Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Romances

Reader, this was a tough one. So tough that I couldn't get ten. I felt like we had already done favorite couples, or couples that would be good in real life, or something with couples. However, since I missed last weeks TTT (I was confined to my bedchamber with a serious case of the spins: I had severe vertigo) and since it's almost Valentine's Day I figured I'd go ahead and throw out 7 literary romances that stuck with me.

10. Scarlett and Rhett from Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

9. Heathcliffe and Cathy from Wuthering Heights by
image from jenimal.deviantart.com

8. Darcy and Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
image from allposters.com

7. Romeo and Juliet from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

6. Heloise and Abelard from The Letters of Abelard and Heloise by Peter Abelard (and also from real life!)

"Abelardus and Heloise Surprised by Master Fulbert" by Jean Vignaud

5. Anna and Vronsky from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

4. Jamie and Claire from The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon
image from polymeriric.com
Happy Valentine's Day, well, on Thursday, Reader! I hope that you are able to celebrate with a loved one whether it be family or friend. As for me, I think I may be forced into chaperoning a school dance instead of celebrating with my own loved ones, but that's just one of the many joys of working in public education! Hopefully I'll be able to have a nice Valentine's weekend since that is also Geoffrey's birthday weekend. I've got a few ideas planned but we shall see. Happy Valentine's Day Thursday and Happy Lincoln's Birthday today!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Reader, I need YOUR help!

If you're reading this, I need your help!
I entered my school (I'm a middle-grades Librarian) into a contest to earn some money to buy some books (our libraries collection is pitiful). Since you got to my blog by loving literature somehow, you know how important instilling a love of literature is, especially with children. It's kind of hard to do that when we only have a few old books that they aren't even interested in! We're in the running for the prize, but I need as many votes as I can get to boost us up. My school is in a tiny town in North Carolina and we are up against some HUGE distrcits like LA and Las Vegas so I'm solisiting votes any way I can!
This will be quick and painless, people:
1. Go to http://www.follettchallenge.com
2. Search for "The Illustrated Springsteen Project" (yes, my students did a HUGE project on Mr. Bruce Springsteen, how cool is THAT?!- check the video out to see just how cool it was!)
3. Click the red "vote now" tab and enter as many email addresses as you use.
It's THAT easy. I'm thinking of having some kind of contest where I will give you a gift certificate to the Book Depository for entering for me. More to come on that later!
Thanks to all who help me out with this!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Review: The Hours by Michael Cunningham

While I was visiting my parents house the movie version of Michael Cunningham's The Hours came on and I watched the first half of it with my mother. I was thoroughly hooked on the movie, but I knew that I wanted to read the book before I finished the movie so I stopped watching and went off to read whatever book I was reading at the time.
Having been sick and confined to bed all week I was ready for a new read after finishing two in two days. I was in the mood for something serious and I knew that it was time for me to read The Hours. I should have consulted my 2013 TBR Pile list before diving into this book as it was my pick for May of this year, but I was so strongly feeling the urge to read it that I abandoned all thought and read the book in two days in February. Oh well, that frees up May some for me then I suppose.

Title: The Hours
Author: Michael Cunningham
Publication Date: 1999
Publisher: Macmillian/Picador
Pages: 240
Where I Got It: Ed MacKays Used Books, Winston-Salem, NC, July 2012
Dates I Read It: February 7 & 8, 2013
Number of Stars: 5/5
Read For: 2013 TBR Pile Challenge (May Selection, oops); 1001 Books to Read Challenge

The Hours is the story of three women in different eras living their life in one day. First we meet Virginia Woolf, yes, THE Virginia Woolf, on the morning that she begins writing Mrs. Dalloway. Next we meet Clarissa Vaughn living in the late 1990's New York City who is planning a party for her long-time friend, Richard, who is being honored with a distinguished literary award, and finally we meet Laura Brown who only wants to read Mrs. Dalloway and escape from her mundane housewife life in 1950's America. We journey on one day in the lives of each of these ladies much like we journey one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway in the novel Mrs. Dalloway. In the end the three lives will interchange and all come together in an act of interconnectedness like no other. If you do not see the shocking connection before the association is revealed, plan to be in for a big surprise.
I got a lot out of this book. Having never read Mrs. Dalloway (though I certainly plan to do so very soon) I was not sure that I would follow along with this novel very well. However, I do know the synopsis of Mrs. Dalloway which did help to understand the mechanisms that Cunningham used to write this novel. The prose is deliciously great. The story as a whole flows like a river pulling the characters (and the reader) along a smooth flowing stream in a day. There is little to no action at all and we mostly get thoughts  descriptions of places and motives, and some dialogue. While this may sound quite prosaic, I assure that it is anything but. Each of the women are struggling with an inner unrest that leaves you wondering what she will choose to do about it.
The characters were astonishingly realistic. Though it's almost impossible to know the exact actions and thoughts that Woolf had during her time at Hogarth House (there is really only so much one can gather from letters), Cunningham does a splendid job of giving life and feeling and depth to Woolf as well as the other two women in the novel. Though there is little character development aside from Laura Brown I felt a sense of belief and trust in these three women. They behaved as women do in their individual dilemmas and they spoke the way I would expect them to and they thought in a manner that was true to their time and person. Even the minor characters like Vanessa (Woolf's sister) and Kitty (Laura's neighbor) and Julie (Clarissa's daughter) were fully formed and believable.
I found no fault with this novel which is very rare for me. I credit as being a great work of fiction and can easily understand how it won the PEN/Faulkner as well as the Pulitzer and the Stonewall.
The video version of the book is currently available on Netflix and I hope to be able to watch it this weekend sometime and do a review of it comparing it to the novel. The first half seemed to follow the book to a T. However, look for a review for that soon and check back for more information on my sister blog which is up and under construction, but not quite ready for me to say "go to this great new blog I've got, you won't be disappointed" yet.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Review: The Absolutely True Diary of A Part Time Indian

I need to start this review by sending a huge thank you to Bex from An Armchair by the Sea who sent me this book off of my December 2012 Random Acts of Kindness wish list. This is a book that I had been wishing for for quite some time. I adore Native American literature; anything written by or about or featuring characters of Native American descent is my kind of book. If and when I ever get back to graduate school I plan to focus my studies on Native American literature and one of the authors that I intend to focus on is Mr. Sherman Alexie. This is the first of his books that I have read and I'm so glad that I did get the chance to read it, so thank you Bex, for this amazing gift!

Title: The Absolutely True Diary of A Part Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Illustrator: Ellen Forney
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher: Little Brown Books
Pages: 230
Where I Got It: From Bex at An Armchair By The Sea (thank you!)
Dates I Read It: February 7, 2013
Number of Stars: 4/5
Read For: Pure pleasure

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian is a bildungsroman tale that relates the story of Arnold Spirit Junior who is fourteen years old and lives on the Spokane Tribe Reservation in Washington State. Junior has been born with water on his brain and is still suffering the after effects of this unfortunate entry to the world; he's prone to seizures  he has an enlarged head, he had ten extra teeth that had to be painfully pulled all at once, etc. He feels very limited in what he can do with his future. Through a series of events with a White teacher he decides that in order to take control of his own future and to hold on to any hope he may have he needs to go to the "White" school off of the reservation. Junior spends his days trying to acclimate to a White high school that is very different from the school on the "rez".

I was able to read this entire book in one sitting. Yesterday was the first day that I was able to keep my head down for long periods of time with out spinning over or, as Junior would call it, "yucking", so I got a lot of reading done yesterday. I finished up The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and then I sat down to start this book and ended up reading the entire thing and then I got 40 pages into The Hours by Michael Cunningham. The Absolutely True Diary... is a relatively short book at 230 pages, and a lot of those pages are cartoon drawings from Junior's "diary." I enjoyed this story very much. It is heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once. The characters are brutally honest and flawed. Junior confesses the downtrodden nature of life on the reservation that includes poverty and severe alcoholism that plagues 98% of the population of the tribe. The book does not read like a straight diary in the "dear diary" sense of the word, but it skips around and hits on the main events of Junior's life in the way that a real diary would. There are several sessions of dialogue between characters which have a frank and impartial feeling to them. The teenagers spoke in ways that real teenagers would. Throughout the progression of the book Junior deals with several instances of death and they all involve alcohol. In the very short book he looses two family members and one family friend. There were instances where I found myself laughing out loud at Junior's sarcastic wit and then two pages later I was mournful of the events taking place and Junior's acute understanding and telling of the event.

The book was banned in quite a few libraries and it was one of ALA's top banned books of 2010, so I knew right away that I was going to love this book! I also saw this promising bit of information on the back cover: "I have no doubt that in a tear or so it'll be winning awards and being banned." -Neil Gaiman. As a librarian who has to deal with book banning drama more often than not, I can see what the charges against the book would be: language, sex, violence, alcoholism, bullying, you know, the usual, the things that teenagers actually want to read about and can actually relate to! This is not a book that I would keep in my middle grades library, but I can see it having a good home in any high school library in the country. It was an enjoyable and easy read, I had it read in about 3 hours. The cartoon work of Ellen Forney adds a bit of comic relief to an otherwise heavy in themes book. Alexie's dry wit also didn't hurt. Despite the somewhat advanced themes of the book, I believe that this is a book with a powerful message about breaking out of a comfort zone and about the dangers of alcohol which is so relevant with the youth of our nation today. This is a book that you won't want to miss no matter if you're fourteen or forty. I can't wait to get my hands on some of Alexie's adult-fiction books!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

So, reader, I bet that you are wondering to yourself if I have already given up my resolution one month in and again fallen off the blogosphere, but actually, I just kinda fell off everything- literally! Since Sunday night I have had a severe case of Vertigo and it is just as scary as the Hitchcock movie! I woke up Sunday night/Monday morning at 1:00 AM feeling like I was being sucked into the ground, I sat up quick with a gasp and promptly fell over and felt a strong urge to vomit. Which I did for the next two days. Finally yesterday after having fallen down twice and feeling that I will never again be able to walk or drive without risk of a public drunkenness or DUI charge, I sucked it up and I went to the doctor where I was given two medications and strict instructions to not drive any more and to just stay flat on my back until the medication kicked in and the world stopped spinning madly on. Well, I can do the no driving thing, and I'm more than fine with missing some work, but I'm not one to just lay on my back all day. So, I sat up and I finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay which this post will be a review of and I read all of The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie which I will hopefully have a review of soon.

(This song represents my life this week)

Looking at a computer screen, believe it or not, is somewhat difficult for me as it brings on dizzy spells, so I will most likely be very brief in this review which will be difficult because this book is a beast!

Title: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Author: Michael Chabon
Publication Date: 2000
Publisher: Random House
Page: 640
Where I Got It: Used at The Last Word in Charlotte, NC
Dates I Read It: January 26, 2013 - February 7, 2013
Number of Stars: 4/5
Read For: 2013 TBR Pile Challenge (February Selection)

This is the story of Josef Kavalier who is living with his family in Prague in 1939. Oh, did I mention that he is very Jewish. Yeah, that means he needs to hit the road and get outta Dodge, and quick. Josef has been taking lessons with a master of the art of escape- Mr. Kornblum who agrees to assist him in escaping the country. Through a series of near-miss escapes from different countries Josef finally makes it to New York City where he finds his cousin Samuel Clayman. The two bond quickly and decide to begin making a new form of entertainment known as "comic books". The two have a real talent for this medium and soon their ace hero, The Escapist, is blowing up. The story follows the two young men over the span of almost three decades, through marriages, lost loves, World War II, children, wives, and much more.
This is a book that demands a lot from the reader. It demands an exorbitant amount of focus, time, attention and emotion. It is all at once the story of the burgeoning comic industry, romance, suspense, survivors guilt, LGBT issues, WWII, Holocaust, magic, and the immigrant experience. Let's start with the characters who drive this story. Josef (Joe in America) is at the heart of the novel. I would consider Joe to be the main character, but the character whose story I was the most interested in was Samuel (Sammy). Sam is a lonely boy when we first meet him and I had figured out his "secret" about 100 pages in, I just kept waiting for  him to reveal it like a sleight of hand. Rosa was the girl at the center of the boys worlds. She was an artist herself who eventually made comics for women readers. She is the love of Joe's life though in these redolent novels the hero doesn't always end up with the girl and for the majority of the book I was fascinated to see if Joe would ever fulfill his full destiny and end up with Rosa. Chabon includes many expanded (sometimes for pages on end) inner revealings of each of the three main characters which while at times these revelations could be somewhat dauntless they really revealed the inner consciousness of the characters and made them into some of the most authentic characters that I have ever experienced in all of literature. Also astonishing about the characters was that there was not a single one that I resented or found any dislike for which, Reader, is very rare for me. They were too real to hate and through those long interludes of thoughts Chabon makes his readers cherish his characters as if they were beloved friends or family members.
I kept hearing one of my favorite book podcasters, Michael Kindness from Books on the Nightstand rave about this book so I placed it on my TBR list years ago and never thought to really get around to it (it's 640 pages- I was scared!) until Roof Beam Reader hosted the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge and I knew I had to knock this one out in 2013 and added it to the list. I'm so glad that it's not still sitting in the pile and that I have experienced this amazing adventure.
The prose was spectacularly written and it is no wonder to me that this novel won the Pulitzer. The tone of this book ranges from exciting and sweeping to dark and it ends with a twinge of nostalgia that I would have expected from the poetic duo. The plot was engaging which surprised me as I do not care for comic books at all. I was a little hesitant about reading a book surrounding the genre, but this is a readable book even for those  of us who are comic book neophytes. The story drifted a little bit for me when one of our heroes enlists in the war. During this part I felt that the character development came to a screeching halt. The character that this selection of the book focused on made decisions and actions which were not believable to me based on the past 300 pages that I had journeyed with this character. Had it not been for this one section of the novel I would have given the book as a whole a full 5 out of 5 stars.
Like I said at the start of this review, this book does demand a great deal from its reader, so this is not a book that I would recommend to just anyone. However, everyone that I know that has read it has loved it. If you have the time and the energy to maneuver this book, I do not believe you will finish it feeling disappointed.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Reviewing January/Previewing February 2013 Edition

image from partiallyexaminedlife.com
January was a great blogging month for me, but not a great reading month. During the course of the month I only read four books (and one was just wrapping up a book): I finished Anna Karenina (Tolstoy), I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Smith), I read a few stories from A Good Man Is Hard To Find (O'Connor), I read Follow the River (Thom), Naked Came the Leaf Peeper (multi-authored) and I started The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Chabon). I was able to successfully review every book that I read this month (click on the title to go to the reviews).

January's book club book was my book! I selected A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash. We had a great discussion about the book and I was dejected to learn that not everyone in the group loved it. I have a rivalry with one girl in the club and she seems to hate anything I suggest, though, so other than her everyone either loved it or like it a lot. This month's selection is Follow the River and we will be discussing it Wednesday evening.

I knocked out my January 2013 TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader book which was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This book also counted for one of my Classics Club Challenges!

I completed all of the Top Ten Tuesday's hosted by The Broke and The  Bookish
-Favorite Covers
-Anticipated 2013 Debut Books
-Settings to Explore Further
-Frustrating Characters

I completed the January meme question asked by The Classics Club: What is the best book that you've read for the Classics Club so far? 

I was really disheartened that I was only able to read four books this month. Work has been really crazy and I'm still trying to remember my promise to myself to leave by 4:15 every day (except Tuesdays and Thursdays and the other days that I have meetings that pop up suddenly the day of the meeting). I'm not counting on getting a ton read in February either. In addition to it being a short month I have a lot of things going on: Tuesday meetings, Book Club on Wednesday, Family Night at School on Thursday, Wiley Cash at the Literary Book Post in Salisbury next Monday, Tuesday meeting on Lincoln's Birthday!, Valentines Day Dance after school on Valentines Day then actually celebrating Valentines Day with Geoff, hair appointment on the 28th, and those are just the scheduled in advance things. Sheesh! I'll be happy to just finish Kavalier and Clay and get to March's book club selection (which I honestly don't know what it is...whoops!)

image from partiallyexaminedlife.com
So, like I said, February is going to be slam-packed for me. However, I am hopeful that I will finish my February TBR Pile Challenge book (Kavalier and Clay), read my March Book Club selection (???) and maybe sneak in another one- maybe finish A Good Man is Hard to Find? I'd love to start reading more short stories. I wish I had more time and I wound undertake a challenge to read a short story a day and write about it, or perhaps a poem a day? A poem is more doable than a short story.
I hope to get to all of the TTT lists this month (bookish memories, romances, characters in X genre, authors I automatically buy their books). I plan to get to the February question from the Classics Club: "What classic has surprised you the most so far, and why?" I also hope to get reviews up for Kavalier and Clay (which, by the way, I should have said this earlier, I am LOVING so far) and whatever book we're reading next for Book Club. And, believe it or not despite my previous rant on my lack of time, I am also planning on starting a new blog. A sister blog for Yeah, I Read it, Yeah, I Saw It will be a blog for the movie lover. Reviews, previews, news, and all the other ews I can throw at you. How I'm going to do it, I will never know. I was driving to see Hyde Park on Hudson today (which, by the way, I missed due to a parking shortage in Charlotte, but I'm planning to try again either tonight or tomorrow) and I realized I had no one to discuss this movie with. A few years ago, feeling remorseful that I had no one to discuss books with, I began Book Jackets and met a lot of new bloggers in the book blogosphere that I now connect with and so currently I'm hoping to do the same with films. We'll see how this goes! Wish me (lots and lots) of luck!