Sunday, January 31, 2010

In My Mailbox (1.31.10)

 In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren. Wander over to her blog to participate!

This week a couple of my library requests finally came in:

  • Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella:  The Shopaholic Series by Sophie Kinsella is my favorite comfort read/guilty pleasure, and I've enjoyed her other books as well. This one has been on my TBR list for a while because I'm a little skeptical of the ghost element in the book (not really my thing, although I have been reading a lot of ghost-ish stories this month), but I love Kinsella so I'm willing to give it a chance.
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett:  I've read so many good things about this book, I'm excited to finally get to read it! Hopefully I can read it fast though... I could only check it out for a week :/
  • So Easy by Ellie Krieger:  I requested this one after reading a great review here at Beth Fish Reads. I flipped through the recipes and there are a bunch I want to try, so I may review this in a couple of weeks after I've had some time to test out some of the recipes.
  •  I received this in the mail this week from a giveaway over at Nonsuch Book. Looks really interesting!
 That's it! Looks like I'll be reading The Help this week, since it's due back so soon.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran

The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran
2009, 384 pages

The Heretic Queen tells the story of Princess Nefertari, the niece of the "heretic" former queen, Nefertiti. Nefertari falls in love with the Prince Ramesses, but first must find her place in Pharaoh's court and overcome her family's past. While there are those who want to help her, there are others in Thebes who are determined to prevent her from becoming Queen.
Paser said firmly, "You cannot help who your family was."

"Then why am I cursed to live in their shadow?" I asked.

"Because they were giants," Woserit said, "and their shadows loom large." (p195)
This book is the first I have read by Michelle Moran, and now I understand why so many bloggers have been singing her praises lately. From page one, this book sucked me into the ancient Egypt that Moran created, and I was fully engrossed in that world until well after I put the book down. I wasn't sure if this book could live up to all of the great reviews I'd read before picking it up, but it turned out to be a gripping and completely satisfying read.

I easily found myself rooting for the character of Nefertari, and although there was really no question in my mind as to how the story would ultimately turn out, I was still intrigued to read how Nefertari navigated the Pharoah's court and struggled to come to terms with her family's past. The character development of Nefertari was great, and I loved many of the other characters as well, including Ramesses, Asha (friend of both Nefertari and Ramesses growing up), and even Iset (Ramesses other wife who is also angling for the throne).

It's been a while since I read a piece of historical fiction that I enjoyed this much. I was drawn into Moran's Egypt and the characters she created. I love it when my high expectations coming into a book are actually met, as it seems to be so rarely the case. The Heretic Queen is a book that I know I'll want to pick up again at some point, to immerse myself again in the world of Ancient Egypt and follow along as Nefertari grows over the course of the story.
"It's true!" I shouted. "I am the niece of a heretic. But if you are not responsible for your grandfather's crimes, why should I be? Who in this crowd has chosen their akhu? If that were possible, wouldn't we all be born into Pharaoh's family?"

There was a surprised murmur in the crowed, and Ramesses's grip on my hand relaxed.

"Weigh each heart on its own," I shouted, "for how many of us would pass into the Afterlife if Osiris weighed our hearts with those of our akhu?" (p207)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Roses by Leila Meacham

Roses, by Leila Meacham
2010, 609 pages

Roses follows the Toliver, Warwick, and Dumont families in Howbutker, Texas, as Mary Toliver and Percy Warwick fall in love yet evade each other, and their families live with the consequences.  The book flashes back and forth from the past to the present, telling the stories of Mary, Percy, and Mary's great-niece Rachel, as the struggle of choosing between land and love is repeated across generations.
She lowered her eyes briefly, fatigue clearly evident in their sepia-tinged folds. When she raised them again, her gaze was soft with affection. "Amos, dear, you came into our lives when our stories were done. You have known us at our best, when all our sad and tragic deeds were behind us and we were living with their consequences. Well, I want to spare Rachel from making the same mistakes I made, and suffering the same, inevitable, consequences. I don't intend to leave her under the Toliver curse." (p7)
The cover of this book is what initially caught my attention. I wasn't sure whether to be intrigued or skeptical of the (literally) florid cover of a book that promised a family saga spanning three generations. After a rocky start, I eventually ended up really enjoying Roses.

When I first picked up the book, I was completely put off by it. I had a hard time keeping track of all the names being thrown at me in the beginning, and wasn't initially interested by the plot. I put the book down in frustration after 20 pages, but when I picked it up again a week later I was hooked.

I think my initial lack of interest was due to the way the novel starts out in the present and then goes back into the past to explain the current events. I don't normally have a problem with this kind of narrative, but in this case I didn't really become invested in the plot until I reached the first flashback.

That being said, despite the rocky beginning, once I got to the first flashback, I quickly became invested in the story and the main characters. From that point onward, the book was a very satisfying and enjoyable read. The story is interesting and doesn't drag. Although I didn't quite buy into some of the plot twists, I still enjoyed reading about the journey these families take over the course of two world wars and three generations.

I really enjoyed the characters of Mary Toliver, Percy Warwick, and Ollie Dumont -- all descendants of the founding families of Howbutker. I thought that these characters were well developed and interesting to read about. However, many of the supporting characters were not as well characterized, and I never really became as invested in the subsequent generations.

I also think this book would have really benefited from a character list/family tree at the beginning, because I had a hard time remembering all of the characters and who was related to whom until I was well into the book. This was partially due the the flashback format, as I was introduced to a number of characters in the present well before I learned who they were via the flashbacks.

This is a hard review to write, because while there were elements of the book that I found frustrating, overall it was a thoroughly satisfying and enjoyable read. I'd probably rank it as a really good family saga, and if you enjoy intergenerational stories this one will definitely not disappoint.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Teaser Tuesday (1.26.10)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
After speeding through and finishing Roses last night, I decided that I had to read The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran next, primarily based on all the great comments about it in response to my In My Mailbox post this Sunday! You can expect a review of Roses sometime tomorrow, but in the meantime, here's a teaser from The Heretic Queen. I haven't really started yet, so this quote is from the prologue, and I'm definitely intrigued!

"Where will Amun have heard your name," she demanded, "to recognize it among so many thousands begging for aid?"

"Nowhere," I heard Ramesses whisper, and the old priestess nodded firmly.

"If the gods cannot recognize your names," she warned, "they will never hear your prayers." (p4)

Can't wait to get more into this book! Enjoy the teaser!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

In My Mailbox (1.24.10)

This week I decided to do the meme In My Mailbox hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren, since I did actually borrow/buy a slew of books this week (yay three-day weekends + coupons!).

First, two of my hold requests from the library came in:

  • Roses by Leila Meacham:  I'm about 25 pages into this one, and it's not really grabbing my attention yet. Trying to decide whether it's worth it to continue reading it right now, or to return it and try again when I'm more in the mood for reading a family saga.
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck:  I've read this already, but it's one of my favorite books and I'm really excited that the classic reads book club is reading it for their first book! I'm not sure if I actually am going to reread the entire thing (as my TBR pile is otherwise tempting me right now), but I might reread parts of it so I can follow along the discussion.
In addition to the library, I also got a little coupon happy at the bookstore over MLK Jr. weekend:

  • Dear John by Nicholas Sparks:  I got this one because I love love love the movie trailer and needed to read the book. I've already read & reviewed it here. Now I can't wait to see the movie!
  • The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran:  I haven't read anything by Michelle Moran yet, but I skimmed the first chapter or so in the bookstore and it looks like it will be right up my alley!
  • Fingersmith by Sarah Waters:  I've heard so many good things about Sarah Waters lately, I couldn't resist picking this one up. So excited to read it!
 I also have a ton of pending requests at the library right now, and knowing my luck they'll probably all come in at the same exact time, but for now this is what's at the top of my TBR pile.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Dear John by Nicholas Sparks

Dear John, by Nicholas Sparks
2006, 335 pages

Dear John is about the relationship between John Tyree and Savannah Lynn Curtis, who fall in love in just a few weeks while John is home on a furlough from the army. The book follows their relationship as it develops and then, as it later struggles to survive while John is overseas.

Confession:  the reason I wanted to read this book is because I saw the trailer for the movie and thought it looked really good. I guess that's as good a reason as any to pick up a book. I've read a couple of Nicholas Sparks books before (The Notebook for one, before it was a movie), and the first time I read one of his books I remember absolutely loving it, but I think my tolerance for this kind of sentimental romance has declined since then.

I really don't have much to say about this book -- it was pretty much exactly what the movie trailer/back cover suggest, and it neither surprised nor disappointed me. I found the character of Savannah to be a little annoying, but enjoyed reading about John's relationship with his father and the way that changed over the course of the book. It was a quick read, and if you enjoy reading Nicholas Sparks-type books then this one probably won't disappoint.

I'll leave you with a quote, which *WARNING* might be slightly spoilery:
Our relationship, I felt with a heaviness in my chest, was beginning to feel like the spinning movement of a child's top. When we were together, we had the power to keep it spinning, and the result was beauty and magic and an almost childlike sense of wonder; when we separated the spinning began inevitably to slow. We became wobbly and unstable, and I knew I had to find a way to keep us from toppling over. (p213)

Thursday, January 21, 2010


"It's the same thing. Passion is passion. It's the excitement between the tedious spaces, and it doesn't matter where it's directed [...] It can be coins or politics or horses or music or faith...the saddest people I've ever met in life are the ones who don't care deeply about anything at all. Passion and satisfaction go hand in hand, and without them, any happiness is only temporary, because there's nothing to make it last. I'd love to hear your dad talk about coins, because that's when you see a person at has best, and I've found that someone else's happiness is usually infectious." (p71)
This is a quote I came across last night while I was reading Dear John by Nicholas Sparks. For reasons unrelated to anything actually going on in the book, this quote pretty much sums up my life philosophy, and I wanted to post about it separately.

I've mentioned before that I work in an environment-related field, and this quote just reminded me of why I do what I do and why I love what I do, even on days when it doesn't come easy.  This passion kept me going in college when I struggled through tough classes, and when I was working and began to wonder if what I was doing plays to my strengths. I work in the environment because I'm passionate about environmental issues, and what the quote says is really true - I do feel satisfaction because I'm following this passion. When I came across this quote, I knew I had to blog about it because the idea behind it - the importance of having passions in life - is so important to me.

What are you passionate about?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Firmin by Sam Savage

Firmin, by Sam Savage
2006, 165 pages

This book is told by Firmin, a literate rat who resides in the basement of a bookstore and whose story is self-proclaimed as "the saddest story I have ever heard." Although his earliest encounters with literature consist of him chewing (literally) his way through books, he quickly develops a love for literature, and must reconcile this love with his own reality.

I loved the way this book was written. Told from the point of view of Firmin, the writing was both clever and beautiful, and at times when I was reading I wanted to jot down quotes from multiple paragraphs at a time, but quickly realized that if I did so I'd end up transcribing the entire book! I was drawn in by writing that, while describing situations with humor, at the same time was also profound. Here is one of countless examples where the writing made me sympathize with Firmin and drew me in:
Loquacious to the point of chatter, I was condemned to silence. The fact is, I had no voice. All the beautiful sentences flying around in my head like butterflies were in fact flying in a cage they could never get out of. All the lovely words that I mulled and mouthed in the strangled silence of my thoughts were as useless as the thousands, perhaps millions, of words that I had torn from books and swallowed, the incohesive fragments of entire novels, plays, epic poems, intimate diaries, and scandalous confessions--all down the tube, mute, useless, and wasted. (p40)
In addition to the language, there were many times in the book when I was reading and my heart just went out to Firmin - I guess I'd like to call this the "aw" factor. There were also times, especially towards the end of the novel, when a scene and Firmin's reaction to it were built up to and described so well that I could just see it happening in incredible detail in my head - both the event and Firmin's reactions to it.

The setting in Boston was also interesting for me, as I live here and have been to most of the places described in the book, albeit more than 40 years later. Regardless, the changes happening at Scollay Square at the time when the book takes place provide an interesting backdrop to the novel and help drive some of the action in the plot.

For a relatively short book, this one was packed full of clever writing and managed to make me sympathize with a rat. I'd definitely recomend it to anyone who enjoys clever writing and fiction relating to literature. I had high expectations coming into this book, and they were actually met, which was a delightful surprise!

Finally, one of my favorite quotes from the book - not as witty as some other quotes I could have chosen, but it stood out when I came across it, in a book where many many lines stood out.
"Everyone has two jobs, Firmin, a day job and a night job, because everyone has two sides, a dark and a light. You do, they do, I do. No one can escape it." (p159)

Teaser Tuesday (1/19)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I'm in the middle of Firmin, by Sam Savage, which so far has been an entertaining and fun read. Here's my teaser:
During business hours, when I was not asleep or hanging out of the Balloon, you could find me on the Balcony. Nothing that happened in the store below escaped my scrutiny. When Norman made an especially big sale, ringing it up on the ornate antique cash register that stood on a stand by the door, I clapped my paws and silently shouted, "Way to go, Norm!" (p69)

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

    Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
    2009, 404 pages

    Her Fearful Symmetry follows American twins Valentina and Julia as they take up residence in an apartment (or, to be less American, a flat?) in London left to them by their recently deceased Aunt Elsbeth, herself the twin of their mother, Edie. While living in the apartment, Valentina and Julia get to know their neighbors:  Robert, Elsbeth's former lover; and Martin, who suffers from a case of obsessive compulsive disorder so severe he is unable to leave his apartment. Though dead, Elsbeth is a very real presence in the apartment that Valentina and Julia inhabit.
    On these nights in the cemetery Robert stood in front of Elspeth's grave, or sat on its solitary step with his back against the uncomfortable grillwork. It did not bother him when he stood by the Rosetti grave and couldn't feel the presence of Lizzie or Christina, but he found it disturbing to visit Elspeth and find that she was not "at home" to him. In the early days after her death he'd hovered around the tomb, waiting for a sign of any sort. "I'll haunt you," she'd said when they'd told her she was terminal. "Do that," the had replied, kissing her gaunt neck. But she was not haunting him, except in memory, where she dwindled and blazed at all the wrong moments. (p55)
    I guess I should say up front that I was incredibly disappointed with this book. I loved The Time Traveler's Wife and had read so many rave reviews about Her Fearful Symmetry, so even though the plot summary didn't particularly appeal to me at first, I decided to read it anyway. I'll admit I had pretty low expectations coming in, but even so I was left frustrated and dissatisfied.

    I had a hard time getting into the story, partly because I was skeptical coming in, partly because I initially found it difficult to sympathize with most of the main characters. Around the middle of the book I found that I was beginning to enjoy reading about the twins, and, to a lesser extent, Roger, but as the events unfolded in the last part of the novel I became more and more frustrated. I thought that some of the plot twists in the latter part of the novel were a little absurd and their conclusions did not really fit together with the build up in the earlier part of the novel. The ending did not give these characters the closure that I was rooting for for them and that I felt they deserved, and I was left feeling extremely dissatisfied as I read the final pages.

    I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the plotline that revolved around Martin, the OCD upstairs neighbor. Niffenegger did a good job of making making me sympathize with and root for him right from the start, and I always looked forward to the chapters where he was featured. I also enjoyed Niffenegger's writing style for the most part, but it was jarring when I came across words like "LOL" and "k" when the twins were speaking.

    Upon finishing the book I was a bit bewildered, as so many bloggers seem to have enjoyed it, while I ended up regretting having picked it up at all. It did draw me in and was a quick read, but I was so dissatisfied by the ending that I'm not sure it was worth the initial effort I had to put in to get invested in the story in the first place. I don't mean to discourage anyone from reading this book, as many seemed to have enjoyed it, but I'd love to hear the perspective from someone who's read and enjoyed this book, to try to understand the appeal and what I seem to have missed when reading it.

    Saturday, January 16, 2010

    Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

    Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier
    1938, 357 pages

    This at last was the core of Manderly, the Manderly I would know and learn to love. The first drive was forgotten, the black, herded woods, the glaring rhododendrons, luscious and overproud. And the vast house too, the silence of that echoing hall, the uneasy stillness of the west wing, wrapped in dust-sheets. There I was an interloper, wandering in rooms that did not know me, sitting at a desk and in a chair that was not mine. Here it was different. The Happy Valley knew no trespassers. (p105)
    Rebecca is told from the perspective of the second wife of Maxim de Winter as she comes to Manderley with her new husband and slowly unravels the identity of Rebecca, his deceased first wife, whose presence is still felt strongly by the characters in the novel.

    Rebecca is a book that I always thought I should read, but was just never able to motivate myself to do it. I remember in high school many of my friends had to read it for english class - one of the english teachers at my school love love loved this book, and so half of my classmates ended up reading it. At the time I felt lucky to not have to read it - I was skeptical of the thick book with the florid red cover. I was surprised to hear from my friends that it was actually really good, which is how it ended up on my "I should read this someday, but not today" reading list.

    Once I finally picked it up, I was hooked from the first paragraph, and continued to be completely absorbed for the entire novel. I devoured this book, finishing it in only three days (which is fast, for me). Daphne DuMaurier's writing is beautiful, I often found myself just getting taken away by her words.  Many times I felt myself needing to slow down as I read, to reread a passage in order to fully absorb the language.

    This is a rarity for me - I'm usually attracted to books with compelling plots and get bored with books that spend too much time playing around with the language. This wasn't the case with Rebecca, the writing was just beautiful and I completely enjoyed it. Here's (yet another) example of when the language just enraptured me:
    The enchantment was no more, the spell was broken. We were mortal again, two people playing on a beach. (p106)
    Not that the plot of Rebecca isn't compelling, because it is - why else would I have zoomed through this book so quickly? When I finished Rebecca, I immediately wanted to pick it up again, to see how the events earlier on in the novel would hold up, knowing the ending. This is actually a bad habit of mine - I'll obsessively reread a book or rewatch a movie several times over a short period of time because it's so interesting to me to observe the entire thing all over again, knowing how everything turns out.

    I have to say, though, that there were times when I had to put down the book because I was frustrated with the narrator (I was rooting for her to grow a spine for over half the novel), or saw how an aspect of the plot was going to unfold ages ahead of time. I was interested in the plot and it kept me reading because I wanted to see how everything turned out, but in the end I wasn't particularly convinced by the love story between the narrator and Maxim, and I think that's where the book let me down a little bit. It's not that the plot was uninteresting, it's just that the book was so good otherwise that the fact that I wasn't completely spellbound by the plot is the only thing keeping it off of my all time favorites list.

    It's strange for me to love a book for its language moreso than the plot, but I think that's what happened with Rebecca. It made me want to read more by Daphne DuMaurier, because I love her writing style, and maybe one of her other novels will be able to capture my imagination more than Rebecca did. I definitely enjoyed this book, and would whole-heartedly recommend it, but it just fell a tiny bit short for me in the end.

    I'll leave you with one last quote:
    Packing up. The nagging worry of departure. Lost keys, unwritten labels, tissue paper lying on the floor. I hate it all. Even now, when I have done so much of it, when I live, as the saying goes, in my boxes. Even to-day, when shutting drawers and flinging wide a hotel wardrobe, or the impersonal shelves of a furnished villa, is a methodical matter of routine, I am aware of sadness, a sense of loss. Here, I say, we have lived, we have been happy. This has been ours, however brief the time. Though two nights only have been spent beneath a roof, yet we leave something of ourselves behind. Nothing material, not a hair-pin on a dressing-table, not even an empty bottle of Aspirin tablets, not a handkerchief beneath a pillow, but something indefinable, a moment of our lives, a thought, a mood.  (p45)

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    Booking Through Thursday: Flapper? Or Not a Flapper?

    Suggested by Prairie Progressive:
    Do you read the inside flaps that describe a book before or while reading it?

    I can be a pretty impatient reader, so a lot of the time I will start reading a book, want to know more about what's going on, and refer to the inside flap hoping that it will let me know where things are going. I do this especially when I'm having trouble getting into a book or am trying to figure out the implications of something that I just read.  Sometimes I'll refer to the flap several times throughout a book. I also refer to the inside flap when I'm trying to figure out what book I want to read next, and will read whichever one sounds more interesting or that I'm more in the mood for. Although I'm far more likely to refer to the flap while I'm reading rather than beforehand.

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    My Life in France, by Julia Child

    My Life in France
    by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme, 2006, 352 pages

    My Life in France follows Julia Child from 1948 to 1985 as she transforms from amateur cook to student at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris to author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking to world renowned TV personality. Told chronologically, the book touches on Julia's adventures with food as well as other important events in her life during that time.

    I really enjoyed reading along as Julia's cooking developed, and was amazed by her thoroughness in learning to cook and, later, in testing recipes for her cook books. The book is written from Julia's voice, which is very entertaining. It contains amusing anecdotes about her life in France (see my Teaser Tuesday post for an example) along with mouth-watering descriptions of French food.

    In addition to the cooking, it was intriguing to read about what life was like in Paris in the 1950s, and how the Cold War was treated in France. The book touches on the Marshall Plan, McCarthyism, and the foreign service (Julia's husband Paul the was a member of the foreign service). I liked reading about the differences between Europe and America during that time - I didn't realize just how big a role these differences played in preparing a French cookbook for the American kitchen.

    The book also includes pictures that Paul took during their time in France scattered throughout the book, and I really enjoyed seeing pictures of the people mentioned - it made it seem more real to me. I couldn't always keep track of all the people Julia came in contact with over 352 pages, but it didn't matter all that much and the important ones (such as Chef Bugnard, her teacher at the Cordon Bleu, or Simone Beck, her collaborator for Mastering the Art of French Cooking) were easy to pick out.

    I only have one complaint:  I wish they would have included just a few of the recipes that were described throughout the book! I know that's not the point of this book, but even so, I may have to go borrow a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking from the library for curiosity's sake.

    I'm not sure if this book is for everyone, but if you have an interest in reading about food/cooking or are interested in the subject matter, I think you'll enjoy this book. I knew I had to buy the book when I looked at the first page on amazon and could hear Julia Child's voice coming through the pages. I flew through the book, reading most of it over the weekend, and it kept me constantly entertained. Definitely a worthwhile and interesting read.

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    Teaser Tuesday (1/12)

    Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
    • Grab your current read
    • Open to a random page
    • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
    • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
    • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
    Rebecca (by Daphne DuMaurier) is certainly living up to its promise so far! I'm zooming through it, already more than halfway through, which is fast for me! Here's my quote:

    I wanted to go on sitting here, not talking, not listening to the others, keeping the moment precious for all time, because we were peaceful all of us, we were content and drowsy even as the bee who droned above our heads. In a little while it would be different, there would come to-morrow, and the next day, and another year. And we would be changed perhaps, never sitting quite like this again. Some of us would go away, or suffer, or die, the future stretched away in front of us, unknown, unseen, not perhaps what we wanted, not what we planned. This moment was safe though, this could not be touched. (p 99)
    Sorry, I know it's longer than two sentences, but I couldn't find a place to break it up. Enjoy!

    Sunday, January 10, 2010

    Hooked from the first paragraph!

    Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.
    From Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier, first paragraph.

    Have you ever fallen in love with a book on the first page? The first paragraph, to be exact?

    That's what happened when I opened up Rebecca last night. I was totally blown away by that first paragraph, and as I kept reading the first chapter, I was entranced by her language and just knew that I was going to end up liking this book.  I'm not sure that I've ever gotten such a strong feeling from the first paragraph of a book before.

    I was almost going to put off Rebecca too, because a new batch of books arrived Thursday that I really want to get to, but I'm so glad I decided to read Rebecca first. I haven't gotten very far yet -- I was distracted by bloggiesta for most of the weekend so didn't get much reading done -- but it's so good right now, I just had to share. Here's to hoping it doesn't go downhill from here ;)

    Bloggiesta: Wrap-Up Post

     All right, I'm finally calling it quits for bloggiesta, but I'm really pleased with what I accomplished! I think I ended up spending somewhere around 12 hours working on my blog between yesterday and today. Here's what I accomplished:

    Mini-challenges completed:
    • 2010 Resolutions Mini-Challenge:  See my separate post here with my reading/blogging resolutions for this year.
    • Comment Challenge:  I commented on 10 new blogs and joined the comment challenge to comment on at least 5 book blogs a day. 
    • Labels/Tag Mini Challenge:  Admittedly, this one was not hard for me to do as I had <10 posts at the time, but I labeled all my posts in a system that I will hopefully stick to.
    • I posted on the new book blogger forum, Bloggie Cult.
    What else I accomplished:

    I got through all of my original goals that I posted about here:
    • I decided which other challenges I want to participate in for now and posted about them here.
    • I added a profile picture that I'm mostly happy with.
    • I thought for a while about a possible ranking system for reviews, but ultimately decided that since I haven't written that many reviews yet, I'm going to wait and reevaluate this one later.
    • I put my entire to-read list onto goodreads, and learned that there are 76 books I want to read right now. That's a little overwhelming, but I at least have it organized in the order I want to read them... I'm not sure what the benefits are of having it up at goodreads versus library thing (or any other sites I don't know about), but I'm happy to have it easily accessible right now. You can see my goodreads profile here. Feel free to friend me over there (or make an argument for why I should have used library thing/other site instead!)
    • I redid the layout of the blog, adding widgets for currently reading (from goodreads), books I'm reading next (from goodreads), labels, and a list of my reviews. We'll see how it holds up!
    • I went through every book blog in my google reader, purged the ones that are inactive, organized the rest, and added at least 20 (I lost count at some point) new blogs to follow!
    • I thought a bit about what kind of content I want to feature on my blog. Nothing is set it stone yet, but I do have a few ideas for types of posts:
      • My goal is to read one book a week minimum, which means write one review a week minimum.
      • I also may review some of the books that I've read recently (before starting the blog), and some of my other favorites -- at most one a week.
      • I'm going to keep doing Tuesday Teasers and Booking Through Thursday memes, but I'm going to think carefully about joining other memes, as I don't want the blog to be overcome by them. 
      • Even though I started this blog to rant about both books and TV, I'm going to limit myself to a maximum of one tv-related post per week for now, and see how it goes.
      • I may consider occasionally blogging about other topics that I'm near-fanatical about other than books/tv. Specifically, I may try to blog about environmental issues (which is my current field and what I studied) whenever I find something interesting to share, and I'd like to try to read an environment-related book every once in a while.
    Overall, a very productive weekend! Thanks to Maw Books for hosting this awesome event!


    As part of bloggiesta, I'm going through my list of potential challenges and picking the ones I want to do/can actually accomplish. Instead of posting separately about each one, I'm just going to post them all here. This brings me to a total of 5 challenges for this year - lets hope I don't regret it!

    This one is hosted by Melissa over at The Betty and Boo Chronicles.  Participants must read at least 4 memoirs, letters, and diaries between January 1 and December 31, 2010. I joined this challenge because of the relatively low commitment and because I've been meaning to read more non-fiction, and this is a good way to get myself to do it. I also already have one book I'm going to read for it! No idea what the other books will be yet.

    1. My Life in France by Julia Child
    2. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
    I've been thinking about doing this one for a while but wasn't sure if I wanted to make the commitment. I think it will be an interesting experience though, and I already know one book I want to read for it. I'm going to start at the level of Dip, or 5 books, about the Vietnam War

    1. Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien

    2010 Social Justice Reading Challenge

    I really like the idea behind this challenge:  focusing on a different area of injustice every month. You can choose your level of participation month by month, but must be at the activist level for at least three of the months of the challenge. January is focusing on religious freedom. I haven't decided what level to do for this month yet. I'm probably most excited for the month focusing on water - that is a big part of what I studied in college so I'm excited to share what I know and hear from others!

    Bloggiesta Challenge: Set Goals for 2010

    To read about this bloggiesta mini-challege, click here. I wasn't originally going to do this mini-challenge, because I've never been a huge fan of resolutions, since this is a new blog I cracked and decided to write up the informal goals that I've had in my head for the last week anyway:

    Read at least one book a week. I know this probably doesn't seem like a lot to bloggers who read 100+ books a year, but up until now I've been lucky to manage to read one book a month, so this is actually kind of an ambitious goal for me. I'm hoping to read a minimum of 52 books this year. So far, I'm on track (2 books per 2 weeks in 2010), but it's still early ;)

    Explore New Genres. I want to broaden my reading horizons, so to speak. I'd like to delve into more non-fiction, and maybe try out some genre's I've never really touched, such as mystery or scifi.

    Comment regularly on other blogs. Until I started this blog a week ago, I lurked around tons of blogs while never, ever commenting. My innate shyness coupled with inertia made it hard to get started, but eventually I wanted to participate in conversations rather than just observing them, so voila!

    Post to this blog regularly. This past week I've been trying to think of content for my blog, and ways to keep things interesting. I'm probably going to be posting 1-2 reviews a week, and I don't want the rest of my blog taken over completely by memes and challenges, as addicting as they are. I also ostensively started this blog to rant about both books and TV, but I don't want the blog taken over by that either. I think I may limit myself to a maximum of one TV-related post a week, and see how that goes.

    That's all I have for now!

    Saturday, January 9, 2010


    This is my introductory bloggiesta post. For more information about the bloggiesta, check out the post on Maw books here. Since my blog is still in its nascent stages, I figure now is a great time to figure out my approach, etc.

    I'm not sure what I'll actually accomplish, but here are some of my initial goals:

    • Decide if I want to participate in any more challenge UPDATE:  Done! See here.
    • Figure out different kinds of content I want to feature on my blog UPDATE:  Done. See my wrap-up post here.
    • Work on adding to the layout etc of the blog UPDATE:  Done for now, but I'm still not completely happy with it. UPDATE2:  I added some widgets from goodreads, and I think I'm happy for now.
    •  Organize my to read list UPdATE:  Done! Took forever, but I put my entire wishlist on goodreads. You can find it here.
    • Figure out an organizational/labeling system for my posts UPDATE:  Done! It wasn't that hard, since I don't have that many posts up yet anyway, but I'm glad I did it sooner rather than later ;)
    • Get a profile picture up UPDATE:  Done, but I'm not entirely happy with it. It'll do for now though.
    • Set up a ranking system for reviews  UPDATE:  After some thought, I've decided against instituting a rankign system at this point. This is an issue I'll revisit after I've reviewed more books and have a better idea of how I want to review them.
    • Organize my google feed reader and add some more great blogs to follow! UPDATE:  organized my feed reader, so now I can start adding blogs again...
    • to be determined...

    Thursday, January 7, 2010

    Booking Through Thursday

    Another meme I'm starting...
    Barbara wants to know:

    What books did you get for Christmas (or whichever holiday you may have celebrated last month)?

    Do you usually ask for books on gift-giving occasions or do you prefer to buy them yourself?
    Does it count if I bought books for myself? Right after I got home from visiting my family, I decided to treat myself and placed an order for a couple of books I'm dying to read from my reading list. And they were waiting for me when I got home from work today! I'm so excited to start on them, but I probably won't get to them for a week or so because I  want to finish My Life in France (sadly I'm not even halfway through yet, but I always get more reading done on the weekend...), and I just picked up Rebecca from the library today. But here's what just came in the mail:
    • Firmin, by Sam Savage
    • The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
    • Being Written:  A Novel, by William Conescu
    • Searching for Pemberly, by Mary Simonsen
    I'm so excited for all of them!!

    I haven't asked for books as gifts in a while... either because if I want to read a book badly enough to buy it, I usually won't wait around to get it as a gift, or because I don't see the point in paying for a book if I can get it from the library for free in a timely manner. I do like being surprised with books though, as it's interesting to see what someone else thinks I'll like!

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    Teaser Tuesday!

    This is my first time posting to this meme, but I really like the idea, so hopefully I'll remember to do it week to week :P

    Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
    • Grab your current read
    • Open to a random page
    • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
    • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
    • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

      I'm in the middle of My Life in France by Julia Child. I had a hard time starting it (think it might have had something to do with being really tired at the time), but I've been engrossed by it the last two days!

      Standing up through the Citroen's open sunroof, my six-foot-three-inch, red-cheeked sister pointed a long, trembling finger at the perpetrator and with maximum indignation yelled:  "Ce merde-monsieur a justemente crache dans ma derriere!" Her intended meaning was obvious, but what she said was, "That shit-man just spat out onto my butt!" (p73)

      Sunday, January 3, 2010

      Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge

      I couldn't resist signing up for the Gilmore Girl's Challenge hosted by Lisa. I love love love the Gilmore Girls (and have seasons 1-6 on DVD), so this challenge looks like it'll be great. I am going to join at the Emily level (5 books from two categories). Additionally, I'm going to impose the following restrictions on myself:

      1) I can't reread anything I've read before
      2) It can't be something I was planning to read anyway
      3) Each of the five books has to be from a different category (classics, children's/young adult, modern classics, non-fiction, and other).

      I'm doing that because I want to use the challenge to allow myself to explore new books. No idea what specific books I'm going to read yet, I'll update this post when I decide!


      I've managed to narrow down my choices a little:
      1. Classics: These are all books that I thought about reading at one point but never followed through on. 
      - Don Quixote (Cervantes)
      - A Christmas Carol (Dickens)
      - Moby Dick (Herman Melville)

      2. Children's/Young Adult: No real contest here, as I've been meaning to read this for ages (I used to be obsessed with the Wizard of Oz/Wicked), but never got around to reading it.
      - The Wizard of Oz (Baum)

      3. Modern Classics: There are a bunch I want to read for this one:
      - Sanctuary, As I Lay Dying, or The Sound and the Fury (Faulker) - I've always meant to read something by Faulkner but never plucked up the courage.
      - Catch-22 (Heller) - I've started this a couple of times but never committed.
      - Daisy Miller (James) - I recently read Reading Lolita in Tehran, which spend a whole chapter on Daisy Miller, so for that reason alone I'm tempted to read it.
      -Mencken's Chresthonomy (Mencken) - I thought about reading Mencken a while ago but never got around to it.

      4. Non-fiction:  Here are a few that caught my eye:
      - Kitchen Confidential (Bourdain) - Fits in with my other interests at the moment
      - On the Road (Kerouac) - I feel like this is one of those books that I should read
      - Bitch in Praise of Difficult Women (Wurtzel) - Looks like it would be interesting

      5. Other:  I'd be up for reading any of these:
      - Rita Heyworth and the Shawshank Redemption (King) - Loved the movie
      - Godfather (Puzo) - I had no idea there was a book version
      - Driving Miss Daisy (Uhry)
      - Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood (Wells) - Been thinking about reading this

      Well, like I said, I'm going to try for one from each category, but we'll see. My immediate reading list is kind of long (I have a bunch of outstanding library requests + bought myself a few books from amazon this week), so I'm not sure how soon I'm going to get to any of this.

      Please let me know if you have any suggestions from these choices! The full list of books for the challenge is here.

      Flashback Challenge

      I've decided to sign up for a few challenges to stimulate my reading, so there'll be several posts to that effect over the next few days. The first one I'm signing up for is the Flashback Challenge, hosted by Aarti and Kristin M. The challenge is from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2010. From their description:

      You can sign up for the following levels:
      Bookworm - Up to three books
      Scholar - Four to six books
      Literati - Over six books

      Within these levels, we have mini-challenges!  These are:

      1. Re-read a favorite book from your childhood
      2. Re-read a book assigned to you in high school
      3. Re-read a book you loved as an adult

      Thus, if you sign up for the Bookworm level, you could ostensibly choose to read one book from each mini-challenge.  Or you could choose to do none of the above (though, granted, not sure what you could have possibly read that does not fit into either childhood, high school or adulthood).

      I'm excited about this challenge. I think I'm going to sign up at the level of Literati, because I love to reread books and I've already thought of a bunch of books for it.

      Favorite Books from my Childhood:
      1. This is where I'm a little stumped... It's hard to remember what books I loved as a kid! I remember devouring series like The Babysitters Club, The Boxcar Children, and Nancy Drew, so maybe I'll go back to something from there... TBD....

      Books Assigned in High School:
      1. The Things they Carried by Tim O'Brien -- I remember really liking this at the time, and have been thinking about rereading it for awhile.
      2. Either The Great Gatsby or The Scarlet Letter  - Not sure which of these I'll choose. I want to reread the Great Gatsby because I remember liking it at the time and I think I'd really like it as a reread, plus there's going to be a production of it in my area soon so it'd be nice to read it again if I want to see that. The Scarlet Letter I don't really remember much of other than not liking it much, but it might be interesting to reread.

      Books I loved as an Adult:
      1. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck -- This has long topped my list of favorite books, but I haven't reread it in years. Time to reevaluate to see if it really belongs on top. Plus it's already sitting on my bookshelf!
      2. Either The Kiterunner or A Thousand Splendid Suns (both by Khaled Hosseini) -- I loved both of these books and bought used copies after I already read them because I loved them so much, but haven't touched either copy since, so this is a good opportunity to get to them.

      Thanks to Aarti and Kristen for hosting this challenge! I'll update this post as I start reading!

      MIss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

      Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day 
      Winifred Watson, 1938, 234 pages

      She prayed desperately for a knock on the door. A knock on Miss LaFosse's door heralded adventure. It was not like an ordinary house, when the knocker would be the butcher, or baker, or candlestick-maker. A knock on Miss LaFosse's door would mean excitement, drama, a new crisis to be dealt with. Oh, if only for once the Lord would be good and cause some miracle to happen to keep her there, to see for one day how ilfe could be lived, so that for all the rest of her dull, uneventful days, when things grew bad, she could look back and in her mind and dwell on the time when for one perfect day she, Miss Pettigrew, lived.

      This reimagining of a Cinderella story featuring the spinster Miss Pettigrew was hilarious and a charming read. This quote pretty much sums up this incredibly entertaining book. The gist is that Miss Pettigrew is an out of work governess in London, who goes to see Delysia LaFosse for a job but ends up getting sucked into her world instead, helping Delysia juggle the three men in her life, successfully navigating among the elite, and experiencing the wonders of both alcohol and flirting for the first time.

      I read this book because the movie is really good, and the book didn't disappoint. I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing, though, that every time I read one of Delysia's lines, I heard Amy Adams' voice, ditto Miss Pettigrew, Edythe, Michael, etc. That's never actually happened before that I can remember, but it definitely greatly increased my enjoyment of the book. I'm not sure if I would have appreciated the humor and other interactions as much if I didn't have those voices saying their lines in my head.

      That being said, there were some parts of the book that I liked that weren't featured in the movie. The repartee between Miss Pettigrew and Tony, a character who I believe is absent from the movie, were one of my favorite things about the book. Most things are excellent in both, however. Miss Pettigrew's transformation from sparkling spinster to society hit, including her shock at the world of Delysia along with her quick thinking that helps save Delysia on more than one occasion, is delightful to observe both in the book and the movie. 

      This book was a super quick read, I read it in a matter of hours, and its one of those books that I'll go back to and reread again and again for its charm and hijinx. I honestly can't say whether I liked the book or movie better, because the movie completely informed my reading of the book, and I'm sure if I rewatch it I'll enjoy it all the more for having read the book. Oh well. Overall, a completely satisfying read.

      Saturday, January 2, 2010

      The re-emergence of the bookworm

      When I was younger, I used to be a total bookworm. I would read for hours and hours, sometimes staying up all night to finish a good book. Then I went to college, and a combination of having little time for recreational reading and overdosing on dry, scientific papers meant that I was lucky if I read one non-class related book a semester. Now that I've graduated, I've just begun to rediscover how fulfilling it is to get sucked into a book, to have have a stack of books waiting to be read, and a to read list a that keeps on growing.

      You'll notice, however, that this blog is titled "Rantings of a Bookworm Couch Potato," and that's because,   in addition to reading, I also spend a lot of time watching TV, and occasionally I need to vent/squee about it, so from time to time some tv-related posts may make their way on here as well. At the moment, however, partially due to the lack of new TV and partially due to overdosing on Bones before Christmas (I just discovered Bones -- it's awesome! I'm halfway through season 2 right now), my TV watching has waned, so expect more reading-related posts for now.

      Speaking of which, I'm about 2/3 of the way through Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Winifred Watson), and it is as awesome as the movie, if not more so. Expect a post about that tomorrow, unless I get hopelessly distracted by my netflix instant queue ;)