Friday, December 23, 2011

Review: Half the Sky

Half the Sky
By Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Knopf September 2009
258 pages

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl DuWunn are Pulitzer-prize winning journalists who work for the New York Times. They are also husband and wife. The year after they reported on the hundreds of lives claimed at Tiananmen Square, they discovered that 36,000 baby girls die each year in China because their parents do not give them the same level of care they extend to their brothers. They realized that the horrors inflicted on women in countries such as China, India, Pakistan and the Congo rarely get any media coverage. They set out to change that.

In Half the Sky, the authors address the issues that women in many countries are dealing with today, such as sex trafficking, maternal mortality, wife beating, bride burning and rape. Each chapter introduces us to a woman that Kristof and DuWunn have worked with personally. Their stories are heartbreaking. The fact that we haven’t heard them before is an outrage.

The authors posit that these are more than ‘women’s issues,’ as they are so ignorantly referred to by many politicians. Instead these are transformative issues that, with proper attention, can transform countries. “Think about the major issues confronting us in this century. These include war, insecurity, and terrorism; population pressures, environmental strains, and climate change; poverty and income gaps. For all these diverse problems, empowering women is part of the answer.”

One thing that I appreciated about this book was the honesty of its authors. They admit that nonprofit organizations tend to play up their successes and downplay their failures. They want to keep working in their fields and if they are discredited and lose funding, then they can’t assist the people they want to help. The authors even admit their own faults, when they crossed the line from journalists to saviors and the times when their efforts were not successful.

I listened to the first half of this book on audiobook, narrated by Cassandra Campbell, and read the remainder because I had to return the audiobook. I really appreciated Ms. Campbell’s narration. With stories as painful as this, it would be easy to read with sorrow and hopelessness in your voice. Instead, the narration is poised and factual without losing a very real sense of compassion and empathy.  When I was reading the ending, I missed the narration. The stories that I heard from Ms. Campbell’s excellent narration are the ones that stay with me.

This is not a cheerful book. However, it is one with hope. The authors provide an appendix with so many ways for the reader to get involved. Although this is not a happy book, it is an incredibly important one. If you are going to read one non-fiction book, choose this one. It will open your eyes to the incredible cruelties and disadvantages that women are still dealing with in the twenty-first century and make you completely reevaluate the way you see power, safety, and the world.  

A note, my friends o' the blog: I am taking a little time off to enjoy the Christmas joy. I will be back one week from Monday, otherwise known as January 2nd. I hope each of you have a wonderful, amazing, stupendous, fantastic Christmas and New Year's filled with happiness, family, and lots of cookies!

PS - Enter the giveaway right here! I will send you, yes you, a book! (Well,,,,if you win. But the rest of you can say, "I entered the very first giveaway on Literary Lindsey and it was awesome. Maybe you should all make T-shirts...)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy 100th Post Day!

Well friends, this is my 100th post here at Literary Lindsey. Woo and also hoo. Balloons and streamers and cake. I wish we had cake.

This book blogging is fun stuff, people. I'm finding new books, talking to people about said books, and telling people what they should and should-not-under-any-circumstances-if-it-were-the-last-book-in-the-world read.

In celebration of this auspicious event, I am holding the very first Literary Lindsey giveaway! (And the crowd goes wild!)

What am I giving away, you ask? Well, I like options in my life and I think you might as well. So I am giving the winner the choice between one nonfiction book and one fiction book.

The first choice is The Invisible Line by Daniel Sharfstein. This is the second book that I reviewed here on the blog. The author looks at three families who toed the color line throughout history. Sometimes they are perceived as black and sometimes they pass themselves off as white. It is an interesting look at how we construct racial identity. The book is hardcover and in great condition.

The second option is The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. This is a novel I read for my modern lit course during my senior year of college. It's about a man who has a car crash. When he wakes up from a coma, his sister has come to care for him. He believes that the woman at his bedside is an impostor. This novel won the National Book Award and was a Pulitzer finalist. My copy is in great condition, if you can look past the collegiate bookstore stickers affixed to it.


Here are the rules, ladies and gents. I am in full Christmas spirit, so leave me a comment and tell me about your favorite Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanza, etc.) tradition. Also leave me your email address because if you don't, I cannot get your address and send you a book. I will use the random number generator to pick a really awesome winner. Please only enter once. You do not have to follow my blog, because Google Friend Connect is going the way of the dinosaurs in a few months. You should, however, come and visit me again.

The giveaway will be open through January the 2nd, when I will return from my lovely holiday bloggy break.

Happy 100th post to me and happy giveaway to you!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wednesdays with David: King Jack and the Dragon

King Jack and the Dragon
By Peter Bently and Helen Oxenbury
Dial August 2011
From the library

The Story: Jack sets off with his best friends Zack and Caspar to make a great fort. King Jack and his knights build a castle out of blankets, sticks, and a cardboard box. Then they are ready to do battle against the dragons and monsters that threaten their least until their mommies and daddies come to take them home.

Mama opines: This was a really sweet story with lovely illustrations. I loved the focus on imagination, playing outside, and friendship. I also liked that Caspar was younger than the other two boys, so it subtly emphasized playing with kids of all ages. 

Thoughts from David: I love this book. I liked the dragons! And the front of the book (the cover)! 
Favorite part: When his mommy and daddy come and he thinks they are a monster!

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Secret Santas Revealed!

I was really excited to take part in the Book Blogger Holiday Swap this year. The concept is simple - you send a book and goodies to someone, and another book blogger sends a gift to you. I would like to introduce you to my Secret Santa and the blogger whose Secret Santa I was this year.


Briana sent me an awesome package. She included two ornaments, Ghiradelli chocolate, peppermint taffy, a homemade book thong, and two books! Hooray! The books were The Maze Runner and Entwined. She blogs over at the Book Pixie. She just got home from college and I'm sure the book reviews will be flowing.

The blogger I sent a gift to is the lovely Steph The Bookworm. I sent a copy of Before I Go To Sleep her way. Make sure to check out her blog - she is reading and reviewing some great books!

Thank you, Brianna and I hope you enjoy your new read, Steph!

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's Monday and I'm breathing a little easier...

Good morning, readers! How are you? How was your weekend? Ours was good, but a little crazy. The husband had a Christmas party with the youth group he leads on Friday night. Saturday was somewhat of a lazy day, but Sunday was a Christmas Worship Service of Music that we were in charge of (no pressure at all). I am happy to report that it went well and I was so happy that my mom could come and accompany my singing in the service. Now that I'm not in charge of anything for a while, I'm not feeling so frenzied. I'm ready to focus on Christmas and being with my family.

Finished this past week:
The Dovekeepers
By Alice Hoffman

Half the Sky:
Turning Oppression into Opportunity
for Women Worldwide
By Nicholas D. Kristof and 
Sheryl WuDunn

Still Listening To:

American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life
and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee
By Karen Abbott

Posts from the Past Week:
Reviews of The Marriage Plot and The Dovekeepers (at the AH Herald)

Reading Now:
The Grief of Others
By Leah Hager Cohen

Coming Up Next:
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
By Mary Roach

Mr. Fox
By Helen Oyeyemi

Also, before you head on to your next bookish blog, check out this post. I'm going to be reading through the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald in 2012, and I would love for you to join me! Let me know what you are reading in the comments. Make sure to check back later in the week - my 100th post is coming up and I'm feeling in a very giving mood... 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Review: The Dovekeepers

The Dovekeepers
By Alice Hoffman
Scribner October 2011

My review is up at the Atlantic Highlands Herald this morning. I really loved this book. Read my thoughts here.

Have an awesome weekend! 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

F. Scott in 2012

Before I started this blog, I toyed with the idea of reading the entire cannon of an author in a year. I couldn't figure out quite who I wanted to read, so I didn't pursue this in 2011. Recently, though, I figured out who I wanted to read, or rather re-read. F Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorite authors and I haven't read some of his works in almost a decade.

So....during the year of 2012, I am going to read it all. I would love for you to join me!

Here is the schedule:

This Side of Paradise
Flappers and Philosophers (stories)
The Beautiful and the Damned
Tales of the Jazz Age (stories)
The Vegetable (play)
All the Sad Young Men (stories)
The Great Gatsby
Tender is the Night
Taps at Reveille (stories)
The Last Tycoon (unfinished)
Save the Last Waltz
Catch Up!

I will be posting on the selection at the end of each month and would love for you to join in the discussion. At the end of each post, I will put a linky up so we can see all of each other's thoughts.  Please leave a comment at the bottom of this post  if you would like to participate. Feel free to grab the picture of the gentlemen himself and put it on your blog. If you have questions, leave them in the comments and I promise to get back to you. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wednesdays with David: Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs:Missing Treasure!

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: Missing Treasure! 
Written by Giles Andreae
Illustrated by Russell Ayto
Margaret K McElderry Books October 2008
From the library

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: Missing Treasure!

The Story: Flinn loves dinosaurs and is excited when Miss Pie takes his class to the museum to see the dinosaur bones. When the guide reveals that pirate treasure has been stolen from the museum, Flinn is on the case with his friends Violet, Pearl, and Tom.They follow the trail through the museum closet and onto a pirate ship. They discover that the treasure was stolen by Gordon Gurglegutts, who was reclaiming the treasure of his grandfather. Unfortunately, he has recently been pirate dinosaurs! The fearless foursome set off to have an adventure and recover the treasure! 

Mama opines: I like so many things about this book and the other books in the series. I'm learning new things about dinosaurs myself (like how to pronounce giganotosaurus). I also like how they are pirates and they fight, but no one seems to really get hurt. I know that little boys like to play fight and read about fighting, but I still want to keep it preschool appropriate. And have I mentioned the awesome illustrations? Flinn is a lot of fun for little boys and their mommies. 

Thoughts from David: Well, I like it because it has dinosaurs. And because Flinn is a good fighter!
Favorite part: When he ties up the dinosaurs! 

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Review: The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot
By Jeffrey Eugenides
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux October 2011
406 pages

Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell are graduating from Brown University. Leonard loves Madeleine. So does Mitchell. Madeleine loves Leonard…she thinks. After graduation, Madeleine and Leonard move to Cape Cod, where Leonard works in a research facility and Madeleine tries to get published. Mitchell sets off to travel abroad, looking to confirm the beliefs he discovered as a religious studies major. This novel follows the three as they graduate from college and attempt to figure out adulthood.

This book was excellent. It lives up to all of the hype. I was somewhat wary as I started this book. I read The Virgin Suicides a few years ago and thought it was fine, but didn’t love it the way some other people did. This book though – this felt like the book of 20 somethings everywhere. Lines like “She had just started living like a grown-up and she’d never felt more vulnerable, frightened, or confused in her life” give word to the post-college experience in a very specific, beautiful way.

I really related to Madeleine as she decides what to do after college and learns that living with someone is very different from dating them. I also enjoyed Mitchell’s journey to find purpose and exactly what he believes. His journey is both divine and very human. While volunteering at Mother Theresa’s hospital, he frequently gets drunk and finds himself falling short of his own expectations.

On the other hand, I had some trouble relating to Leonard. Even in the sections told from his point of view, he is not a particularly likeable fellow. Perhaps this is a success on the part of the author, though, because Leonard suffers from manic depression. Even Leonard doesn’t like himself sometimes. For parts of the book, I found myself wishing that Madeleine would just leave him but, as Eugenides and generations of authors before us remind us, love is rarely simple.

The English major in me geeked out often while reading this book. Reading things like this made me smile knowingly. “Reading a novel after reading semiotic theory was like jogging empty-handed after jogging with hand weights. After getting out of Semiotics 211, Madeleine fled to the Rockefeller Library, down to B Level, where the stacks exuded a vivifying smell of mold, and grabbed something – anything, The House of Mirth, Daniel Deronda – to restore herself to sanity. How wonderful it was when one sentence followed logically from the sentence before! What exquisite guilt she felt, wickedly enjoying narrative! Madeleine felt safe with a nineteenth-century novel. There were going to be people in it. Something was going to happen to them in a place resembling the world.”

One of my favorite things about The Marriage Plot was remembering when it was set. When one of the characters would casually refer to the year (they graduate in 1982), it always took me aback for a moment. Although this book is set a few years before I was born, it feels as if it could be about people who graduated in my class at college. Eugenides has managed to create a really timeless feel in the novel.

At its heart, this is a great story about figuring out your life in your twenties – who you date, where you live, what you believe. With a more discerning eye, this is an examination of how we dealt with love and marriage in the past and in the present. Madeleine ‘s thesis on the themes of marriage and love in the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries in no way prepares her for real life romance, love, and marriage. Her journey, and those of Mitchell and Leonard, will resonate with you for a long time. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

It's Monday - Does this weather make anyone else tired?

Let's see, what shall I tell you, lovely people who stop by my blog? Once again, I failed to post a review on Friday (guilty face). I blame it squarely on Christmas, people. I ordered Christmas cards on Thursday night and it is a lot of work deciding which cute picture of your kid to send to people. So after working all day Friday, I came home, did the dinner thing, put the little guy to bed, and promptly passed out on the sofa. The kind of passing out where your husband rouses you after midnight and suggests that you sleepily stumble up to your bed. 

There was also napping on Saturday. I am going to chalk this phenomenon up to the cold weather, dark evenings, and allergies...yup, I'm the only person who suffers from winter allergies. Go figure.

I feel like I'm having a sort of slow reading period, but I realize that is not particularly true. I'm just reading books with 500 pages or more, which take a while.

Still here? Awesome. I'm putting together a sort of read-a-long thing for F Scott Fitzgerald for next year. I've never done anything like this before, but I'm excited. Check back on Thursday for details? Thanks! 

Now about those books...

Read This Week:
The Marriage Plot
By Jeffery Eugenides

Currently Reading:

The Dovekeepers
By Alice Hoffman

Half the Sky:Turning Oppression into
Opportunity For Women Worldwide
By Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
(Long story short - audiobook had
 to go back, picked up paperback)

Listening To:

American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life
and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee
By Karen Abbott

Up Next:
The Grief of Others
By Leah Hager Cohen

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
By Mary Roach

Alright, that's enough from me. What are you reading this week? Let me know in the comments please! 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review: The Matisse Stories

The Matisse Stories
By A.S. Byatt
Vintage April 1996
134 pages

I read one of these stories in a seminar during my senior year of college. The story really stuck with me and I made a note on one of the million scraps of paper that float around to one day pick up this book. Now that I am trying to journey on through my books-to-read list (let’s just say it’s a Word document with more than 20 pages and fewer than 40…), I got this book from the library. After picking it up, I realized that several other Byatt books are on my list, but this is the first one I have read!

Because this book has just three short stories, I think we can give each of them some attention. Each one references or centers on a piece by the artist Henri Matisse.

The first is entitled “Medusa’s Ankles.” Susannah is a middle aged translator who picks Lucian’s hairdressing shop because of the Matisse painting she sees through the window. Her time in the salon causes her to reflect on aging and her relationship with her husband.

“She remembered, not as a girl, as a young woman under all that chestnut fall, looking at her skin, and wondering how it could grow into the crepe, the sag, the opulent soft bags. This was her face, she had thought then. And this, too, now, she wanted to accept for her face, trained in a respect for precisions, and she could not. What had left this greying skin, these flakes, these fragile stretches with no elasticity, was her, was her life, was herself.”

The second story is “Art Work.” Debbie is a former artist who now works as a design editor for a woman’s magazine so that her husband can continue to create his art. Their life is held together by the presence of Mrs. Brown, their eccentric housekeeper. The constant fighting between Debbie’s husband Robin and Mrs. Brown threatens to unravel the tenuous grip that Debbie has on balancing career and family.

“She hated Robin because he never once mentioned the unmade wood-engravings. It is possible to feel love and hate quiet quietly, side by side, if one is a self-contained person. Debbie continued to love Robin, whilst hating him because of the woodcuts, because of the extent of his absences of interest in how she managed the house, the children, the money, her profession, his needs and wants, and because of his resolute attempts to unsettle, humiliate, or drive away Mrs Brown, without whom all Debbie’s balancing acts would clatter and fall in wounding disarray.”

The final story in the book is “The Chinese Lobster.” This is the story I read for my class. Dr. Gerda Himmelblau, the dean of women students, is meeting a professor at a Chinese restaurant. Although it is a favorite restaurant of hers, the reason for their meeting is not cheerful. A troubled student has lodged a complaint against the professor claiming that he sexually harassed her. The discussion is further complicated by the pasts of both the professor and the dean.

A.S. Byatt writes really good stories. The characters are rich and interesting and her descriptions are beautiful. My only complaint is with the second story – it’s a tad long. I found myself skimming some of said description, although I suppose a plethora of detail is to be expected in a house full of artists.

After reading this book, I remembered how much I enjoy reading short stories. You can read them quickly, sit with them for a bit and feel the accomplishment of finishing a book amidst trudging through gigantic novels. Byatt is a beautiful writer and I look forward to reading her novels (gigantic though they might be). 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wednesdays with David: Are You Going to Be Good?

Are You Going To Be Good?
By Cari Best
Pictures by G. Brian Karas
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux August 2005
From the library

The Story: Robert is excited that he gets to stay up past pajama time. Tonight is Great-Gran Sadie's one hundredth birthday and he is invited to the party along with his mom, dad, and big sister. Robert is disappointed though. The food is yucky, everyone is old and boring, and every single person keeps telling him "don't do that!" Will a surprise from Great-Gran Sadie save the night for Robert?

Mama opines: Do you have a smallish person in your possession? Do you feel like all you ever say is "don't do that!" (Not so much because you care, but because they really can't spill the pasta all over the grocery store floor or break all of the collectibles that grandma has all over her house...) We loved this book. Poor Robert tries so hard to be good, but it is hard when you are little and there are a lot of rules. I also loved Great-Gran Sadie because she reminds me of my Grammy (we refer to her as the foxy minx, so you get the idea that Grandma Sadie is one cool lady). 

Thoughts from David: It's nice and funny when he bumps into people. I love when they blow out the candles on the birthday cake. 

What is your favorite part? When he is with Grandma Sadie! 

And now because David just had a birthday and this is my blog and I can do things like this, I present to you David four years ago and David now. Happy Reading, friends! 



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
By Michael Chabon
Picador August 2000
636 Pages

Sammy Clay is cautious when his cousin from Prague, Joe Kavalier moves into the New York City apartment he shares with his mother. Before long, he discovers that they are a talented team in the new world of comic books –Sammy comes up with the stories and Joe is an amazing artist. As Joe focuses all of his efforts on getting his family safely out of Nazi-invaded Europe, the boys find themselves at the height of the comic book world as they invent beloved characters like The Escapist and Luna Moth.

Mr. Chabon is an immensely talented writer.  Reading one of his books always feels like reading an engrossing classic. This novel is extremely dense, chock-full of fascinating characters, engaging locales, and a great story.  The two cousins are very different, but both are compelling.

“Over the years, reminiscing for friends or journalists or, still later, the reverent editors of fan magazines, Sammy would devise and relate all manner of origin stories, fanciful and mundane and often conflicting, but it was out of a conjunction of desire, the buried memory of his father, and the chance illumination of a row-house window, that the Escapist was born. As he watched Joe stand, blazing, on the fire escape, Sammy felt an ache in his chest that turned out to be, as so often occurs where memory and desire conjoin with a transient effect of weather, the pang of creation. The desire he felt, watching Joe, was unquestionably physical, but in the sense that Sammy wanted to inhabit the body of his cousin, not possess it. It was, in part, a longing – common enough among the inventors of heroes – to be someone else; to be more than the result of two hundred regimens and scenarios and self-improvement campaigns that always ran afoul of his perennial inability to locate an actual self to be improved. Joe Kavalier had an air of competence, of faith in his own abilities, that Sammy, by means of constant effort over the whole of his life, had finally only learned how to fake.”

There is a great mix of true and invented history here. We visit with great authors and artists, and New York City of the 1940s is so detailed that it almost becomes a character itself through Joe and Sammy’s eyes.  When I read Chabon’s work, I can always tell that he has done an immense amount of research, even when he cheekily writes, “I have tried to respect history and geography wherever doing so served my purposes as a novelist, but wherever it did not I have, cheerfully or with regret, ignored them.”

Despite the 600 plus pages, this book maintains the readers’ interest for the most part. It starts to lag towards the end when one of the characters enlists in the army and ends up somewhere far, far away from New York City.  This section of the book just doesn’t really seem to fit into the rest of the story. While the segment is entertaining, it didn’t add anything to the story arc as a whole.

This is a serious book. It’s a novel to savor, not one to breeze through. That being said, this is a wonderful book with excellent writing and characters who you will love through all of their failings and triumphs. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

It's Monday and the little man is 4!

Good morning, intrepid bibliophiles! How was your weekend? Ours was busy and good. My bestest bud since high school came to visit on Thursday night. That's why there was no post on Friday. Sorry friends! I was quite busy having much needed time with my friend. She lives all the way in Maryland. This is unacceptable. She should move back to NJ pronto.

Then on Sunday, it was David's birthday! After church, there was lots of cleaning and cooking for the party. We have large families on both sides, so we had a good crowd.  I can't believe the little guy is four! (Many unoriginal yet poignant thoughts about the passing of time and children growing up...)

Now about those books....

Read This Week:

The Matisse Stories
By A.S. Byatt

Currently Reading:

The Marriage Plot
By Jeffrey Eugenides

Up Next:

The Dovekeepers
By Alice Hoffman

The Grief of Others
By Leah Hager Cohen

On the schedule for tomorrow? My review of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. What are you reading this week? Let me know in the comments. Thanks, friends, and have a wonderful day!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

November Wrapup

Christmas music? Check. Christmas tree up? Check. Apple Cider and festive coffee creamer in the fridge? Check. December is here, ladies and gents. But before we drink all of the eggnog, let's look back fondly at November, shall we?

Books Reviewed: 8

Books Reviewed with David: 3

Lindsey's Favorite of the Month: The Night Circus

David's Favorite of the Month: Wednesday is Spaghetti Day

So what was your favorite November read? What are you looking forward to reading in December? Let me know in the comments!