away and Margaret opens her house to the younger woman. This launches a series of unanticipated events, leading Margaret to discover a way to redeem her cursed past, and Wanda to learn the true purpose of her cross-country journey. Both funny and heartbreaking, Broken for You is a testament to the saving graces of surrogate families and shows how far the tiniest repair jobs can go in righting the world's wrongs.

Comments: Settling in at the repair shop to wait for my husband’s car, I admit to not being too enthused about my choice of book for the day. I really was more in the mood for something with a quicker pace, perhaps something more edgy and suspenseful. And yet, from the very beginning, I was drawn into the novel, Broken for You, transported to Seattle, Washington and the home of the elderly Margaret Hughes and swept up in an unconventional and moving story about friendship, redemption, and love.

Stephanie Kallos has written a well-crafted novel that weaves multiple tales, bringing them together in the end in such a way as to make the story even more meaningful. Her cast of colorful characters is at the heart of the story. They are an unlikely bunch brought together by circumstance and chance, each one playing an important role in the life of the other. Margaret is an eccentric elderly woman who has isolated herself for years as a penance for her past. Margaret’s boarder, Wanda comes across as strong and capable and yet her emotional ups and downs reveal a more fragile side to her. Wanda is chasing her past in hopes of finding something that was lost to her so long ago.

Not only are readers introduced to Wanda and Margaret, but also to several other unforgettable characters. There is M.J. Striker, whose own trials mirror both Wanda’s and Margaret’s but in different ways. He has given up so much of actual living as a sort of penance for past sins as he seeks for the one thing that meant most to him all those years before. Then there is Troy who had once traveled a similar path as Wanda, only to find that sometimes the answers you seek are not the answers you most need to find. I cannot leave out Gus, the hotel valet at the Hotel Orléans, where Margaret had honeymooned many years before. His spirit and zest for life was a much-needed addition in Margaret’s life. There is also Susan, the registered nurse, and Bruce the chef, both of whom are healing from broken hearts. And then there is Irma Kosminsky who is perhaps my most favorite character next to Margaret herself. Irma is so full of life and hope. Despite all she’d suffered in her past, losing both her first husband and child during the Holocaust, she had been able to find happiness in the present and encouraged those around her to live life rather than stew in it and let it pass by.

Stephanie Kallos’ takes a risk in varying her narrative as she does, following both Wanda and Margaret and later M.J. Striker, and occasionally switching to the second person slightly reminiscent of Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White only with a different twist. She also adds in dream sequences, which I think enhanced the story, adding more dimension to the characters and the overall effect of the novel.

Broken for You is a work of art all in it’s own. The characters, each of them broken in some way, are brought together the way the pieces used to create mosaic art might be joined together, the result being something of beauty and meaning.

Questions: I would be lying if I said I did not have questions upon finishing the book. There were a couple of characters that were not as fleshed out as the rest, whose story interested me and left me wondering in the end—not so much about their fate, but about the choices they had made. Despite this, I still came away from the book feeling awed and very much satisfied.

Favorite Parts: There are so many! This book was full of wonderful moments. I think perhaps my most favorite scene is near the beginning of the book when Margaret goes to the café and has a conversation with the waitress, otherwise known as the Nose Ring Girl. The reader in me let out a silent cry of glee (I didn’t want to scare the poor guy behind the counter at the shop!). I’m not sure I can adequately explain why—sometimes the “voice” the author uses to tell his or her story resonates inside my mind—it’s a perfect fit, so to speak. It was like this for me with Broken for You, nearly every step of the way.

Another of the scenes that stands out for me was when Margaret coaxes Wanda outside to smash Margaret’s wedding dinner set. It was an insane moment, but one that proved to be what the two women most needed to do in that moment. It was a new beginning for both women.

Near the end of the book, readers are drawn into a dream sequence as Margaret and her Thanksgiving guests go for a hot air balloon ride. The way the scene played out, the richness of the moment and the step back into reality once the dream was over was a very moving and poignant moment in the book.

For more information about the author, check out her website.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come. ~ William Shakespeare

My mother groaned, my father wept, into the dangerous world I leapt;
helpless, naked, piping loud, like a fiend hid in a cloud. ~ William Blake

It would not be my birthday without a wake up call from my dog at 4:40 this morning to tell me there is a cat outside he wants to chase and to please let him out. I threatened to wake up Anjin if he persisted and so he curled back into his bed and settled down. It was about an hour later when my cat decided it was time I get up. After all, it must be work day right? I explained to him that I had no where to go and could he please stop pulling the covers off and let me sleep? It's my birthday after all. No such luck. The mewing got louder, the dog stirred again and up I got. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Birthday Meme

1. What is your favorite birthday cake?

It has been a long time since I have indulged in my favorite birthday cake. Not since I was a child really. My mother would often ask me what type of cake I wanted for my birthday, and it was not a difficult choice. Angel food, of course! And so it would be. I remember one year my mother made this gorgeous doll cake, the dark haired doll standing tall, with her skirt ballooning out over the angel food cake. The best tasting cake though was the one I had later in my childhood, an angel food cake with fudge frosting dribbled all over the top. Mmmm.

My husband and I, early in our marriage, went through an ice cream cake phase, where each year we would get each other ice cream cakes for our birthdays. His was easy because his favorite ice cream never changed. Mine was a bit tougher because I always seem to have trouble settling on favorite anythings, be it an ice cream flavor, color, song or time of day.

2. What has been the best gift you have ever received?

In the early years of my relationship with my husband, before we were married, he presented me with a box, much the kind you might find a piece of clothing in. Nestled inside were several books--his own books. It was about that time that Anjin had introduced me to one of his favorite genres, and I had taken a special interest in a particular series he had read. His gift was especially meaningful to me because of what it represented. As many of you know, my husband does not part easily with his books and for him to give me several of his own . . . Well, that meant more to me than any other gift he could have given me. He not only gave me the gift of books, which as we all know is a booklover's dream, but he gave me a part of himself.

3. How did you spend your favorite birthday?

Oh dear! I am not very good at remembering details like this. The ones that stand out are the traveling birthdays. One year my husband and I spent a week in Las Vegas, Nevada, touring the city and surrounding area. Neither one of us cares for gambling, but I do enjoy a show now and then. We went to see Celine Dion perform that week and Mama Mia, which I fell in love with. That was also the vacation when I found my cross. Growing up, I had a cross which I wore almost faithfully, a gift from my maternal grandparents. Somehow, I lost that cross and had been searching for a replacement for years. I finally found one in a store in Las Vegas. I do not ask for much in the way of jewelry--it's not my thing--but this cross was exactly what I had been looking for. It was expensive, but Anjin and I talked it over and it came home with us.

Another of my favorite birthdays was our road trip through the Southwestern United States. We hit the road beginning at home in California, drove through Nevada, into Utah, through Colorado, coming home by way of New Mexico and Arizona. We had so much fun! Even the stop at the emergency room in Albuquerque was not enough to ruin our trip.

4. Do you make birthday wishes?

When I have candles to blow out, absolutely! It's been a while since I had that opportunity though.

5. Has a wish ever come true?

For many years I wished for one thing in particular, over and over again. It's yet to come true, and I doubt it ever well. The wish is a little bigger than I think human kind can manage.

Then there were my wishes for a kiss from my husband, the kind I knew would come true.

Any others, I am afraid I do not remember.

Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter. ~ Jack Benny

Friday, September 07, 2007

More Evidence of A Serious Reading Habit--Or More Aptly Put, A Serious Book Habit

Well, I managed to get all the "read" shelves back in proper order. For the last nine months I have been stacking all the books I finished right on top of the shelved books and figured this was a great time to put them in their proper places. Meanwhile, I also did a lot of weeding. As much as I could stomach for the time being. There's plenty more weeding I could do on those shelves, but for now, I did the best I could without bringing on possible separation anxiety. My husband went through the unwanted books to make sure I wasn't getting rid of anything he wants to keep around. Now to decide what to do with them.

I've pretty much decided that the mass paperbacks will go the local used bookstore. The hardbacks and the trades I'm not so sure about. Maybe leave some of them in the breakroom at the office with BookCrossing stickers inside?

Here is why I am really telling you all of this. One of the books I really don't want is an Advanced Reader's Edition. The book wasn't all that wonderful, but it had its good points. The problem is that whatever typefont that was used failed miserably when it came to printing out any words that were meant to be italicized. That includes book names (one of the main characters loved to read) and the occasional Chinese word thrown in (the book is set in China). It was very distracting. Anyway, what to do with this book? I can't sell it, obviously (not only is it prohibited to sell an ARE I received from the publisher, but who would want an ARE with missing words?) and giving it away probably would be impossible under the circumstances. Do I toss the book? Leave it somewhere and pretend I had nothing to do with it? Or just keep it and go through this again when I am ready to weed out more books?

While a good number of the books I wouldn't mind rereading someday (I mean, there could be a major bookstore/library disaster after all my TBR books are read 10 or so years from now, and I'll desperately need something to read when there as be no other way to access books . . .), there are quite a few I know I will most likely never pick up again. Why keep those around? Sure, some are my husband's books and he'd kill me if I ever sent those to new homes. (An aside: my weeding of out books has inspired him as well and he is now thinking which of his books he might not be so adverse to parting with. I had to hold back a cringe when he mentioned one author in particular because what if I want to read those books one day?! You see the dilemma.) Anyhow, the age old question arises its ugly head: Why buy only to read once and possibly give away? Why, indeed.

Some of you, especially my readers who are faithful library users, are nodding and thinking, "Finally!" I must warn you not to get excited. I go through this phase now and then, and I have yet to change my ways. Perhaps this time I am making progress because I actually weeded out a decent number of books to give away. Of course, I haven't yet given them away (I'd better hurry before I lose my nerve!), and so I am not sure my efforts really count at this point.

I can rationalize my behavior right and left. It's fun to be everyone else's library. And isn't supporting authors and the book industry by buying books a worthy cause? There's also the fact that I love being surrounded by books. I can't abide an empty bookshelf and it's just not "normal" for a bookshelf not to be overflowing. Not in my house. How could I call myself a booklover otherwise? And what of my overwhelming TBR collection which is hidden away in its very own room? I have an entire list of reasons why I buy rather than borrow, one of them being the flimsy "I cannot help myself" excuse.

Ho hum.

Today begins the reorganization of my TBR collection, adding in the new additions and, dare I say it knowing my husband is reading this and cringing at all the money I spent for nothing, weeding out the books I am no longer interested in reading. Which begs the question, why am I so quick to scoop up a book that was recommended to me when I see it in the store? Why not wait a little, let it linger on my wishlist, revisit the idea of reading the book, and then make a decision after the excitement and eagerness have passed? That seems only wise.

Oh, and while I'm rambling on like a crazy person, how is it that my husband can put a book on his Christmas list in February and have no problem waiting until December to get it?

Off to the bookstore to pick up a book or two for my husband. Well, maybe for me too, but they're mostly for him. Really.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Goldilocks

Are you a Goldilocks kind of reader? Do you need the light just right, the background noise just so loud but not too loud, the chair just right, the distractions at a minimum?

Or can you open a book at any time and dip right in, whether it’s for twenty seconds, while waiting for the kettle to boil, or indefinitely, like while waiting interminably at the hospital–as long as the book is open in front of your nose, you’re happy to read?

I find that I can read just about anywhere, anytime, and under most conditions, although sometimes the book I am reading insists on a more controlled environment. Some books require careful concentration and focus, demanding minimal distractions and longer stretches of time for reading if I expect to fully appreciate the subject matter.

In most instances, however, I have no difficulty snatching a moment here and there with whatever book I am reading. Perhaps I only have a few minutes waiting at the drive-thru or it's a commercial break during a favorite TV show (this is becoming less and less of a habit though since the advent of DVR's and DVD's). It's not unusual for me to break out my book and read before the start of a movie at the theater, while my husband pumps the car full of gas, or to settle on a bench in the mall while I wait for Anjin while he browses in his favorite Anime store. Just yesterday, I read while waiting for my husband's car to be fixed at the repair shop.

Admittingly, I most enjoy my reading time when I can devote a decent chunk of time to a book, especially for the first few chapters--I like having the time to settle into a book and fully take in the mood. Still, it's not a requirement for my enjoyment of a book nor is it always practical. I take what I can get when I can get it.

While I have come to appreciate and sometimes prefer the quiet when I read, I do not mind music in the background, having the television on, or sitting in a crowded room with chatter all around me on the condition that the volume is not overwhelming to the point of distraction. I can only tune out so much regardless of how gripping the book may be. It is not unusual when I am engrossed in a book for a person to have to make a bigger than normal effort to gain my attention. And yet if I am in the lunch breakroom at work and a certain someone is talking on her cell phone at top volume, I discover I have trouble concentrating.

The location matters the least in that I can read just about anywhere. I do like to be comfortable, but comfort doesn't require my living room couch or my most favorite reading place, my bed. A spot on the grass works just fine when I'm in the park or perhaps a chair while waiting in the doctor's office. I can read while outdoors, indoors, or halfway inbetween. I read while traveling, either by car, plane or train. I sit in my car sometimes and read during my lunch break. And I've been known to walk from room to room in my house while reading or while standing in line. Who needs to sit after all?

I try and always take a book with me so I can sneak a peek at any available moment. I've even been known to pack my husband's book in my purse so he has something to read should the occasion arise.

While I am no Goldilocks, I think I fall somewhere between the two extremes.

Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Persuasion (quoted directly from The Free Dictionary by Farlex):

1. The act of persuading or the state of being persuaded.
2. The ability or power to persuade.
3. A strongly held opinion; a conviction.
4. a. A body of religious beliefs
b. A party, faction, or group holding to a particular set of ideas or beliefs.

Persuasion by Jane Austen
Dover, 1997 (originally published in 1817)
Fiction; 188 pgs

Completed: 09/05/2007
Rating: * (Very Good)

First Sentence: Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage, there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs, changed naturally into pity and contempt, as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century—and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he cold read his own history with an interest to which never failed—this was the page at which the favourite volume always opened:


Reason for Reading: This is my 2nd selection for the Saturday Review of Books Challenge (recommended by Barbara H), my 2nd for the Classics Challenge, and my 1st for the Book to Movie Challenge. This is my third Jane Austen novel. I have also read Pride and Prejudice and Emma, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Comments: Jane Austen's novels are comfort reads for me, I'm discovering. I can see myself reading and rereading them time and time again. Heck, I've read Pride and Prejudice a couple of times--and rereading books for me is rare. I love the banter between the characters and Jane Austen's style of writing. Her stories are relatively simple on the surface and yet meaningful and complex upon closer examination. Persuasion proved true to form.

On the surface, Persuasion is a love story but digging a little deeper, it is a novel that touches on the classism and elitism of the times. The novel also captures the different definitions of persuasion and questions its importance and value in every day life.

Anne Elliot is one of three sisters, her father being Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch Hall. Facing hard times, Sir Elliot and his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, agree that a move a smaller home in Bath would be the best solution, and so they make arrangements to let their family home in Somersetshire to the respectable Admiral Croft and his wife.

The eldest Elliot daughter is Elizabeth, who took on the role of the lady of the house upon her mother’s death during the sisters’ childhood. She and her father are very close, relying on each other’s confidence and advice. Elizabeth and Sir Elliot share many of the same prejudices and opinions of those they think are beneath them. Neither pays much attention or puts much stock in the usefulness of Anne herself. Mary, the youngest of the Elliot children, is married to Charles Musgrove, a person whom Elizabeth in particular feels is beneath their family. Mary proves to be a bit of a hypochondriac and is quick to find fault with her situation and those around her. This in part stems from her own insecurities no doubt.

Another major player in Anne’s life, the one with the most influence over her is the widow Lady Russell. It was Lady Russell’s opinion that in the end persuaded Anne against marrying Captain Wentworth when first Anne and he met and enjoyed a brief romance. Lady Russell as well as Sir Elliot and Elizabeth felt that Frederick Wentworth was below Anne, not worthy of her hand in marriage. He owned no land, had not enough money, seemed not to be well-connected and appeared to have little to offer. It was with great sadness and broken hearts on both sides that the two parted.

And yet they would meet again several years later when Admiral Croft, his wife, Sophia, and Sophia’s brother, Captain Wentworth, visit the Musgroves, where Anne is staying for a couple of months to be near her sister, Mary and her family. Frederick’s anger and frustration toward Anne is renewed, and Anne more fully realizes what a mistake she made in letting herself be persuaded out of marrying the only man she has ever loved. In typical Austen fashion, the story is not so simple as that. Both have won the affections of others and their own feelings may not ever be reconciled with the other.

Anne is often lauded as the best liked of the Austen heroines. Her gentle nature, intelligence, practical attitude and thoughtfulness quickly won me over. She lacks a bit of the spirit that Lizzy and Emma, two other of Jane Austen’s heroines, share, however, that is in no way a bad thing. For Anne is her own person and earns her place as a heroine to be admired on other accounts.

I very much enjoyed Persuasion and can see why it is a favorite among Jane Austen fans. As the last book ever written by Jane Austen, and published posthumously by her brother, Persuasion is a fine farewell for an author who has a true gift for storytelling and getting her message across.

Favorite Parts: There were many parts of this novel that I enjoyed, including the way Anne took over when Louisa Musgrove was hurt in Lyme, the discussion between Mary and her husband over which of the Musgrove sisters Frederick liked most, and the banter between Frederick and his sister as they argued over whether women belong on ships or not.

Anne by far was my favorite character. I could relate to her on many levels, sharing many of her values and ideals—and even some of her faults.

Miscellaneous: We went to see Rush Hour 3 this past Monday. It was a fun movie to watch, nothing special or memorable. It was a way to stay out of this humid and hot weather we’ve been having.

Now I am anxiously awaiting the movie version of Persuasion (the one starring Amanda Root) to arrive in the mail from Netflix. Hurry, hurry, hurry!

Dancin Fool's Meme

Dancin' Fool tagged me for her meme and I could not resist.

1. If you could have super powers what would they be and what would you do with them? (Please feel free to be selfish, you do not have to save the world!)

I get multiple super powers! Ooo! Fun! I have always wanted the power of telekinesis, being able to move objects with the mind. This skill would come in handy when I forget my glasses across the room or want to lift the couch while I vacuum underneath it. I think being able to fly would be my second choice. To soar the skies and feel the wind in my hair . . . Plus I could save a person falling from a burning plane if the occasion arose. Sometimes I wish I could read minds, but that is a tricky power to have. It is easy to abuse and might not be so pleasant at times. I also would not mind having healing abilities--being able to heal others, I mean.

2. Were you to find yourself stranded on an island with a CD could happen...what would your top 10 bloggers island discs be?

Oh dear! This is a revealing question, isn't it? I can see the eyes rolling and groans now as you scroll down my list. I suppose it cannot be a CD of my own compilation, could it? What about books on CD? I'll keep my list to music this time around . . . And are there enough batteries to last for however long I'm stranded? I definitely would need variety. I get bored too easily.

The Runaway Bride soundtrack
When Harry Met Sally soundtrack
Golden Road ~ Keith Urban
Heartsongs ~ Dolly Parton
Fallen ~ Evanescence
The Concert in Central Park ~ Simon & Garfunkel
Jesus Christ Superstar
Les Miserables
The Best of Peter, Paul & Mary/Ten Years Together
World in Motion ~ Jackson Browne

3. If you were a smell what would it be?

The first rain.

4. What bird would you most like to be?

A hummingbird.

5. If you were a bird who's head would you poo on?

I am not sure I want to say! What if the person stumbles across my blog? All I will say is that it is a certain someone who annoys me no end at the office with all the gossiping and the holier than thou attitude. You know who you are.

6. Are there any foods that your body craves?

Not at the moment. I'm actually rather full right now. My cravings tend to be more for the salty foods--pretzels, chips, and crackers. Occasionally I crave something sweet. Oh, and bread. I often crave that.

7. What's your favourite time of year?

I'm partial to the autumn season really, but I especially love the transition of the seasons from summer into fall.

8. What's your favourite time of day?

It depends on the day of the week. On a work day, the late afternoons are my favorite time of day. On my off days and on the weekends, I prefer the early mornings.

9. If a rest is as good as a change which would you choose?

This is a tough one. It really depends on what has been going on in my life. Sometimes a change is preferrable. I just want to get away, do something different, and need a change. Other times, when I have been going nonstop and am exhausted, a rest is much more desirable.

10. If you could have a dinner party and invite any 5 people from the past or present who would they be? (Living or deceased.)

My husband is an absolute must. He is much more the socialite than I am and can carry on a conversation with just about anyone. I tend to be shy around people I do not know well. Elizabeth Jane Cochrane (aka Nellie Bly) is a woman I have always wanted to meet and talk to. If I had one, she'd be on my top ten most admired women's list. I think author Douglas Adams would be an interesting guest to add to the mix (and my husband would really like to chat with him). Oh, and I always invite Michael Connelly and Charlaine Harris to these fictious get togethers. They are must have guests as two of my favorite authors.

If you are reading this and have not already participated, consider yourself tagged! I look forward to reading your responses.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Anchor Books, 1996
Nonfiction; 207 pgs

Completed: 08/25/2007
Rating: * (Good)

First Sentence: Jim Gallien had driven four miles out of Fairbanks when he spotted the hitchhiker standing in the snow beside the road, thumb raised high, shivering in the gray Alaska dawn.

Reason for Reading: This is my fourth selection for the Nonfiction Five Challenge and my 1990's selection for the Reading Through the Decades Challenge. I had read Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, which I found quite interesting. As a result, Into the Wild was added to my collection. It did not hurt that the book has received quite a bit of praise from fellow readers.

Comments: The idea of a young man striking out on his own, leaving behind a family that loved him with hardly a word, giving away his savings and burning what cash he had, changing his name and disappearing into the wilderness at first struck me as crazy. As the beginning chapters of Krakauer’s account of Christopher Johnson McCandless’ life unfolded, it crossed my mind several times that the man was probably suffering from some sort of mental illness.

He seemed to avoid intimacy, rebel against authority, isolated himself from family and old friends, completely broke off all his family ties, and was very reckless. That he made the dean’s list in college, was a good musician and in general had a good head on his shoulders, did not make a difference. In fact, Chis, aka Alex Supertramp as he was known on his travels, did make friends along the way and even kept in touch with many of them throughout the two years he was estranged from his family. He worked hard when he worked, was compassionate and caring. He experienced life in ways that many of us can never imagine. He seemed happy and content with his chosen path.

Jon Krakauer maps out Chris’ journey across America, into Mexico and Canada, and touches on moments in the man’s past that led him to be the man he became. Chris lived off the land, the generosity of others, worked for his food when he could, and, for the most part, shed the skin of materialism that he had grown up with. He set his own rules, traveled at his own pace, and answered to no one but himself. He was not completely selfish, however. It is quite clear that Chris had a big heart and even bigger ideals, realistic or not. He was intensely passionate and once he set his mind to do something, he did it. Was he someone to be admired? I came away from the book believing that he was in some respects. Mostly though, he was just your average early twenty-something year old questioning the establishment, testing himself, and searching for answers to questions that he probably did not even fully understand. Like many his age, he felt somewhat immortal and was overconfident. He was more adventuresome then most, perhaps even more driven. What happened to him was a tragedy.

Critics call him crazy, ill prepared, and reckless. Certainly to some extent he was ill prepared and reckless. Maybe even crazy. Had he survived and made it home again, his actions would be admired and he would be applauded for his strength and fortitude. Here would stand a guy who went after his dream and made it come true. Many would see that as success and something to admire. Because he died, however, it is easy to find fault and condemn him for his actions and to pick holes in his behavior and philosophy. The qualities we would admire in him if he had lived, he is criticized for in death. He was a risk taker, a dreamer, and definitely full of passion. For better or worse. Christopher lived his life according as he believed it should be lived.

Chris’ path is not one I would take nor is it one I necessarily agree with. I will not deny that at times I thought he was pretty careless and oblivious for a guy who supposedly was so smart. By the end of the book, I felt great sadness. Sadness for his family and his friends, especially those whose lives he touched. And sadness for Chris and the contributions to society he could have made if he lived.

Jon Krakauer’s account of Christopher Johnson McCandless’s life is painted in a kinder brush than certainly some of Chris’ critics would like. The author admits to relating to the subject of his book on a personal level, and even touches upon an experience of his own similar to the journey Chris set out on. I do think that Mr. Krakauer does a fair job of bringing up the viewpoints that do not match is own, countering them in turn.

Into the Wild is not the usual type of nonfiction book I am attracted to, and I cannot say I am eager to run out and read a copy of Into Thin Air. I’m sure it’s a fine book, but extreme sports like mountain climbing holds little interest for me. Maybe someday. After reading Into the Wild, my interest in visiting Alaska someday has intensified, I will give it that.

Miscellaneous: I was thumbing through Entertainment Weekly recently, soon after finishing this book, and came across mention of a movie based on the book. After Sean Penn read the book (multiple times, I might add), he was eager to bring it to the big screen. His dream has finally come true. Check out the movie trailer for Into the Wild. The movie is scheduled for US release on September 21st.

Read what Jeane had to say about this book:
Dog Ear Diary