Sunday, February 28, 2010

In My Mailbox (2.28.10)

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren.

This week I felt the effects of my library request-a-thon from last weekend - now I'm hoping I can read everything before they're all due back! I've decided to start including links to goodreads so you can get a better idea of what these books are about by clicking on the covers - let me know if you like it!

Here's what I got from the library:

  • Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy:  The Last Man in the World by Abigail Reynolds:  I'd been wanting to read this one for a while, so when my requested copy finally came in, I immediately started reading it, and finished it within only a few hours! Review coming soon
  • The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood:  I've been seeing a lot of reviews of Atwood's newer books lately and I felt like it was time to pick up something else by her (the last thing I'd read was The Handmaid's Tale, years ad years ago), so when I saw this one it sounded like something I would like. It also comes recommended by Paula Butterini, author of Keeping the Feast, via Rosie's Riveters which is hosted by Aarti at Booklust.
  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan:  I saw this book reviewed on a couple of blogs a while ago and it sounded really good, so I decided to give it a try. This is my first-ever try with a graphic novel book (if this can even be called that - there are no words, just pictures), so we'll see how it goes!
  • Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond:  I sometimes stalk Pioneer Woman's blog for recipes, so when I heard (from her blog, as it so happens) that she had published a cookbook, I knew I had to try it. This might not get reviewed for a few weeks - need to try out some of the recipes first! You can find Ree's blog here.
  • The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England:  A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer:  I requested this one after seeing a great review by Jen at Devourer of Books, and it sounds exactly like something I'd enjoy!
I also discovered bookmooch this week - and I've already mooched my first book. Yay!

Revolutionary Road
  • Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates:  Book Snob has been reading her way through Yates' works lately, so I decided I needed to read something by him. I chose Revolutionary Road because I've already seen the movie, so it's fitting that I should read the book it was based on.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

So Easy: Luscious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Week by Ellie Krieger

So Easy:  Luscious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Week by Ellie Krieger
2009, 272 pages

Before I post a review for a cookbook, I should probably note that I'm pretty much a beginner when it comes to cooking. I haven't had much experience in the kitchen until this year, and I'm still garnering the skills (and motivation) to cook for myself on a regular basis. That being said, I've found that I really enjoy cooking and trying out new recipes, even when my "experiments" don't always turn out the way I planned!

Anyway, onto the review!

I picked up So Easy after reading a great review at Beth Fish Reads, and I definitely wasn't disappointed by it. The recipes in this cookbook are broken up into breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert; and each meal is further divided in to one chapter devoted to quick, on the run, recipes, and one for more leisurely cooking. I really liked this set up, as my own life requires quick meals during the week, but I enjoy spending more time in the kitchen on weekends.

Krieger focuses on simple, healthy recipes, and gives the nutritional information for every dish, which I really appreciate in a cookbook. The recipes are straightforward, with clear instructions - such that even my tendency to mess up recipes was subverted. I also liked that she  sprinkled tips throughout the book, for example information on how best to store a type of dish, or suggestions of ways to brighten up a simple sandwich.

Her pictures are beautiful - I need pictures in cookbooks to let me know if my recipe turned out like it was supposed to, and my only complaint is that not every recipe had a picture for me to compare the results with!

Over the last month I've tried a bunch of different recipes from this cookbook, and the results have ranged from a thoroughly satisfying meal to an absolutely delicious dish that I hope to make again soon. Oddly enough, I enjoyed the breakfast recipes the most, even though that's the one meal I always have the least time for. I actually cooked up her breakfast recipes for lunches or dinners instead! Below are pictures of some of my more successful attempts, although my food photography skills do leave something to be desired...

My favorite  recipe that I tried was her beef taco salad as a "lunch to go". This recipe was a welcome relief from the salads that I ordinarily make for myself. It involved cooking ground beef on a skillet with beans and garlic, and then combining that with lettuce and a homemade dressing made from tomatoes, olive oil, and lime juice. It surprised me how quick and easy this meal was to prepare, but then again I always get nervous when cooking meat is involved. My only complaint is that it didn't hold up well in the fridge, and when I tried to pack it for work it wasn't nearly as good as when it was freshly made.

Here are a couple of dinner recipes that I tried, both from the "quick dinners" chapter. First is the Tri-color pepper steak, which was my first experience cooking beef... ever. But I really enjoyed this recipe, especially because it included liberal amounts of bell peppers, which are one of my favorite veggies! It did take me longer than I had expected to prepare - I think about an hour - despite the fact that it was in the quick dinners section. The next picture is of her Asian noodle bowl, which I also enjoyed because it was so full of vegetables and flavor!

Hopefully these pictures give you a feel for what the recipes in this cookbook are like. I definitely recommend it as a great source of healthy, easy recipes. Although I had to return my copy to the library last week, I first transcribed many more recipes to try and hopefully will get around to making them soon!

Weekend cooking is hosted at Beth Fish Reads. Head over there to see more food-related posts!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien

Going After CacciatoGoing After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien
1978, 336 pages

One day, soldier Cacciato leaves the fighting in Vietnam with the seemingly impossible intention of walking to Paris. His squad follows him, and corners him on a hill, where they wait through the night to ambush him in the morning. Paul Berlin, one soldier in Cacciato's squad, standing watch at night, begins to ponder the possibility of what would happen if Cacciato eluded them and led them all the way to Paris.
It was a fact that one day in the rain, during a bad time, the dummy [Cacciato] had packed up and walked away, a poor kid who wanted to see Paris, no mysterious motives or ambitions. A simple kid who ran away. There was no toying with the truth. It couldn't be colored or altered or made into more than it was. So the facts were simple: They went after Cacciato, they chased him into the mountains, they tried hard. They surrounded the hill. They waited through the night. And at dawn they shot the sky full of flares and then they moved in. [...]

That was the end of it. The last known fact.

What remained were possibilities. With courage it might have been done. (p323)
 On the back of my edition of this book, there's a quote from a New York Times review that says "To call Going After Cacciato a novel about war is like calling Moby-Dick a novel about whales." I've never read Moby Dick, but I couldn't agree more with the sentiment. From the very first quote before the story even began - "Soldiers are dreamers" - Siegfried Sassoon - I was completely engrossed and amazed by this book. The premise of this book may seem rather silly - a soldier trying to walk to Paris in the middle of the Vietnam War - but O'Brien uses this premise to show the effects of war on the soldiers fighting it, and the power and limitations of the imagination to cope under these circumstances.

From the beginning, O'Brien created a strong sense of place in the novel, and this continued throughout the book. I quickly became invested in the story and it didn't let up until I finished. I love his descriptions of both people and places, and the way they are intertwined with the action of the novel.

O'Brien manages to combine humorous events with the tragic effect of war seamlessly. I don't know how to describe what it is about his writing that gets me - it isn't particularly complicated, but it's real, and he really took me into the mind of Paul Berlin, which is part of what I loved so much about this book.
Paul Berlin, whose only goal was to live long enough to establish goals worth living for still longer, stood high in the tower by the sea, the night soft all around him, and wondered, not for the first time, about the immense powers of his own imagination. A truly awesome notion. Not a dream, an idea. An idea to develop, to tinker with and build and sustain, to draw out as an artist draws out his visions.

It was not a dream. Nothing mystical or crazy, just an idea. Just a possibility. Feet turning hard like stone, legs stiffening, six and seven and eight thousand miles through unfolding country toward Paris. A truly splendid idea. (p27)
At times humorous, at times intense, most often managing to be both at once, this book takes you into the mind of a soldier fighting in the Vietnam War, and I highly recommend it. Here's one more quote, of many, that just got to me when I was reading:
In the morning the fifty new men were marched to a wooden set of bleachers facing the sea. A small, sad-faced corporal in a black cadre helmet waited until they settled down, looking at the recruits as if searching for a lost friend in a crowd. Then the corporal sat down in the sand. He turned away and gazed out to sea. He did not speak. Time passed slowly, ten minutes, twenty, but still the sad-faced corporal did not turn or nod or speak. He simply gazed out at the blue sea. Everything was clean. The sea was clean, and the sand and the wind.

They sat in the bleachers for a full hour.

Then at last the corporal sighed and stood up. He checked his wristwatch. Again he searched the rows of new faces.

"All right," he said softly. "That completes your first lecture on how to survive this shit. I hope you paid attention." (p37)
I read this book for the War Through the Generations: Vietnam War Challenge.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Turning into Rory Gilmore...

Going After CacciatoI finished Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien yesterday, and after reading that I've been having trouble figuring out what to read next. I absolutely loved Going After Cacciato, but I feel like I'm just not up for another heavy/"thinking" book right now. My brain is still all mushy from processing Going After Cacciato (in other words, it might be a few days before a review is up), and nothing on my shelf seems to quite fit the bill of a short, light, fun read. Sorry, I'll stop complaining, but I'm just curious, does anyone else ever feel the need to intersperse heavy or intense reads with lighter ones?

This is sort of related to another experience I had this weekend. Whenever I return library books I allow myself to request the same number that I just returned - trying to avoid checking out waaaaay more books than I can read and ending up having to return them all, which seems to happen on a regular basis because all of my requests always end up coming in at the same time! This weekend, however, I lost all self control. I couldn't seem to stop requesting books, even after I was well beyond my quota, and I justified it to myself by saying "But they're all different types of books... one's nonfiction, one's short stories, one's a cookbook, one's a graphic novel, there's not even any fiction on there... must go remedy that... " And of course, being the tv fanatic that I am, this immediately reminded me of a scene from Gilmore Girls where Rory has too many books to fit in her bag. If you haven't seen it (or even if you have), here's the youtube clip (crossing my fingers that this will work)...I hope you all enjoy it, I feel like this its really fitting for book lovers ;)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Teaser Tuesday (2.23.10)

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!
Going After Cacciato
I feel guilty for the super long teaser I posted last week, so to make up for it I'll post a short one this time around. Short--but still over two sentences; I can't seem to help myself! :/

Here's my teaser, from Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien:
"The way in is the way out. To flee Xa one must join it. To go home one must become a refugee." (p97)

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Night Counter by Alia Yunis

The Night Counter: A NovelThe Night Counter by Alia Yunis
2009, 365 pages

992 nights ago, Fatima Abdullah was visited by Scheherazade for the first time, and every night since then Fatima has told Scheherazade stories of her childhood in Lebanon, counting down the nights until Scheherazade's fateful 1001st and final visit, which will also signal the death of Fatima herself. The matriarch of a large Arab-American family, Fatima tells Scheherazade stories about each her ten children as she tries to decide who is worthy of her house in Lebanon, which she has not visited since she left for the United States many years ago as a bride.
Her children, all somehow having ended up with their own thoughts and ideas, did not make easy heirs. Still, she would have liked to have seen them--and the house--one more time. Alas, life was now too short. She was sound in mind and body at the moment, but a debilitating disease could strike her down at any moment and incapacitate her for her remaining days. One never knew. After all, everyone had a cause of death. (p5)
This book was an entertaining and quick read. It wasn't great, but I did enjoy reading it. Each of Fatima's children have interesting stories and I was never bored as I was introduced to each of them in turn, however at a certain point it became difficult to keep all of her children and their families straight, even with the family tree included at the beginning of the book.

It was interesting to read about how each of Fatima's children related to their parents, ranging from Randa, who moved to Texas with her husband and strived to hide her heritage from her neighbors; to Nadia who became a Professor of Arabic, studying classical Arabic in college when she could have learned it from her parents for free. However, because so short an amount of time was spent with each of Fatima's children, it was hard to really connect with any single one of them, and while their stories were interesting, none were particularly memorable.

Scheherazade was an interesting tour guide into the lives of Fatima's children, riding on her magic carpet to visit them while Fatima slept, and often complaining of her gaudy portrayal in popular culture. Here's one quote from Scheherezade that I particularly enjoyed:
This indoor plumbing of today did cut down on the number of servants needed to run a house, but people no longer knew how to bathe. They actually stood up most of the time and let the water fall on them. Where was the comfort in standing under a waterfall that was not real when the world was filled with real ones? (p264)
I liked how the stories all became related through the impending demise of Fatima, although I wish there was more interaction between all the branches of the family tree throughout the novel. I was also able to guess a few of the twists well before they took place. The ending was satisfying and I enjoyed the book while I was reading it. Here's one last quote that I enjoyed:
No, nothing she hadn't had a chance to do in this lifetime in America still interested her, not even eating cookie dough right out of the tube as her American neighbor in Detroit, Millie, used to do while she watched The Guiding Light. [...] At first, she thought Millie was disgusting for eating raw eggs mixed with God only knew what. Then she started to notice how every crease in Millie's face would iron out and how her shoulders collapsed more and more with each bite, as if she had found paradise after a long journey. (p7)
  Who doesn't love raw cookie dough (except for Fatima, apparently)? ;)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

In My Mailbox (2.21.10)

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren.

I'm so impressed with myself, I actually managed to read all three of the library books that I checked out last week, so now I'm ready for something new! Luckily, I had some more library requests come in on Friday:

The Night Counter: A NovelGoing After CacciatoSaffron Dreams

  • The Night Counter by Alia Yunis: This is another one that I can't quite remember where I heard about it, but it's about a multi-generational Lebanese family living in the U.S. as the matriarch is trying to get her affairs in order before she dies - I've already finished this one so look out for a review in the coming days!
  • Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien:  This is my first book for the Vietnam War Challenge - I need to get a move on on all of my challenges! I'm excited to read it, as I remember really enjoying O'Brien's writing in The Things they Carried.
  • Saffron Dreams by Shaila M. Abdullah: I saw a couple of great reviews for this last month, so hopefully it will be a good read!
That's it for this week. I really need to keep better track of where I hear about books, so I can give better credit in these posts! Hope everyone else got great books this week as well!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven

The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven, translated by Dalya Bilu
2009, 331 pages

Noa Weber is a successful Israeli author of crime thrillers that feature a female-lawyer version of James Bond, Nira Woolf. Now, however, she is sitting down to write a confession of her all-consuming unrequited love for Alek, which has ruled her life.

This is the first book translated into English by Israeli author Gail Hareven. Hareven certainly has a way with words, although credit should also go to her translator, Dalya Bilu. The writing in this book pulled me in from the first page, and it was a pleasure to read. The writing should be savored, and a couple of times I had to put the book down because it was late at night and I knew I was too tired to really appreciate the prose. There are far too many passages I'd love to quote from this novel, so I'll just put in the first paragraph to give you a feel for her writing style:
The city of J lies at the top of the hills of J. That's how I'd like to begin my story; at a calm distance, with a deep breath, in a panoramic shot focusing very slowly on a single street, and very slowly on a single house, "this is the house where I was born." But you'd be making a fool of yourself if your J were Jerusalem, since every idiot knows about Jerusalem. And altogether it's impossible to talk about Jerusalem any more. Impossible, that is to say, without "winding alleys" and "stone courtyards," "caper bushes" and "Arab women in the market place." And I have nothing to say about caper bushes and stone courtyards, nor do I have the faintest desire to flavor my story with the colorful patios of colorful Jerusalem characters, twirling their mustaches as they spin Oriental tales.  (p8)
 This book was written in an almost stream-of-consciousness style, with Noa moving back and forth between different times of her life, defeating her efforts to tell her story in a linear fashion. I thought this format worked well for the novel, and was intrigued to read about Noa's relationship with Alek and her growth into an independent feminist woman who is still debilitated by this love. I enjoyed reading about Nira Woolf, the protagonist of Weber's crime novels, who serves as a foil to the love-stricken Noa. For example:
Nira Woolf, for example, would not make that mistake, because my Nira is first of all a moral being, and it's quite clear to her what's important and what's not. Fighting for the rights of dispossessed Arabs, defrauded patients, oppressed women, abused children, and so on, exposing the "system," saving the innocent and stamping out evil - that's important. But pining and whining about luuuve when your heart's broken, all that's just self-indulgence and nonsense as far as she's concerned. (p37)
However, the novel started to drag towards the middle - after the story moved past the first phase of her relationship with Alek I felt like there was less to tell and lost some of my interest. I also had to re-read the final chapter several times, and I'm still not completely sure I understand it. Although Noa claims that "there isn't going to be any historical panorama here, only me, me and my life," I think having some knowledge of Israeli politics/history is definitely helpful in understanding the conversations and events that take place over the course of the book.

I loved the writing in this book, and for the most part the plot as well. It's a book that I think I need to reread to fully appreciate, and is definitely a book to take your time with. It's hard for me to recommend this book, because while the writing is excellent and the story is interesting, it does drag in parts and it may be a tad confusing if you don't know much about the political history of Israel. Overall, I enjoyed it, and hope that I'll have time to reread it someday. In the meantime, here's one last quote - I couldn't resist!
 Let's say Noa Weber is suddenly sixty-eight. A bony body full of the opinions of a militant old lady, climbing tip-tap up those same old stairs. An old body full of opinions entering its old house, and lying down on the same old bed to give its feet a rest. And when this Noa Weber finally lies down, what exactly runs through her brain's worn-out connections? Does she polish up one of her correct opinions? Reflect compassionately about one of the victims in her books? Does she think about reforming society and justice for all? Definitely not. Just like now, Noa Weber thinks about him. (p11-12)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rebecca (Movie Review)

I've mainly been using this blog to talk about books, but I thought I'd throw in the occasional movie review, as TV/movies are my other obsession in addition to reading. I read Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier last month and loved it, and Amy at The Black Sheep Dances pointed me to the 1940 Hitchcock movie adaptation staring Lawrence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.  Since I reviewed the book here, I thought it might be fun to review the movie too.

From the start, I really enjoyed the opening sequence to the movie because it starts out exactly the same way as the book does, and I loved the pairing of Du Maurier's words with a haunting view of Manderley.

The movie follows the book very closely in the beginning, and overall stays pretty true to the book for the most part, changing/leaving out some things but nothing that really affects the overall story or that I particularly missed. Also, despite the fact that this movie was made before all of the modern special effects etc., I thought it was very well done and that the camera work and other affects were very fitting to the plot.

I loved Lawrence Olivier as Maxim de Winter and Joan Fontaine as his second wife. Both played the roles as I had imagined the characters would be and I enjoyed watching them in this movie. Lawrence Olivier isn't so bad to look at either - I'm not sure that I've ever seen a movie with him in it before.

In fact, most of the actors fit well with my imagination of the characters, with the exception of Mrs. Danvers. I didn't think Mrs. Danvers was nearly creepy enough, and I thought the movie would have played up the creepy/haunting factor a more than it did.

I thought the movie was a very good counterpart to Rebecca, and is a great example of classic film at its best. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum
1900, 259 pages

I somehow escaped my childhood without ever having read The Wizard of Oz, despite the fact that it was one of my favorite movies growing up, so when I saw it on the Reading List for the Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge I decided it was finally time for me to pick it up.

I accidentally requested the annotated version from the library:  a monster of a book with a 100+ page introduction, which I'm ashamed to say I skipped, along with most of the annotations... I did find some of the notes that were written alongside the text interesting, but I didn't want to be distracted from the story, especially since it was my first time reading it. I did enjoy the fact that the annotated version had the original illustrations from the book, but otherwise the massive annotations were wasted on me. Then again, I almost always skip over introductions/notes/etc when I'm reading.

One thing that I loved that I'm not sure comes across as well in the movie (it's been a while since I last watched the movie, so I can't say for sure), is that each of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion actually exemplifies those traits (brains, heart, and courage, respectively) that they feel that they lack. Maybe it's really obvious and I'm silly for pointing it out, but I found passages like the following heartwarming: 
[...] He walked very carefully, with his eyes on the road, and when he saw a tiny ant toiling by he would step over it, so as not to harm it. The Tin Woodman knew very well he had no heart, and therefore he took great care never to be cruel or unkind to anything.

"You people with hearts," he said, "have something to guide you, and need never do wrong; but I have no heart, and so I must be very careful. When Oz gives me a heart of course I needn't mind so much." (Chapter 6)
This is completely irrelevant, but I cracked up when I read the following quote...
Now the Wicked Witch of the West had but one eye, yet that was as powerful as a telescope, and could see everywhere. (Chapter 12)
...the first thing I thought of upon reading that was Sauron in Lord of the Rings, and his "eye"! Ack, I feel silly. Another interesting factoid:  did you know that the "ruby" slippers were silver in the book - they changed them to ruby for the movie.

Back to the review, one thing I kept thinking while I was reading is whether I would have liked it if I'd read it as a child. I think I would have enjoyed it if I'd read it when I was young, but I'm curious to hear if anyone read this growing up, and what their impressions were. Here's one last quote, my favorite in the entire book: 
The Scarecrow listened carefully, and said,

"I cannot understand why you should wish to leave this beautiful country and go back to the dry, gray, place you call Kansas."

"That is because you have no brains," answered the girl. "No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home." (Chapter 4)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Teaser Tuesday (2.16.10)

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!
Having taken advantage of my 3-day weekend to finish Nanny Returns and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, I've now moved on to The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven. I'm really enjoying the writing so far, for which I'm not sure whether to credit Gail Hareven, or her translator, Dalya Bilu. Here's my teaser - sorry it's on the long side this week!
Thirty-six steps of an external stairway led to the apartment on the second floor. I didn't count them then. Forget the prophecies of the heart:  No premonition told me that for the next twenty-nine years I would go up and down them about seventy thousand times, a few hundred of them with a baby carriage; no tingling of my toes hinted that I would wound my exposed big toe four times on the rusty can holding the sick jasmine bush that refused to die; that in certain moods I would decide to change the soil and plant a new bush there, and in others I would plan to drag it to the dumpster, and that I would never do either; I had no inkling that I was to see the top of the shaky iron banister covered with a strip of snow, and that its unsteadiness would would worry me from time to time, and that about this too, I would do nothing. (p29)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Nanny Returns by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Nanny Returns by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
2009, 305 pages

This book takes place more than a decade after the end of The Nanny Diaries. Nan has just moved back to New York after living abroad with her husband (Harvard Hottie, aka Ryan), and as she is trying to renovate her falling-apart home and get an HR consulting business off the ground, she finds herself being drawn back into the privileged life of the X family, as Grayer (the boy who she was a nanny for during The Nanny Diaries), now sixteen, is once again suffering at the hands of his negligent parents and reluctantly relies on Nan for help. On top of that, her husband is ready to have kids, but Nan isn't sure if she's is, or will ever be, ready, and reentering the world of the X's doesn't help matters.

I read The Nanny Diaries back when it first came out and remember liking it but not loving it back then, but I did enjoy the movie version, so when I saw that there was a sequel something nostalgic in me decided that I had to see what happens next. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by Nanny Returns and did not particularly enjoy the read.

I wasn't a huge fan of the plot. Maybe I'm heartless, but I thought it was weird that Nan allowed herself to become so deeply involved in the X's current situation, and I thought that the plot with the X's was way too dragged out. I would have preferred to see more of Nan dealing with her own issues than to have her dragged back to the X family in such an awkward way. Also, I'm not sure if it's because I'm an impatient reader, but I thought the writing/dialogue was a little jumpy/choppy in places - I'd be reading and the scene or conversation would suddenly shift gears, leaving me confused.

In short, I don't think this book is worth a read unless you really want to know what happens next after The Nanny Diaries. The Nanny Diaries at least seemed more realistic - a young nanny observing and becoming victim to the negligent parents of her charges - but the plot of this book just wasn't very believable, and I found it hard to sympathize with Nan this time around.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

In My Mailbox (2.14.10)

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren.  I had three of my library requests come in this week:

  • Nanny Returns by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus:   I read the Nanny Diaries a long time ago, and I remember liking the movie, so I'm interested to see what a sequel has to offer.
  • The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum:  I'm reading this for the Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge, and because I always wanted to read it but never got around to it - I loved the movie growing up. I didn't realize it when I requested it from the library, but I ended up getting the annotated version, which is humungous, so it seems a bit daunting right now!
  • Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven:  I can't remember how I found this book, but I have a minor obsession with Israeli literature, so I'm excited to read it.
That's all for this week - I managed to avoid the President's Day coupons (so far, anyway), which I'm proud of. Hopefully I'll have a review for Nanny Returns up this week, as I only have it on a 7-day loan from the library!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Being Written by William Conescu

Being Written by William Conescu
2008, 196 pages

One day, walking home late at night from a party, Daniel Fischer is robbed, and as the event takes place he hears the scratching of a pencil. Daniel believes that the scratching indicates that he is living in an author's world, and that his robbery is being written into a book. However, Daniel only plays a passing role in that book, so when, years later, he again hears the scratching in a bar where he meets an aspiring musician named Delia, he is determined this time to play a more important role. By insinuating himself into Delia's circle of friends, Daniel won't allow the author to ignore him this time around.
It was only after you got home that it occured to you that you didn't have to stay in the background the whole time the author's pencil was scratching. You could have walked up to their table and offered some advice. Not that people really do that kind of thing, but you could have. Or you could have followed one of them into the lobby and said something outside the bathrooms. You could have sent a message through the waiter, or passed by the table and tripped over the woman's handbag. If you'd made a real effort, you could have been important to them. And their book.  (p 58)
 I heard about this book from Anna's review at Diary of an Eccentric (back in the dark days when I was an avid lurker...), and the minute I heard the premise of the book, I knew I had to read it. I loved the idea of a self-aware character trying to force himself into a more important role as the author is writing a book.

I enjoyed the premise of this book, and found most of the characters to be engaging. I'm a little ambivalent towards the actual plot:  on the one hand it was interesting to see Daniel use his desire to be an important part of the book to justify more and more extreme actions as the book progressed, but at the same time I found myself groaning as certain plot twists took place.

I thought that Daniel's view of the world he lived in - part of the author's imagination - and the way he considers potential ways to impact the plot was interesting as a manifestation of the decisions an author might make while writing a book, but embodied in one of his characters; however, after a while (and as the plot twists became more extreme), it grew a little tiring.

I really liked the ending of the book - I liked that it was ambiguous and thought it fit the idea of the book well. Overall, I'd say this book is enjoyable but not great. I liked the idea behind it but am not sure if it necessarily translated well to the book as a whole. Here is a final quote (with some parts taken out to avoid spoilers):
[...You] are just a character. Just doing what the author has you do. [...] Because this has become your book. You are the protagonist, not some yes-man, not some two-dimensional supporting character. [...] It's becoming the kind of book people can't put down, the kind they sell at the airport. (p132)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

When book places and real life converge...

I had a really interesting experience while reading the other day. I'd just picked up Being Written, by William Conescu, to take with me on my commute, and was completely surprised to learn within the first few pages that it was set in Boston, which is where I live and work. I hadn't known that before I started reading the book. Then, coming home from work, I was amazed when I was reading a scene set at the Davis T Station as I was passing through Davis on the T. Maybe I'm making way too much of this, but I felt this incredible sense of deja vu - or if that's not the correct term then let's call it just plain awesomeness - that I was actually in the place being described as I was reading about it.

I don't generally choose books based on their locations, but I realized that I have read several books that take place or partially take place in/around Boston in the past two months: in addition to Being WrittenFirmin by Sam Savage was set in Boston, and My Life in France by Julia Child briefly touches on Julia's life in Cambridge, MA. That feels like kind of a lot, considering that I didn't choose these books based on their locations, and it's not like Boston is a hugely popular setting for books, at least in my reading experience.

I don't know why I get a little thrill out of recognizing places described in books as part of my ordinary routine - it's not something I noticed at all until recently. Now that I have noticed it, I'm not sure that I'll pick out books based in Boston on purpose in the future, but it may be something that I'll keep in the back of my mind...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
2002, 582 pages

Sue Trinder is an orphan who is approached by a man known to her as Gentleman to help him in a plot to marry and steal the fortune from Maud Lilly, a supposedly simple girl living with her uncle in the country. Sue agrees, taking a position as Maud's maid, and the plot twists and turns many times from there.

I have been hearing a lot of good things about Sarah Waters lately, so I was so excited to finally get around to reading one of her books! I definitely wasn't disappointed - Fingersmith was full of intriguing plot twists and great characters for me to devour. Waters' writing is also a pleasure to read, for example:
 I remember lying, and hearing the sound of knives and forks and china, Mrs Sucksby's sighs, the creaking of her chair, the beat of her slipper on the floor. And I remember seeing--what I had never seen before--how the world was made up:  that it had bad Bill Sykes in it, and good Mr Ibbses; and Nancys, that might go either way. (p7)
I think the biggest strength of this book is the plot - the many twists kept me invested until the end. One word of warning:  avoid reading the back cover! I was able to guess a couple of the plot twists based on what I read there, and think I would have been more surprised by some of the twists if I hadn't read the back cover. I'll also admit that there were some elements of the plot that I found really disturbing, but I guess that's the point. 

The characters were also great - I enjoyed reading about both Sue and Maud, although Sue was my favorite character by far. I loved her spirit and cunning. The minor characters were also interesting - this may be weird, but I ended up even liking the character of Gentleman, who is the main villain throughout the book.

Despite all the good things to say, I find myself hesitating before completely recommending this book. I enjoyed it and was pulled in by the plot, but I something kept me from loving it. It was long-ish, and I felt myself pushing through at times and getting impatient for the plot to start moving again. And despite the twisty plot and great characters, I don't see this as a book that I'll be rereading anytime soon. Still, it was definitely worth the read, as long as you know what you're getting into beforehand. This last quote is kind of long, but I love it so I had to include it in my review:
The night had been cold as winter, but the hill was a steep one and we grew warm as we climbed. When we got to the top, the sun was higher in the sky and the day was lightening up. I thought, The morning has broken.--I thought of the morning like an egg, that had split with a crack and was spreading. Before us lay all the green country of England, with its rivers and its roads and its hedges, its churchs, its chimneys, its rising threads of smoke. The chimneys grew taller, and the roads and rivers wider, the threads of smoke more thick, the further off the country spread; until at last, at the furthest point of all, they made a smudge, a stain, a darkness--a darkness, like the darkness of coal in a fire--a darkness that was broken, here and there, where the sun caught panes of glass and the golden tips of domes and steeples, with glittering points of light. 

'London,' I said. 'Oh, London!' (p 496)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Teaser Tuesday (2.9.10)

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 finishing Fingersmith this weekend (review will be up tomorrow, I hope), I picked up Being Written by William Conescu yesterday morning to take with me on my commute. Its definitely entertaining me so far -- plus, it takes place in Boston! Here's my teaser--I can definitely sympathize!

At least once a week, she suffers an attack of guilt for not investing emotionally in her work--or even in the fight against lupus--but the path between what she does and what good might result from it is so long and circuitous that it feels like she could just as easily be selling mail-order cosmetics or working as an accountants assistant. Maybe the other people at the foundation have to feign enthusiasm too. (p19)

    Sunday, February 7, 2010

    Spreading the award love!

    As I have no new books to share this week, I decided instead to stop procrastinating and pass on some awards that I'm grateful to have received in the last month. I'm so glad to be able to pass these awards on to some fantastic bloggers!


    First is the Bliss (Happy 101) Award, given to me by Emma Michaels. Head on over to check out her great blog! The rules for this award are that I have to list 10 things that make me happy, and pass it along to 10 other blogs.

    Here are my 10 things (in no particular order):
    1. Chocolate covered pretzels = my favorite dessert ever. Yummmmmmy ;)
    2. Shopping with a friend
    3. Visiting my family
    4. Going out for drinks
    5. Staying toasty inside with a good book on a cold day
    6. The beach
    7. Checking off all the items on my to-do list (rarely happens)
    8. New books
    9. Lost, The Office, NCIS, Bones, So You Think You Can Dance, and other TV obsessions...
    10. Feeling excited about work
     I'd like to pass this award on to 10 sweet bloggers who make my day every time I read their great comments!
    1. Booksnyc at Books in the City
    2. Emidy at Une Parole
    3. Eva at A Striped Armchair
    4. GretchTM at GretchTM's Book Blog
    5. Jennifer at Mrs. Q Book Addict
    6. Kay at My Random Acts of Reading
    7. Maxine at Maxine Reads
    8. Mrs. B at The Literary Stew
    9. Naida at The Bookworm
    10. Rhiana at Rhiana Reads

    Next is the Kreativ Blogger award, which I was lucky enough to receive from both Wendy at W.M. Morrell's Musings from Down Under and Laura at Reading and Roiboos. Thank you both so much! Now I have to list seven things about myself and then nominate seven blogs...

    Seven things about myself:
    1. This may make me girly, but I actually like to wear the color pink.
    2. I don't like spicy food. Or cheese, although I'm working on that... I also used to hate mints (I thought they were spicy), but I've gotten over that one.
    3. Despite being an environmentalist, I use obscene amounts of paper towels in the kitchen...
    4. I drink 2-4 cups of coffee a day, plus at least 1-2 cups of tea. But I'm not addicted to caffeine (or so I think...)
    5. I used to want to be a writer, and still wonder about it sometimes.
    6. I'm a packrat... I can't get rid of anything, especially books ;)
    7. I'll buy three pairs of new shoes, but then just keeping wearing my old, comfy ones anyway.
     Now I would like to pass this award on to 7 bloggers with fantastic blogs that I consume voraciously...
    1. Emma Michaels at Emma Michaels
    2. I Heart Monster at I Heart Monster
    3. JoAnn at Lakeside Musing
    4. Marquetta at Love to Read for Fun
    5. Muse in the Fog at Confessions and Ramblings of a Muse in the Fog
    6. Sandra Stiles at Musings of a Book Addict
    7. Stephanie aka The Stark Raving Bibliophile at Laughing Stars

    The One Lovely Blog Award was given to me by Marquetta at Love to Read for Fun. For this award, you pass it on to five blogs that you have newly discovered. I'd like to pass this on to the following blogs that I've recently discovered and love! Please go check them out!
    1. Andi at Estella's Revenge: Tripping Toward Lucidity
    2. April Nichole at April Nichole's Blog
    3. Jenn at Books at Midnight
    4. Krista at Mental Foodie
    5. Laura at Reading and Roibos
    And last but certainly not least is the Over the Top! Award, which I received from Rhiana at Rhiana Reads just this week. For this award, I have to answer the following questions with one word answers and then pass the award on to 5 more deserving bloggers.
    Here are my answers:

    (1) Your Cell Phone? Neglected
    (2) Your Hair? Frizzy
    (3) Your Mother? Loving
    (4) Your Father? Wise
    (5) Your Favorite Food? Chocolate
    (6) Your Dream Last Night? Disturbing
    (7) Your Favorite Drink? Coffee
    (8) Your Dream/Goal? Environment
    (9) What Room Are You In? Bedroom
    (10) Your Hobby? Blogging ;)
    (11) Your Fear? Failure
    (12) Where Do You Want To Be In Six Years? Happy
    (13) Where Were You Last Night? Reading
    (14) Something That You Aren't? Confident
    (15) Muffins? Yummy!
    (16) Wish List Item? iPhone
    (17) Where Did You Grow Up? N.J.
    (18) Last Thing You Did? Breakfast
    (19) What Are You Wearing? Workout-clothes
    (20) Your TV? Overused
    (21) Your Pets? None
    (22) Friends? Wonderful!
    (23) Your Life? Limbo
    (24) Your Mood? Complacent
    (25) Missing Someone? Family
    (26) Vehicle? Subway
    (27) Something You Aren't Wearing? Glasses
    (28) Your Favorite Store? H&M
    (29) Your Favorite Color? Blue
    (30) When Was The Last Time You Laughed? Morning
    (31) Last Time You Cried? Reading
    (32) Your Best Friend? Sister
    (33) One Place You Go To Over And Over Again? Work
    (34) Facebook? Annoying
    (35) Favorite Place To Eat? w/Friends 

    Ok, I cheated for that last one, I know. Anyway, here are five over the top bloggers who I am passing this award along to!
    1. Alexia at Alexia's Books and Such
    2. Anna at Diary of an Eccentric
    3. Lisa at Lit and Life
    4. S. Mehrens at A library is the Hospital of the Mind
    5. Wendy at W.M. Morrell's Musings from Down Under
    Phew, sorry for this ridiculously long post! Thanks again to the great bloggers who gave me these  awards, and please go visit everyone listed here - they're all fantastic!

    Saturday, February 6, 2010

    The Help by Kathryn Stockett

    The Help by Kathryn Stockett
    2009, 451 pages

     The Help narrates from the point of view of three women living in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi:  Skeeter, a white woman and aspiring writer, and Aibileen and Minny, two black maids. After getting advice from a New York publisher to "Write about what disturbs you, even if it bothers no one else," and hearing from Aibileen that her dead son had wanted to write a book about what it's like to be a black man in Mississippi, Skeeter decides to interview black maids working for white women in Jackson.

    I'll admit, I picked up this book more because I felt that I should read it than because I wanted to, but I'm glad I did. It wasn't the fastest or most engrossing book I've read, but I did enjoy the characters and the plot moved quickly enough that I was never disinterested. I really liked that it was told from three different perspectives, because I found myself enjoying reading each of their stories. Stockett did a good job of establishing what it was like for both white and black women in 1960s Mississippi, as well as establishing her narrators and each of their distinct voices. I definitely enjoyed the chapters narrated by Minny the most, but Skeeter and Aibileen were interesting to read about as well.

    I was moved by the fact that Aibileen, Minny, and the other black maids were willing to face the danger inherent in talking about their experiences. I at first questioned Skeeter's sincerity, because at the beginning of the book it seemed like she was undertaking the project and putting these women in danger out of a desire to advance her career moreso than to help them, but as the project continues her character evolves as she too faces the consequences of her work. Here's an example:
    I read through four of the twenty-five pages, mesmerized by how many laws exist to separate us. Negroes and whites are not allowed to share water fountains, movie houses, public restrooms, ballparks, phone booths, circus shows. Negroes cannot use the same pharmacy or buy postage stamps at the same window as me. I think about Constantine, the time my family took her to Memphis with us and the highway had mostly washed out, but we had to drive straight on through because we knew the hotels wouldn't let her in. I think about how no one in the car would come out and say it. We all know about these laws, we live here, but we don't talk about them. This is the first time I've ever encountered them written down. (p173)
    In the end, this book was definitely a worthwhile read and provides an interesting perspective on the civil rights movement. I'm glad I picked it up and definitely highly recommend it. Here's one last quote to leave you with:
    Loud voices shout in the street and both our eyes dart toward the window. We are quiet, stock-still. What would happen if someone white found out I was here on a Saturday night talking to Aibileen in her regular clothes? Would they call the police, to report a suspicious meeting? I'm suddenly sure they would. We'd be arrested because that is what they do. They'd charge us with integration violation--I read about it in the paper all time--they despise the whites that meet with the coloreds to help with the civil rights movement. This has nothing to do with integration, but why else would we be meeting?" (P145)

    Wednesday, February 3, 2010

    Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

    Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella
    2009, 425 pages

    Lara Lington is at her great aunt Sadie's funeral when she hears a voice demanding, "Where's my necklace?" Lara soon realizes that she is being haunted by Sadie, and she attempts to fulfill her great aunt's final wish(es) while simultaneously dealing with her own personal and professional problems.
    I move my eyes along, incredulously. The hand belongs to a long, pale, sinuous arm. Which belongs to a girl about my age. Who's lounging on a chair in front of me, her fingers drumming impatiently. She has dark bobbed hair and a silky sleevless pale-green dress, and I can just glimpse a pale, jutting chin.

    I'm too astonished to do anything but gape.

    Who the hell is that?

    As I watch, she swings herself off her chair as though she can't bear to sit still and starts to pace up and down. Her dress falls straight to the knee, with little plaits at the bottom, which swish about as she walks.

    "I need it," she's muttering in agitation. "Where is it? Where is it?" (p27)
    I am a big fan of Sophie Kinsella. I've lost count of the number of times I've read her Shopaholic series, and I know I can rely on her books for a light but satisfying read. Twenties Girl was no exception - in fact, I think it might be my second favorite book by her after the Shopaholic books.

    I was very skeptical of the premise of this book coming in. I'm not generally a fan of ghost stories, and recent experiences haven't exactly helped me revise that prejudice. However, I really liked the way Kinsella used the ghost of Sadie in this book. I wasn't expecting to like this book as much as Shopaholic, but I ended up really enjoying it.

    As has been my experience with other books by Kinsella, once I picked this book up, I was pulled in by the story and kept reading until I finished the book, several hours later. The plot definitely kept me interested, and I really enjoyed some of the twists in the latter half of the book. I loved the characters of both Lara and Sadie, and especially the way they interacted - seeing just what Sadie could get Lara to do for her, and watching as the friendship between the two developed.

    Overall, this book was a very entertaining light read. I'd recommend it to anyone who's a fan of Kinsella or looking for a quick, fun book to read. I'm glad I got over my fear of ghosts and picked it up ;)

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    Teaser Tuesday (2.2.10)

    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!
    This week I'm reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I'm enjoying it so far, but have a heavy chunk of reading to get through if I want to finish it before it's due back to the library! Here's my teaser this week:
    I listen wide-eyed, stupid. Glowing by her voice in the dim light. If chocolate was a sound, it would've been Constantine's voice singing. If singing was a color, it would've been the color of that chocolate. (p67)

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    Wrapping up my first month of blogging!

    Wow, January has really flown by, I can't believe it's been less than a month since I started this blog! Not only have I discovered many, many great blogs in the past month, I've also read more books this month than I had thought possible - I was aiming for 1 book per week but ended up reading almost twice that! Somehow being able to discuss my reading and finding out about great new books on everyone's blogs has really motivated me and I've managed to make reading a priority for once, which I'm really proud of. Thanks to everyone who's visited my fledgling blog and for welcoming me into the book blogging community!

    Moving on to what I read this month... I think my favorite read this month is a toss up between Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier and The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran. I love DuMaurier's prose in Rebecca, but was completely engrossed by The Heretic Queen, making it hard to choose a favorite between the two!

    Here are all the books I read this month, in chronological order:
    1. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
    2. My Life in France by Julia Child
    3. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
    4. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
    5. Firmin by Sam Savage
    6. Dear John by Nicholas Sparks
    7. Roses by Leila Meacham
    8. The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran
    9. Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella (review to be posted later this week)
    Overall,  a great month in terms of reading! All of the books I read this month were really enjoyable,  with the exception of Her Fearful Symmetry, which I wanted to throw across the room (but didn't, because it was a library book) when I finished.

    This month I signed up for 5 challenges:  The Flashback Challenge, The Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge, The Memorable Memoir Challenge, War through the Generations: Vietnam War Challenge, and the Social Justice Challenge. So far, I've only managed to read one book for my challenges (My Life in France, for the Memorable Memoir Challenge), but it's only January... right? I also completed Bloggiesta, hosted by Maw Books, which came at the perfect time to really get things rolling on my blog!

    In other news, three lovely bloggers have given me awards this month. I'm planning to post about each separately when I have time, but in the meantime a thousand thank you's to
    And thanks to everyone who reads/comments at my blog... I've had so much fun blogging this past month, and am looking forward to more bloggy goodness in February!