Thursday, March 31, 2011

Booking Through Thursday: Cereal

Odd topic today! This week, BTT asks: What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever read? (You know, something NOT a book, magazine, short story, poem or article.)

Not only odd, but tough! Hard to answer because I'm one of those "cereal box" readers who'll read just about anything as long as it's got something written on it.

But I guess the oddest thing I've read recently would be the tombstones I've looked at while doing my genealogy research. Odd reading matter and very sad, sometimes. But so necessary for a family history sleuth.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reading Report: Henrietta Sees It Through

Written by Joyce Dennys
Bloomsbury USA, 2010; 183 pages
Originally published 1986

Publisher's description:
World War II is now in its third year and although nothing can dent the unwavering patriotism of Henrietta and her friends, everyone in the Devonshire village has their anxious moments. Henrietta takes up weeding and plays the triangle in the local orchestra to take her mind off things; the indomitable Lady B, now in her late seventies, partakes in endless fund-raising events to distract herself from thoughts of life without elastic; and Faith, the village flirt, finds herself in the charming company of American GIs. With the war nearing its end, hope seems to lie just around the corner, and as this spirited community muddles through, Lady B vows to make their friendships outlast the hardship that brought them together.
Okay, this is getting ridiculous. It's the end of March and I haven't posted a report or a review since sometime back in January! I haven't been getting a massive amount of reading done so far this year, but I have read a few things. So in the next several days, I'm determined to make myself sit down and write a bit about each one. Really. I mean it.

I'll start with my most recent read. Henrietta Sees It Through: More News from the Home Front 1942-1945 is a compilation of a series of short pieces Joyce Dennys wrote for the Sketch magazine, voicing the frustrations and tribulations she faced as a doctor's wife in wartime England. These writings were later pulled together and republished as two books: Henrietta's War in 1985, and this one in 1986. And now the Bloomsbury Group has reissued both works in handsome new paperback editions.

Written in the form of a series of letters sent to the narrator's childhood friend Robert, this is a charming little book with a wonderful central character. Henrietta is Dennys' imaginary alter-ego, and a lovely creation. Long-suffering, kindly, and self-deprecating, but possessed of a sharp sense of humor - she's instantly sympathetic and appealing. And the many short vignettes of village life during WWII are (for the most part) delightfully funny and lively. But the sobering aspects of a world at war are always there, just beneath the surface.

Reading this was a lot like getting enmeshed in a really good BBC mini-series. Very addictive and a lot of fun.

Note: My copy of this book was provided free of charge by the publisher, through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. No other compensation was offered or provided, and no one attempted to influence my opinion of the book.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: Speaking with the Dead

This week, my teaser lines come from The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead, by Paul Elwork. The novel is set in the 1920s and was inspired by the lives of the Fox sisters and the Spiritualism movement during the nineteenth century. I've just started the book, but it's already got me hooked. This quote comes from the end of chapter three, and the "she" it mentions is thirteen-year-old Emily Stewart, the girl who will eventually claim to be able to contact the dead. This excerpt comes from an uncorrected proof of the novel, so please remember that the finished copy might be slightly different.
In the darkness she could hear a company of goblins laughing and calling to each other, goblins made of moonbeams and rotting leaves....It was a celebration - they were expecting her. But she was afraid....The goblins sang,"Em-i-ly...Em-i-ly...Em-i-leeeeeeeeeeee..."
Well, so far no actual goblins have shown up in the book. But I have a feeling a couple of ghosts may be getting ready to make an appearance.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: Coraline

This is very embarrassing to admit, but I'm still reading the same books I've been reading all month. For some reason, March has been a really slow month for me, at least where literary matters are concerned. And I've already used all the books I'm currently reading for past teasers. What to do?

Well, while I was going through my shelves yesterday, looking for a fantasy I might read for the Once Upon a Time V Challenge (more to come about that), I happened upon a copy of Neil Gaiman's Coraline. I read the book a couple of years ago, so I won't be reading it for the challenge; but I thought it might provide some nice teaser lines - and I was right. This snippet comes from p.93 of the paperback edition, and has Coraline trying to bargain with the "other mother" she meets when she enters the "other" house hidden inside the house she shared with her real parents (who have gone mysteriously missing). I apologize for including more than two lines, but it was hard to know what to cut:
"I swear it," said the other mother. "I swear it on my own mother's grave."
"Does she have a grave?" asked Coraline.
"Oh yes," said the other mother. "I put her in there myself. And when I found her trying to crawl out, I put her back."
This is one I really enjoyed. It's creepy and funny, and all-in-all a great read. Short, too - which is something I always appreciate!

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Once Upon A Time V

Once upon a time...

...there was this reading challenge that I just couldn't seem to resist! Even though I've already signed up for way too many reading challenges this year. And even though I don't have as much time for reading as I used to. And even though I already love to read fantasy and folklore and mythical fiction, which means the challenge isn't all that much of a challenge for me.

Yes, it's spring and that means it's time for another edition of the Once Upon a Time Reading Challenge (this is number V), hosted by Carl V., over at Stainless Steel Droppings. One of my favorite blogs, and one of my favorite bloggers hosting one of my favorite events. How neat is that?

I didn't participate in last year's OUAT Challenge, and I regretted it all spring. So this year I'm jumping in, even though my head tells me I really shouldn't be taking on any more reading commitments. After all, how can you resist a challenge whose first two rules are: "HAVE FUN"?!

The challenge runs from March 21st through June 20th, and you can read all about the particulars on the announcement/sign-up post, here. There are several different levels of participation (or "Quests"). I had a really hard time deciding which one to choose, but I think finally I'm going to have to go with level number one, The Journey.

As Carl says, "This is really as simple as the name implies. It means you are participating, but not committing yourself to any specific number of books. By signing up for The Journey you are agreeing to read at least one book within one of the four categories during March 21st to June 20th period." And that sounds doable, even for a slowpoke reader like myself. Of course, I'll be aiming for more than one; and I've got a list of possibilities a mile long, so there's plenty of incentive. Who knows - this might actually be the year I tackle one of those chunkster fantasies that have been on my TBR stack for years now. Like The Mists of Avalon or Inkheart.

This year's challenge also includes a "Quest on Screen" - for all those movies and TV shows that fall within the realm of fantasy, fairy tales, folklore or mythology. Can't pass that up either, so I'm taking up that Quest, too.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Musing Mondays: Latest Purchase

Over at Should Be Reading, this week's Musing Mondays questions are about buying books: "What is the last book you bought? Was it for you? for someone else? Have you read it, yet?"

And that was food for thought.

I've been having a sort of unofficial moratorium on book-buying this year. Sometime later in the year (we hope), we'll be packing all our goodies and moving to a new home in Texas; thus, the emphasis around here has to be on NOT acquiring more STUFF to move. So it took me a while to remember the last book I bought. Finally had to go check my Amazon account to run it down, and it turned out to be:

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, by Alan Bradley. Yes, I bought it for me. And no, I haven't read it yet. It's the second novel in a three-book series, and I read the first book (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) a while back and really enjoyed it. Getting ready to start this one soon.

I bought that book in February. Before that, the last book I bought (also from Amazon) was back in January, and it was:

The Quick and the Thread: An Embroidery Mystery, by Amanda Lee. Bought this one for myself, too and also haven't read it yet. It's the first book in a new cozy mystery series, and since I'm a needlework enthusiast as well as a lover of cozies, this one sounds right up my street. And how could I resist that cover?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: Prophecy

This week my teaser lines come from Prophecy, S.J. Parris' follow-up to 2010's Heresy. Both books are historical thrillers set in Elizabethan England, and centered around the renegade monk and philosopher Giordano Bruno. I read the first book in the series last year and really enjoyed it, so I've been looking forward to starting this new adventure ever since I heard it was coming. This quote shows up about midway through the book, much farther along than I've read so far. And since it's taken from the ARC, please remember that the finished copy may differ slightly.
She is about thirty years of age, not beautiful but with a kind, open face; Dee depends on her utterly and has joked that I must never think of marrying unless I can find another woman like Jane. I have the greatest of respect for her; there are not many wives who would tolerate a house filled with the smell of boiling horse dung and the best of the household income going on manuscripts and astronomical instruments. (p.205)
Well, I might put up with the manuscripts and astronomical instruments. But either the horse dung or the husband would have to go!

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Musing Mondays: Childhood Favorites

It's been quite a while since I participated in the Musing Mondays meme. Mainly because, quite frankly, Mondays are very frazzled around here and I usually have a hard enough time just waking up and wrapping my hands around a coffee cup. Any musing I do is along the lines of "whatever happened to the weekend?" and "why don't I just go back to bed?"

But today's question caught my eye and I thought I'd join in. This week, our host MizB (at Should Be Reading) asks: "Do you have a favorite children’s book? Either one that you loved as a child, or one that you discovered later, and still enjoy? Tell us about it!"

This is one of those questions I love because I did/do very definitely have childhood favorites. Vast numbers. Well, several anyway. But I'll only bore you with a couple.

Now, my absolute favorite children's book of all time is Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass. I've read it many times since that first discovery back when I was six or seven, and I still love it just as much as I did then - maybe even more. But I've written about my Alice addiction many times on this blog, so today I'm going to tell about one of my other childhood lit loves.

Even before I discovered Alice and her wondrous adventures, I was a book lover. And the first book I remember really loving was The Real Mother Goose, published by Rand McNally and illustrated by the great Blanche Fisher Wright. I still have my childhood edition:

I was given my copy long before I learned to read, but I memorized the nursery rhymes as my parents and grandparents read them to me. And I spent long hours just gazing at those gorgeous illustrations.

Could this have been my earliest experience of male chauvinism?

And, as you can see (below), I even spent some time adorning the book with a few instances of my own artwork.

I believe I was trying to give the birdies a house here.

And while that jagged line may look like a shark about to gobble up an unsuspecting couple,
I think it's really supposed to be a staircase. Call Dr. Freud.

The Real Mother Goose is still in print today. It's had many different editions and several different covers over the years; it's even available for e-readers and there are several online versions (like this one). But it still has those magnificent Blanche Wright illustrations. And I still love reading my copy, more than fifty years later.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Top Book Club Books for February

According to this morning's Shelf Awareness newsletter, these were the most popular book club books during February, based on votes from readers of 27,000 book clubs registered at
  1. Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue
  2. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
  3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  4. Little Bee: A Novel by Chris Cleave
  5. Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen
  6. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  7. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  8. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt: A Novel by Beth Hoffman
  9. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Novel by Jamie Ford
  10. The Forgotten Garden: A Novel by Kate Morton
And these are the "Rising Stars":
  • The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
  • Juliet by Anne Fortier
I've only read one of the top ten and one of the rising stars, but I've got several of the others on my list of "must read" books. And I guess I should probably start with Room, since I seem to be the last person on the planet who hasn't already read it.

2010 NBCC Awards

The winners of the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Awards have been announced. Here's the list of winners:
  • Biography:

    Sarah Bakewell. How To Live: Or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (Other Press)

  • Poetry:

    C. D. Wright. One with Others: [a little book of her days] (Copper Canyon)

  • Criticism:

    Clare Cavanagh. Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West (Yale University Press)

  • Nonfiction:

    Isabel Wilkerson. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (Random House)

  • Autobiography:

    Darin Strauss. Half a Life (McSweeney’s)

  • Fiction:

    Jennifer Egan. A Visit from the Goon Squad (Knopf)

For more information about the winners, and a list of the other nominees, see the NBCC blog, Critical Mass.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Booking Through Thursday: Multi-Tasking

This week, BTT asks a very interesting question: Do you multi-task when you read? And I guess my answer would have to be: sometimes.

Even though I try to avoid it.

I'm really not great at multi-tasking in general, and I certainly prefer not to do it when it comes to my reading. I'm at my best and most contented when I can concentrate on one task at a time. And when I'm reading, I like to have absolute quiet and nothing to distract me. I just want to curl up with my book and let real life slip away for an hour or two.

But we're talking perfect world here, and of course none of us live in perfect world (or in theory, where everything works perfectly).

So, yeah, sometimes I have to do other things while I'm reading. Or accept that those around me are doing other things while I'm reading. But as long as I can keep reading while the "multi-tasking" is going on, I'm not bothered too much. It's just when the extra activity requires me to put down my book that I get upset. And I don't call that multi-tasking - I just call it being interrupted.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: A Book of One's Own

This week, my teaser lines come from Thomas Mallon's A Book of One's Own: People and Their Diaries. It's a fairly old book, first published in 1984, so it was written back before blogging and online journaling came upon the scene; but it's still a fascinating look at the tradition of preserving one's thoughts in writing. This quote is taken from the Introduction to the 1995 paperback edition:
My diary has now been with me so much longer than any other companion or home that I cannot imagine life without it. I'm sure a part of me thinks I'd be not just diminished but threatened with extinction, if I were ever to pull its plug. [p.xii]
I feel exactly the same way. I started keeping a diary almost as soon as I learned to read and write, and I've had one going in one form or another ever since. It's probably the most boring narrative ever written, but at least it's a little proof that I was here. How about you? Are you a diary/journal keeper? Online? Hand-written? Or do you think it's just a terrific waste of time?

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Friday Reads

My husband would probably file this under "Useless and Pointless Knowledge," but I thought it looked interesting. Every week the FridayReads group posts a list of the "Best Read" books from the week before - a list of the books being read by the greatest number of people in the group. This week there are 34 books on the list. Why 34? Well, I think it actually started as a Top Ten list, but they decided to list all the books that tie for any one spot - so every week the total is different. Makes sense? Anyway, here's today's Best Read List (based on all the posts from February 25th):
  1. FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen
  2. SWAMPLANDIA by Karen Russell
  3. THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain
  4. JUST KIDS by Patti Smith
  5. PICTURES OF YOU by Caroline Leavitt
  6. ROOM by Emma Donoghue
  7. A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan
  8. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis
  9. CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins
  10. LIFE by Keith Richards
  11. MADAME TUSSAUD by Michelle Moran
  12. PACKING FOR MARS by Mary Roach
  13. REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly
  14. THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak
  15. THE MAGICIANS by Lev Grossman
  16. THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy
  17. THE WEIRD SISTERS by Eleanor Brown
  18. THIS SIDE OF THE GRAVE by Jeaniene Frost
  19. A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES by Deborah Harkness
  20. AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman
  21. DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver
  22. LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN by Colum McCann
  23. LORD OF MISRULE by Rachel Caine
  24. MATCHED by Ally Condie
  25. THE FIRM by John Grisham
  27. THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins
  28. THE ILLUMINATION by Kevin Brockmeier
  30. THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin
  31. THE POSTMISTRESS by Sarah Blake
  32. UNVEILED by Courtney Milan
  33. WISHFUL DRINKING by Carrie Fisher
  34. WITHER by Lauren DeStefano
The two titles in red are the only ones I've read from the list, so I'm obviously not keeping up very well. But I've got several of the other books on my "must read" list for this year. Today, however, I'm reading Thomas Mallon's A Book of One's Own: People and Their Diaries, when I really should be reading one of the many ARCs I've got piling up. (Tsk, tsk!)

If you have a Facebook account, and want to let the world know what you're reading, you can join the FridayReads group here. And there's also a Twitter group here.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Booking Through Thursday: Cheating

This week, BTT asks: "Do you cheat and peek at the ends of books? (Come on, be honest.)" And I answer (quite honestly):

Rarely. If it's a book I'm enjoying, I like the suspense of not knowing how it ends until I get there. So I'm not usually tempted to peek. If it's a book I'm not enjoying, I generally don't care how it ends.

But I have been known to take a look at the ending of a book if I get bored halfway through and just want to get it over with and find out how it wraps up. And sometimes the ending is so surprising or funny or poignant or incongruous that it nudges me into going back and reading the whole book! Love it when that happens.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: Down the Rabbit Hole

Tuesday again. And, sad to say, I'm still reading all the same books I was reading last Tuesday – haven't started anything new yet. So, for this week's teaser, I'm using the opening lines of one of my all-time favorites – Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Though it looks like much more, this really is just the first two sentences of the book:
Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book", thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"

So she was considering, in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.
And, of course, we all know what happens next – it's down that famous rabbit-hole, and into all those amazing adventures in Wonderland. If you haven't read this one, you really should do it soon. Mr. Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) may have had some rather alarming proclivities when it came to photography, but he could tell a really terrific story!

Alice surrounded by the creatures of Wonderland
Illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith
Source: Wikipedia

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.