Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: This Side of Paradise

This Side of Paradise
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
Simon and Schuster 1920
260 pages
From the library

This Side of Paradise is the first published piece of writing by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was in such a hurry to get something published before he left for the war that he literally combined several pieces of writing he had already completed. And of course Fitzgerald wasn’t stymied by issues like difference in genre. He just slapped together part of a play, some short stories, several poems, and random ruminations. It is a great testimony to his writing that somehow, with lots of loving prodding from his editors, it works.

This Side of Paradise is the story of Amory Blaine. Amory is born into privilege and an unusual relationship with his mother Beatrice. The reader follows him through his childhood, his years at prep school and college, his time at war (briefly), and his inevitable arrival at adulthood. Amory is a thinly veiled representation of Fitzgerald himself, complete with a Princeton education.

Amory…well, he is kind of a jerk. He is handsome and smart and he knows it. But he does go through change during the novel. I can see how many people compare him to the infamous Holden Caulfield. However, I hate Holden and I like Amory. Holden is stuck-up and whiny. Amory is just stuck-up. And he is more interesting!

The writing has this dreamlike quality that is classic Fitzgerald brilliance. When you are sleeping deeply, you have to find out what is going to happen next in your dream but there is a little bit of foggy distance. Reading this book was like enjoying a good dream. There are also beautiful moments of insight about love, relationships, and growing up.

This is certainly not a perfect novel. Since I will be reading the F Scott canon this year, I expect to see his skill as a writer increase as he continues to write. There are several spots in this book where I found myself wondering what was going on. I love ellipses as much as the next writer, maybe more, but Fitzgerald gets downright abusive with them. The ending is really bizarre as well. {SPOILER!} After all we have been through with Amory, we are left with no idea of what he will be doing next. We leave him back at Princeton after a car ride with two strangers in which Amory pontificates about socialism.

However, the novel does end with a brilliant quote - “I know myself, but that is all –“. This is indicative of everything that happens in this novel. Amory begins life defined by his mother, then by his education, then by his friends and lovers. By the end of the novel, he is completely alone in the world. He has deserted the philosophies and authors who helped him through his earlier years. Amory only has himself to see him through whatever the future brings. 

Some favorite quotes:

“Amory wondered how people could fail to notice that he was a boy marked for glory, and when faces of the throng turned towards him and ambiguous eyes stared into his, he assumed the most romantic of expressions and walked on the air cushions that lie on the asphalts of fourteen.”

“It was always the becoming he dreamed of, never the being. This too was quite characteristic of Amory.”

“Yes,” he agreed, “you’re right. I wouldn’t have liked it. Still it’s hard to be made a cynic at twenty.”
“I was born one,” Amory murmured. “I’m a cynical idealist –“ He paused and wondered if that meant anything.”

“Well,” said Amory, “I simply state that I’m a product of a versatile mind in a restless generation – with every reason to throw my mind and pen in with the radicals. Even if, deep in my heart, I thought we were all blind atoms in a world as limited as a stroke of a pendulum, I and my sort would struggle against tradition; try, at least, to displace old cants with new ones. I’ve thought I was right about life at various times, but faith is difficult. One thing I know. If living isn’t a seeking for the grail it may be a damned amusing game.”

Did you read This Side of Paradise this month? If you did, leave me a comment and  a link to your review. If a lot of people join in, I will see about putting up a Linky for next month. I've never done it before, but for F. Scott I would try!
In February, I will be reading Flappers and Philosophers, which is a short story collection. If, like me, you have the giant book of F Scott Fitzgerald short stories, click here to see which ones are up for this month. Please join me! 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

It's Monday and January is almost over...

Hello from the lovely land of New Jersey! How is everyone doing? Yesterday was busy with lots of churchy things (why do they let me play the piano when the music guy is away?) and spending time with family. Today we are hunkering down and getting back to work - a trip to the grocery store, laundry, and starting a new freelance project. Isn't being a grownup fun? 

Read This Week:

By Charles Frazier

Camp Nine
By Vivienne Schiffer

Finishing up (probably as you read this):

This Side of Paradise
By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Posts from this Week:
It's Monday
Wednesdays with David
Reviews of Catching Fire and Nightwoods
Change of Plans

Coming Up:

David Copperfield
By Charles Dickens
(Expect a review for this one by...oh, the end of the year)

The Flame Alphabet
By Ben Marcus

Happy Reading, dudes and dudettes!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Change of Plans

Guys, I've got nothing.

I was going to direct you to my review of Camp Nine over at the Atlantic Highlands Herald. But a girl just can't blame an editor for not posting an article when I submitted it around midnight last night.

So what shall I tell you? I'm reading This Side of Paradise for F Scott in 2012. I shall post on Tuesday. It's not too late to join in, if you wish! I also have the gigantic and somewhat intimidating David Copperfield staring back at me from the bookshelf. I have to confess that I've only read two Dickens novels...everyone loves A Christmas Carol but I did not like Great Expectations one little bit. My expectations were not met at all. More bad jokes about expectations...So I have some nerves about this endeavor, but I should really just jump in. After all, the library does not let you keep books forever (as my fines will attest to).

I should also confess that I have been reading less than usual this week. I would like to blame it squarely on these people:

The episodes are just so short. It's easy to rationalize just one more...until you are halfway through a season and it's after midnight. Anyone else want to confess about their addiction? 

On a personal note, the hubby returns from a trip to Florida tonight. Someone is super excited, but I won't tell you who. Ok, fine, stop hounding me! It's me! Have an excellent weekend, people. Kiss a baby. Hug your grandma. Pick up the phone and finally call your best friend back...oh wait, that's what I have to do.

See you all on Monday!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: Nightwoods

By Charles Frazier
Random House September 2011
272 pages
From the library

Luce appreciated her life as a recluse in the Appalachian mountains. When her sister Lily is murdered, Luce must care for her twin children. Dolores and Frank are not normal children. Luce is convinced their silence is a part of the trauma they suffered from witnessing their mother’s death. Two men also come into Luce’s solitary life. Stubblefield, the grandson of the man who owned Luce’s lodge, remembers Luce from years ago. His patient insistence on being a part of the fractured family slowly breaks through Luce’s defenses.  Bud is the children’s father and perhaps his wife's murderer. He is determined to find the money he is convinced is with the twins and ensure they cannot implicate him. 

Nightwoods is an intense story that starts off slowly, but speeds by once it really gets going. The first hundred pages or so really immerse you in the setting. You feel the stillness of the mountains, the grace of solitude and the indifference of the local residents. Frazier beautifully paints the beauty of nature that Luce so appreciates. But this part is too long. Once he had established the characters and setting, I was ready to get into the nitty gritty of the story – what would Bud do to Luce and the kids to get back the money? Unfortunately, it takes too long for the action to really begin and the readers are left in a sort of limbo for many more pages than necessary.

That being said, I’m glad I stuck with it. Once the action began, it was fast and powerful. I read the last sixty pages in one sitting, desperate to find out what happened to characters I had really come to care about. The characters are subtle and understated and unusual. They are most endearing in their interactions with each other and I was struck, as a parent by Luce’s patience with the children and Stubblefield’s patience with her.

Luce brilliantly explains the tension between the big moments of a new relationship and the day-to-day moments with small children, especially when they need extra care.“The Gulf and James Brown would, no doubt, be splendid and powerful. Climactic experiences. And staying home with Dolores and Frank would be frustrating and confining and inconclusive. To little effect beyond the awful dailyness of life. The dismal failures and rare moment of minor victory. And it wasn’t even as if love factored much. Luce didn’t expect to love the children, and she sure didn’t expect them to love her…Whatever feeling Luce was starting to have toward Dolores and Frank, she hadn’t yet figured out the name for. But it resided in the same family as respect.”

Nightwoods is partly a thriller and partly a contemplative look at a nontraditional family. While the meandering through the woods (literally and figuratively) is a little bit long, there are so many nice moments between the characters and the suspense is tangible each time darkness settles over the mountains. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wednesdays with David: Llama Llama Red Pajama

Llama Llama Red Pajama
By Anna Dewdney 
Viking Juvenile May 2005
From our well-loved bookshelves

The Story: Llama Llama's mama puts him to bed and heads back downstairs to do mama stuff like washing dishes and returning phone calls. As Llama Llama sits in the dark, he wonders what his mama is doing and if she will ever come back. 

Mama opines: This has been a favorite around here for a long time. Llama Llama is the perfect preschooler in llama form. His fears, desires and temper tantrums are going to resonate with anyone who has a little person in their house. I love, love, love, the way that Mamma Llama deals with his bedtime fears in this book. She tells him that although she has other things to do, she is always nearby if he needs his mama. This is a sweet book that mommies and daddies will love reading before bedtime to assuage all of those bedtime fears. 

Thoughts from David: I like all of the pages. I really like Llama llama. 
Favorite part: The kisses from mama llama. 

P.S. - A word to the wise: this is what happens when you let your four year old play downstairs for a little while, so you can sleep just a few more minutes. He eats chocolate cake for breakfast.

Happy Reading, sugar-fueled kiddos and tired parents!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review: Catching Fire

Catching Fire
By Suzanne Collins
Scholastic Press September 2009
391 pages
From the library

Katniss and Peeta have survived the Hunger Games, the first pair to make it out of the arena alive. They head home to District 12 where they will live in security until they mentor the next round of tributes. But their actions in the games have fanned the flames of rebellion and President Snow cannot allow it to continue. For this special anniversary of the games, new rules are enacted. Instead of picking a random tribute, each district must send a male and female victor from previous games. Katniss and Peeta are sent back into the arena – can they survive a second time?

I enjoyed Catching Fire, but found myself wanting more. Katniss seemed…sort of oblivious in this book. She acts much more like an emotional teen in Catching Fire than she did in The Hunger Games. She is determined that she will protect Peeta in the game, but actually does very little to protect either Peeta or herself. They are mostly protected by other people. And the ending? I find it very hard to believe that someone as intelligent and observant as Katniss didn’t figure out what was going on.

I did like the way Collins built up some of the minor characters in this book, like Cinna and Haymitch. I also enjoyed the way the games were a bit more involved this time. In the previous game, it was mostly the other contestants that they had to defeat. In this version, they have to defeat the game itself. But because of the game’s dangers, the plot between the tributes was less interesting since they worked together. This led to a lot of time where the characters are sitting around and not too much is happening.

The writing in both this book and its predecessor seem sloppy in places – inconsistent characters and choices by the author that don’t seem to make sense. I found myself thinking that the publishers were so excited that they had found an amazing story that they rushed it to publication. It shows in some places. But this is a compelling story. I haven’t heard of a person who found this series easy to put down. I am myself very guilty of the 1 a.m. finish. So I am excited to read the third book and see how this all ends. Catching Fire is a strong follow-up to The Hunger Games with an awesome cliffhanger ending. 

You can see my review of The Hunger Games here. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

It's Monday again...who let that happen?


Hey guys and girls! How is everybody? Did you have a good week? I had one of those weeks where you are constantly trying to catch up and failing miserably. I have great hope for this week though.

We went to a Christmas in December dinner on Saturday night, which was fun. I spent a lot of Sunday sleeping. Stomach bugs are the absolute worst. Now I am preparing for a few days without the hubby, since he's jetting off to Florida (stinker!).

Now, about those books...I couldn't help it. I wasn't going to read the last two Hunger Games books back to back. I was going to read Catching Fire, then read some other books and then read Mockingjay. But then the other book I was reading was sort of slow, and I wasn't feeling so great, and Mockingjay was just staring at me from the shelf. What can you do? 

Read This Week:

Catching Fire
By Suzanne Collins

By Suzanne Collins

Reading Now:

By Charles Frazier

Posts from This Week:
It's Monday
Wednesdays with David
Reviews of The World We Found, Mighty Be Our Powers, and Mr. Fox

Coming Up Next:

Camp Nine
By Vivienne Schiffer

This Side of Paradise
By F Scott Fitzgerald

So tell me....watcha reading? Leave me comments? Please? Have an amazing week!

P.S. - Do you guys know Tanya Patrice? I was featured on her blog earlier this month as a part of her excellent Bloggers Recommend Series. Check it out!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Review: Mighty Be Our Powers

Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War
By Leymah Gbowee with Carol Mithers 
Beast Books September 2011
230 pages
From the library 

Leymah Gbowee graduates from high school with dreams of going to medical school and becoming a doctor. But the Liberian war is on the horizon and her life, and those of her family and neighbors, will be shattered in unimaginable ways. Years later, Leymah is looking for a way to provide for her children in a country in ruins. She starts working for a church program that reaches out to refugees. She realizes the power of a group of women coming together and starts her own organization – Liberian Mass Action for Peace. She convened groups of women, Muslims and Christians, to pray for peace for their war-torn nation. They peacefully protested as a sea of mothers and sisters in white against the brutal leaders whose quest for power was destroying the people of Liberia. This is the story of Leymah’s experience in the war and her efforts to bring peace to her country.

“A whole generation of young men had no idea who they were without a gun in their hands. Several generations of women were widowed, had been raped, seen their daughters and mothers raped, and their children kill and be killed. Neighbors had turned against neighbors; young people had lost hope, and old people, everything they’d painstakingly earned. To a person, we were traumatized. We had survived the war, but now we had to remember how to live. Peace isn’t a movement – it’s a very long process.”

This slim book is so many things. It is the story of a brave mother who escaped an abusive relationship and worked to provide a better future for her babies and all of the babies of her country. It is the story of a young woman finding her voice, finding her passion and her place in the world. It is a behind the scenes look at the birth and day to day operations of a movement. It is the story of an incredible group of women who stood up against armies with guns to say “enough.” They would not live in fear any longer, waiting to be raped, or killed, or driven from their homes yet again.

Gbowee’s voice is brutally honest. She admits the failures that she made within her organization and with her children when she picked the movement over them. She talks about the difficulties she had as a leader – the men who didn’t take her seriously and the women within the movement who turned on her. She recognizes her hypocrisy in leading a group of women in prayer while sleeping with a married man.

This was an intriguing book, but I think it may have been marketed incorrectly. Even the title is misleading. Sisterhood and prayer were vital in their campaign to end the war. Sex was less so, unless it is meant to refer to gender. They briefly mention a sex strike, but it’s such a tiny incident and Gbowee has no actual participation in it. While Gbowee explains the crisis sufficiently for the uninformed reader, this is not an in depth analysis of the Liberian war. I did learn about the country and its struggles, but I think I could get an additional book or two to really get a full picture.

Leymah Gbowee was the very deserving recipient of the Noble Peace Prize in 2011. When her country was falling apart around her, she found the courage to unite the women of Liberia and fight for peace. Her candid and compelling story will remind you that one person can make a huge difference in the world.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review: Mr. Fox

Mr. Fox
By Helen Oyeyemi
Riverhead September 2011
324 pages 
From the library

St. John Fox is an acclaimed novelist who seems to have difficulty keeping his heroines alive at the end of his books. Mary Foxe is his muse, at least she is until she comes to life. She objects to his treatment of women in his writing. The two start a compelling game of story and words where they meet in different times and places. The battle is in good fun (mostly) until Fox’s wife Daphne enters into the game. How can Mr. Fox love the woman he is married to and the woman in his mind?

This book is different than anything I have read before and I loved it. I didn’t always understand what was happening, but I was happy to be invited for the ride. Instead of being frustrated by my lack of understanding, I think of it instead as one of those novels that you can go back to time and again to find new insights.

The novel seems to start off traditionally, until we break into the stories created by Fox and Mary. Each one is so engaging that I wished it was an entire novel itself. I don’t want to say that I was in a reading slump because that is not quite true. What is true is that this untraditional format reignited my love for stories. Oyeyemi is an incredibly gifted writer. She manages to balance so many variations of Mary and St. John and so many different styles of writing. Each one is nuanced and beautiful. I’m so happy I discovered this writer.

I love the little love notes that Oyeyemi sends to writers and readers. A character writes a love letter all over a bed’s sheets and pillows. Mary Foxe rejoices over the understanding relationship between a writer and their typewriter.  In another story, she finds comfort in fairy tales. “Miss Foxe’s other passion was fairy tales. She loved the transformations in them. Everybody was in disguise, or on their way to becoming something else. And all was overcome by the end. Love could not prevail if the order of the tale didn’t wish it, and neither could hatred, nor grief, nor cunning. If you were the first of three siblings, then you were going to make a big mistake, and that was that. If you were the third sibling, you couldn’t fail. Here is the truth about everything , Miss Foxe would think…”

Mr. Fox is not your traditional novel. It is an examination of the people and situations that could be. The fun part is that the reader is never 100% sure what is real and what is story. Make sure you pick up this beautiful book. I know the year is young, but I think this might be a strong contender for one of my favorites of the year. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wednesdays with David: Don't Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus!

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
By Mo Willems
Hyperion Press March 2003
From the library

The Story: The bus driver has to leave the book for just a moment and asks you to watch his bus. But under no circumstances are you to let the pigeon drive the bus. As soon as the bus driver leaves, the pigeon gets to work begging, pleading with, and wheedling the reader to please let him drive the bus! 

Mama opines: I hear about this book and this author all the time, but David and I had never read anything by Willems. It was a fun read - David thought it was really funny to tell the pigeon "No!" every time he tried to convince us that he could drive the bus. 

Thoughts from David: I like it because he doesn't get to drive the bus! He really really wants to...he wants to drive the bus for his whole life! 
Favorite part: The end! The pigeon is going to drive the big truck instead. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review: The World We Found

The World We Found
By Thrity Umrigar
Harper January 2012
ARC Provided by Harper Collins

Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta were the best of friends during college. They studied together, laughed together, and protested together in 1970s India. Time and circumstance have pulled the friends apart, but when Armaiti learns that she has a brain tumor she knows that there is no one she needs more than her three friends. A visit will not be so simple though. In addition to the literal ocean between the women in India and Armaiti in the United States, money and religion have changed the lives of these once inseparable friends. The women will have to deal with secrets from the past before they can be there for each other in the present.

This is the first novel I have read by Thrity Umrigar. The characters are beautifully drawn – even secondary characters are incredibly nuanced. I loved that none of the characters was a villain. Instead, each character makes choices that hurt their relationships with their friends and with their loved ones. Umrigar also does an excellent job of subtly invoking place and teaching readers the Indian history that has shaped the characters. Through the story, we learn of the political discord between those who have money and those who do not, as well as the prejudice that Muslims and Hindus hold against each other.

This book explores the schism between the life you anticipate and the one you experience. In college, the women are optimistic about their futures. In the present, life is very different than their expectations. Relationships are hidden, friendships seem lost, and lives are lived in secret.

I really enjoyed reading The World We Found. The story ended and I found myself wishing there were more pages, more time to spend with these four fascinating women. This novel is for anyone who believes that friendship can last forever, regardless of place or circumstance.

Interest piqued? Head over to S. Krishna’s Books, where a great discussion of the novel is underway.

To the guys and gals of the FTC: I received this ARC from Harper Collins. The opinions expressed here are my own. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

It's Monday and it is chilly around here!

How was your week? Mine was busy, but good. I talked to my sister in Kenya via Skype (it explains my new Kenyan readership hmmm?), went to a ladies church luncheon, and spent a lot of time snuggling under blankets reading. Winter weather is awesome for reading, am I right?
I was also really excited to discover that Blogger finally lets you respond to individual comments. Hooray! Now I can reply to all of the insightful, witty comments you leave around this here blog. 

Read This Week:

Mr. Fox
By Helen Oyeyemi

Mighty Be Our Powers
By Leymah Growee

Posts from This Week:

Coming Up Next:

By Charles Frazier

Catching Fire
By Suzanne Collins

What are you reading this week? Classics or chick lit? Dan Brown or Charles Dickens? Let me know in the comments - my TBR list is only 30 something pages long...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
By Mary Roach
W. W. Norton and Company April 2003
303 pages
From the lovely local library

Mary Roach set off on an investigation to find out about alternate roles for human bodies. She interviewed scientists and went to research facilities to find out how cadavers were used in the past, present, and how they may be used in the future. Readers learn about the answers gained from car crash tests and crashed airplanes. We find out about the bizarre “medicines” that were crafted from body parts in early centuries. Roach grapples with what she wants done with her own body, and considers alternate practices, such as water reduction (where the body is reduced to about 2% of its former weight) and human compost.

So this book seems like a strange choice. It can be a conversation stopper to tell people you are reading a book about dead bodies. But I’ve never been a squeamish person, and I had no cause for worry. While this book is very informative, it is not gratuitous. I think if you can handle the standard anatomy and physiology class, you should be all set.

Ms. Roach approaches the subject with both a sense of respect and a very large sense of humor. She writes in the forward about her own experience with losing her mother and remarks that, “This book is not about death as in dying. Death, as in dying, is sad and profound. There is nothing funny about losing someone you love, or about being the person about to be lost. This book is about the already dead, the anonymous, the behind-the-scenes dead.” This respect is carried throughout, regardless of the bizarre situations in which Roach encounters the deceased.

The humor in these situations comes out of our bizarre cultural willingness to deem some things as acceptable and others as not. “Off-putting as cadaveric medicine may be, it is – like cultural differences in cuisine – mainly a matter of what you’re accustomed to. Treating rheumatism with bone marrow or scrofula with sweat is scarcely more radical or ghoulish than treating, say, dwarfism with human growth hormone. We see nothing distasteful in injections of human blood, yet the thought of soaking in it makes us cringe. I’m not advocating a return to medicinal earwax, but a little calm is in order.”

If you want to read a non-fiction book that will teach you new things and make you laugh out loud, Ms. Roach is your go-to writer. Reading Stiff may make you reconsider what you want to do with your own body…or it could just make that weird guy on the train move a little farther away from you. You are parading around with a book about dead bodies, after all. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
By Suzanne Collins
Scholastic Press September 2008
384 pages
From the library
So, being the last person in the known universe to read these books, I shall not pontificate for long. I imagine you know all the things to be known. In short, Katniss Everdeen volunteers in her sister’s place to participate in the brutal Hunger Games, a sort of postmodern take on Roman arena fighting a la gladiator. The ‘gladiators’ are kids between 12 and 18 who are randomly selected from their 12 districts to fight to the death. Only one will survive the games. Katniss does not have the strength of training of some of her competitors, but she does have the experience of years of hunting with a bow and arrow. She also has an alliance with the boy chosen from her district, Peeta…or does she?

So you might know by now that I have an aversion to things that are well-loved by the masses. Harry Potter? Read them just last year. Twilight? Just no. The first was dreadful and I shall not subject myself to the stuff that passes for writing in those books. So when I decided to take a gander at The Hunger Games, I was wary. I am pleased to announce that it was an excellent choice. So excellent that I finished the first and immediately got in the computer queue for the second one.

This is YA literature I can handle. The characters are believable and don’t make me want to rip my eyes out with a fork. While there was not a ton of world building in the first book, I think Suzanne Collins will take care of this in the later books, which will perhaps take place somewhere other than the games and District 12? (I don’t know.) The story is really compelling. I holed up in my comfy chair and polished this off in a day. My only qualm is that I wish that Scholastic had given it one more read-through or maybe one more editor. There were several instances where I stopped in my tracks because a word was used incorrectly or there was a moment that did not fit with the character.

While this story could be called a love triangle at its core, that is an oversimplification. This is a situational love story. Katniss and her best friend Gale never pursue romance in their hometown, because they are too busy making sure that their families survive. When the games are over (SPOILER), and Katniss and Peeta are on their way home, Katniss is struck with the sudden realization that she isn’t sure how she feels about her fellow competitor in light of their acting like young lovers throughout the game. I liked that she genuinely does not know. That struck me as very realistic – in the face of the horrors the pair have just faced, they still don’t know how to interact with members of the opposite sex.

I read one review where a woman decried parents and librarians for letting kids read such a violent book. I have to admit that I didn’t really think about it while I read it. It’s certainly appropriate for me - I am an old lady in my mid-twenties. But I will say that there is no sex in the book, and violence is something that permeates our culture. If you child regularly watches the evening news with you, they will probably see some similar things (although not in an arena). I’m all for parents knowing what their kid are reading, so if my little guy wants to read this in a decade, he can…and then we can discuss the violence and the fact that in this novel, society lets it happen.Then there are big questions of government control, where faceless officials can force you to offer up your children as tributes. Then the entire country will watch their inevitable death on TV, with no seeming protest to be found. This is what we call talking about issues with your kids, people! 

So in conclusion, The Hunger Games is awesome. I’m off to read the second book. Who wants to go see the movie with me? 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wednesdays with David: Cookiebot!: A Harry and Horsie Adventure

A Harry and Horsie Adventure
By Katie Van Camp and Lincoln Agnew
Balzer + Bray May 2011
From our lovely local library 

The Story: Harry and his beloved Horsie have been hard at work building a block tower of epic proportions. This, of course, calls for a snack. But today the friends don't want just any snack. They want cookies. For some strange reason, Mom has placed the cookie jar out of reach. The solution is simple. Build a giant robot that can procure all of the cookies needed to make little tummies happy. Until...Harry and Horsie lose control of the Cookiebot who goes on a cookie-snatching rampage!

Mama opines: This is our first experience with Harry and Horsie. We have regrettably not read the earlier book Harry and Horsie (but it looks like they go to outer space, so you know we are all over that!) David loves robots - Wall E is one of his favorite books/movies, so when I saw this on the library shelf, I knew it would be a winner. The story is fun and sweet and the illustrations are amazing - big, bold, comic book style graphics in attention-grabbing primary colors. Mama gives this one two thumbs up. 

Thoughts from David: I like it because he is building it and because they call it the Cookiebot! I like that he turns him on and when he got one (cookie) for the horsie, suddenly he steals all the cookies and dumps them in his mouth!
Favorite part: When the robot crashes! 

As always, happy reading from the little boy and his mama!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: Surfacing

By Margaret Atwood
Anchor March 1998, Original 1972
208 pages
From personal library 

I must say from the beginning that I think Margaret Atwood is a genius. The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin were excellent. I am trying to complete my Atwood collection and received this one for Christmas. (Thanks sis!) Unfortunately, this was not my favorite of her novels.

Surfacing follows an unnamed female narrator as she heads back home into the forest of Quebec. Her father has gone missing and she must find out if he is still alive. She is accompanied on this trip by her boyfriend and by another couple. 

This is a strange book and not a good entry point if you are picking up your first Atwood. This is a deeply psychological novel chronicling the descent of a young woman into madness. She is far removed from other people, at times seeming like a conspiracy theorist, convinced that the American tourists and even her friends are out to get her. The themes here are strong - what it means to be a woman, the destruction of nature by the rise of the city and technology. 

“They know everything about each other, I thought, that’s why they’re so sad; but Anna was more than sad, she was desperate, her body her only weapon and she was fighting for her life, he was her life, her life was the fight: she was fighting him because if she ever surrendered the balance of power would be broken and he would go elsewhere. To continue the war.”

The unfortunate thing is that there is not a lot of story here to hold up the themes. There is a great feeling of stagnation throughout the novel. The characters are often bored and unsure what to do since they are isolated, essentially stranded in the narrator's childhood home until the boat returns to take them home from the island. This does, however, give Atwood room to render some beautiful description of nature. 

I was also struck by the bitterness of women towards men, as well as society in general. The narrator is so bitter towards everyone - her boyfriend who she doesn't feel as much for as she wishes, the man she really did love, her father, the other man accompanying them on their trip. The vitriol caught me off guard and in some cases, seemed completely unearned. 

Finishing this novel  left me feeling very unsettled and in that respect, I think Atwood succeeded with Surfacing. It's a bizarre read, but one that will linger in your memory for a long time. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

It's Monday and I seem to have a cold

This weekend, I kept Kleenex in business and drank a lot of tea. Yes, ladies and gents, it is cold season again. Fear not, sniffles shall not keep me from reading! 

Finished This Week:
Stiff: The Curious Lives
of Human Cadavers
By Mary Roach

The World We Found
By Thrity Umrigar

Posts from this Week:

Coming Up Next:
Mr. Fox
By Helen Oyeyemi

Mighty Be Our Powers
By Leymah Growee 

And...without further ado, the winner of the very first giveaway at Literary Lindsey is the lovely Sheila from Book Journey! I have sent her an email to let her know the good news - thank you to everyone who entered!

It's not too late if you want to join us in reading F Scott in 2012. The first book is This Side of Paradise and I will be posting my thoughts on January 31.

What are you reading this week? Leave me a comment and let me know? (Comments make me happy.)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
By Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press April 2009
384 pages
From the library

Flavia De Luce is a regular 11 year old girl living in 1950s England, except for the minor fact that she’s sort of a science genius. She concocts chemistry experiments in her attic, particularly poisons and brews that will make the lives of her older sisters quite miserable. When she discovers a dead man in her garden, instead of screaming in horror, she realizes that this is “the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.” Given her suspicion that the dead man is the very person that her father had argued with earlier that evening, Flavia sets out to clear her father’s name and figure out why in the world there was a dead bird with a stamp on its beak on her doorstep.

Flavia is delightful. At eleven, she is brilliant, precocious, and often startled to discover that she is actually still a child. She oscillates between marveling at the complexities of science and using that very science to give her sister a nasty rash (which is only fair because she tied Flavia up and locked her in a closet). While she often acts in a rather adult manner, some of the best moments in the novel are simple childish things like realizing she misses her daddy.

“Here we were, Father and I, shut up in a plain little room, and for the first time in my life having something that might pass for a conversation. We were talking to one another almost like adults; almost like one human being to another; almost like father and daughter. And even though I couldn’t think of anything else to say, I felt myself wanting it to go on and on until the last star blinked out.
I wished I could hug him, but I couldn’t. For some time now I had been aware that there was something in the de Luce character which discouraged any outward show of affection towards one another, any spoken statement of love. It was something in our blood.
And so we sat, Father and I, primly, like two old women at a parish tea. It was not a perfect way to live one’s life, but it would have to do.”

It is so lovely to have a different protagonist in a mystery story besides the wearied, middle-aged detective (extra points for a drinking problem or relationship issues) or a beautiful young female detective who constantly has to prove herself among her male peers. Instead, we get Flavia who is the kind of friend you wish you had as an eleven year old. If I’m being honest, I must confess that I would hang out with her today at the ripe old age of 24. The mystery plotline is good, but Flavia makes this book. The mystery is really a convenient excuse for the reader to see the world through her fascinating eyes. I’m glad I finally got to read this book. I will be picking up the next in the series in short order. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Review: The Grief of Others

The Grief of Others
By Leah  Hager Cohen
Riverhead Hardcover September 2011
384 pages
From the library 

This book looks at the lives of the Ryrie family as they deal with the loss of their baby son and brother from anencephaly.  John wonders how to reconnect with his wife after the tragedy. Ricky must confess to her husband that she knew about the baby’s illness and kept the terrible secret from him. Their children are having a difficult time as well. Thirteen year old Paul is dealing not only with a changing family dynamic, but with bullying at school as well. Ten year old Biscuit is searching for a way to make her family whole again; looking to ancient funeral rituals as a way to bring closure to the people she loves. In the midst of this painful time, John’s daughter Jess shows up unexpectedly with a baby on the way.

I really wanted to like this book. Unfortunately, it was really uneven. The journey of John and Ricky as parents and husband and wife is really powerful. I think the book shines the most in these sections. Unfortunately the sections with Biscuit and Paul, while interesting, don’t resonate at the same level. Then Ms. Cohen brings in an additional family member – Jess, who is John’s daughter from another relationship. The readers then follow Jess as she deals with her unexpected pregnancy, a tragedy of her own, and a budding friendship with Gordie, a local man whose father has recently died. Unfortunately, this storyline doesn’t add a lot to the story. While it seems Jess is supposed to serve as an impetus for the Ryrie family to heal, it’s an idea that isn’t seen through to the end.

There are however, some really beautiful moments. Cohen writes well about the quiet moments of grief – the ones that tear families apart and those that, even in the midst of sorrow, bring them together. “Who ever knew what it would take? It was always unexpected, she was learning, the thing that smote your heart, always something untranslatable, irreducible, something that refused to come through in the retelling, so that you felt the absurdity of it increase each time you tried to parse it.”

But…the part that really drove me crazy was the ending. (No real spoilers, promise!) After you have gone on this journey with this family, the author does this “pull back camera” bit where a new omniscient narrator observes that these people and these events are not really important or different from any other family. The author declines to give you answers to some key questions raised in the book. This is not forgetfulness, she tells the readers that whatever happened does not matter. This is infuriating. Instead of ending with the characters that you have hopefully come to love, you end the book with some random people in a park in an effort to show universality.

The Grief of Others has some really poignant, insightful moments. But the book as a whole is uneven and the ending may make you a sudden proponent of book-throwing. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wednesdays with David: The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy

The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy
By David Soman and Jacky Davis
Dial October 2011
Courtesy of Mama and Dad at Christmas
The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy (Ladybug Girl)
Sorry this is posting a little late! We have a sick little guy, so our schedule is not quite normal today. 

The Story: When danger lurks, Sam transforms into the amazing Bumblebee Boy (complete with theme music)...at least until his little brother Owen crashes the game. Can Bumblebee Boy defeat a pirate, a giant lion, bank robbers, and aliens? Or will he need the help of a very willing sidekick?

Mama opines: We love the Ladybug Girl books. Sam is a friend of Lulu (Ladybug Girl) and appears in some of her books. This is Sam's solo debut and it's a great adventure story for little boys and girls. It will help a little guy or girl who has trouble including a baby sibling. David and I were acting out the various scenarios (pirates, aliens, etc.) for a long time after reading and he asks to read this all the time.

Thoughts from David: I like when they fight the aliens and then he doesn't let his brother play. But it's not about playing your way, it's about having fun.
Favorite part: When they are chasing the bank robbers and Owen cuts them off in his car! 

Happy Reading! 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Looking back at 2011 and The Best of the Year

Hey there, intrepid readers. Now is the time of year when we look back at our reading and blogging for the past 12 months. I am really happy that I started this blog in July. I'm starting this year off with a new look on this here blog and lots of excitement about all of the books that I will be reading in the next year.

During the month of December, I posted reviews of only 5 books - I have to chalk that up to some big books. Three of them clock in at 400+ pages. There was also the smallish vacation I took where I didn't post anything the last week of the year. So that brings my total for this year to 44, which is not too shabby since that's only six months of reviews.

Thanks a lot to each of you who stop by this blog, check out what I'm reading, and leave me comments. You are awesome.

So...without further ado, here are my favorite reads of 2011!

The Dovekeepers

This was the first book I have read by Alice Hoffman and I was swept away by four fascinating women living their lives with the knowledge that Roman troops will inevitably descend.

The Marriage Plot

I adored this book - it made my nerdy English major heart smile and is a timeless story of those crazy, awkward, confusing twenties.

Half the Sky

This book is not happy, but it is incredibly important. It will completely revolutionize the way you view power, poverty, and your own life.

The Hours

Michael Cunningham stunned me with this one. It weaves together the lives of three women in different time periods - Virginia Woolf and the women who are affected by her person and writing. I didn't pick up another book for a few days after this one, so I could just sit and savor.

The Submission

Ten years after 9/11, this book reminds us how intrinsically that event is a part of our lives. There are no easy answers in this book, and Ms. Waldman is a precise and powerful writer.

Pigeon English

The ending of this book floored me. I'm so glad I stuck with Harri, the eleven year old protagonist. His childish optimism in the face of the gang-governed ghetto in which he lives is beautiful.

Honorable Mentions: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, The Night Circus, A Good Hard Look

What was your favorite book of 2011? Use that comment box, people!

Monday, January 2, 2012

It's Monday and I'm back to blogging!

Hey everybody! How was your Christmas/Hanukkah/ New Years? Before we get into the bookish stuff, I have to tell you two very important things. Firstly, I am holding a giveaway, people! It's the very first one on Literary Lindsey and it closes tonight at midnight. Click right here immediately and enter while ye may! Secondly, I am reading through the works of F Scott Fitzgerald this year and I am looking for a few brave souls to join me. It will be fun, promise!

Since we last met, I have read:

The Grief of Others
By Leah Hager Cohen

The Sweetness at the
Bottom of the Pie
By Alan Bradley

By Margaret Atwood

The Hunger Games
By Suzanne Collins

Currently Reading:

Stiff: The Curious Lives
of Human Cadavers
By Mary Roach

The World We Found
By Thrity Umrigar

What's on the schedule for tomorrow, you ask? I'm hopping on the bandwagon and sharing my favorite reads of 2011. Don't forget to enter the giveaway and let me know what you are reading in the comments!