Friday, May 31, 2013

Wrapping Up May/Anticipating June

Tomorrow is the first day of my favorite month: JUNE! I only have 4.5 more days with the kids and then 4 (well, three for me-huzzah!) workdays to get through and then it's time for summer, glorious summer! On the fifteenth I am going with some of my family members to the beach and I can't wait for a week of laying in the sun and just reading!
June's not quite here yet though, and before it gets here I need to wrap up May:

What I Read:
The Phantom of the Opera -no review yet
The Awakening
The Silver Linings Playbook
A Walk in the Woods
The Orchardist
Look Me In The Eye: My Life With Aspergers -no review

Somehow, miraculously, I found the time to write NINE blog posts. In addition to reviews I also did a bookshelf tour, participated in The Classics Club Spin #2, did a mini book haul, and explained why I had to drop out of Armchair BEA.
My favorite read this month was Silver Linings Playbook.
I got The Phantom of the Opera for my Classics Club Spin choice (#6: Books I Feel Neutral About). I actually enjoyed it. I haven't written a review on it yet, but I gave it 3.5 stars and hope to get a review up this weekend.

May is one of my most busiest months of the year. This past week alone has drained all of the life out of me (and only allowed me to really read about 20 pages for the entire week). I'm very surprised that I was able to get six books read during this month! To be fair, The Awakening was very short and Look Me In The Eye was an audio book. I also think that coming out of my reading slump had left me longing for some literature in a bad way! Looking back at the variety of the books I read this month I got inspired to add more variety to what I read, so I decided to set monthly reading goals. What I hope to accomplish each month is to read one classic, one adult fiction, one YA book, one non-fiction and one audio book  The only one that gives me any reserve is the audio book. I have a thirty minute commute (one-way) to work which usually gives me an hour of listening time each day. However, with summer approaching (did I mention how stoked i am for this?!) I don't think that I will be spending as much time in the car. Hopefully when I do vacation and road trips I'll be able to do the audio books that way.

Here is what I hope to accomplish in June:

It's Jane In June month so I'm hoping to read at least one Jane Austen related book.

Classic: Mansfield Park, Emma, or Persuasion -Jane Austen
YA: The Fault In Our Stars -John Greene
Adult Fiction: Tell The Wolves I'm Home -Carol Rifka Brunt (I'm not sure if this book is technically "YA" or not, but this is the July selection for Book Club so I'm going to include it under the adult fiction section, especially since I'm super excited to finally read The Fault in Our Stars)
Non-Fiction: Stiff: The Curious Lives Of Human Cadavers -Mary Roach (I was going to read a Jane biography, but I think that I will save that for Austen in August.)
Audio book: World War Z: An Oral History of The Zombie War -Max Brooks (I technically started this one a few days ago, but I'm not done with it yet so I'm going to count it for my June book).

So there you have it. May was a great reading month despite the hectic work schedule I had this month. June looks to be even more promising as I will have ample free time to do what I do best- READ!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

That Post On Why I Had To Backburn Armchair BEA (insert sad emoticon here)

Let me tell y'all a little something about the week I'm having. Like I have mentioned in several previous posts, I am currently working as a school librarian in a middle school in North Carolina. Working for the Department of Public Education in North Carolina means that once a year I get treated to a little delight that you yourself may remember from your school days. Yes, that's right I'm talking End Of Grade Testing, or EOG's if you want to strike fear in the hearts of students and teachers alike. This years EOG's have been a monster. This particular monster requires extra attention to details and extra crossing of I's and dotting of T's since we are all now being judged on a new "standard 6" which could mean that if things don't go the way they want it in the capitol, we could all loose our jobs and die penniless. So to prevent this from happening someone's got to account for all of this extra attention and that is where the librarian comes in. And why not? "All she does all day is sit up there and read books anyhow." So I have spent all of this week working, literally, 14 hour days. I had high hopes of participating in Armchair BEA. I even had all of my responses pre-written out and ready to go, but when you've been on your feet for 14 hours and getting yelled at and abused, the last freakin' thing you're thinking about when you finally get home and get something to eat and it's already 10:30 is blogging.

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I guess I really should have consulted a calendar when Armchair BEA was announced and not even bothered to get my hopes about participating in this exciting event up. I have not even been able to pick up a book this week I have been so swamped and beat. Today I finally managed to read a chapter in City of Bones and even that was difficult as I kept thinking about a million other things I need to accomplish before I can actually cram myself into bed. I really did want to participate in Armchair BEA very badly, but the timing is so off this year. There's always next year....

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Review: The Awakening by Kate Chopin

I expected The Awakening to be a much longer book. For all of the criticism and banning it gets, I expected it to be a pretty hefty book. Imagine my surprise when I was able to read the entire book in one afternoon. Most of my friends on GoodReads gave it four or five stars so I had high expectations. These expectations were so not met.

Title: The Awakening
Author: Kate Chopin
Publication Date: 1899
Publisher: Dover Publications
Pages: 116
Where I Got It: Used Book Store
Dates I Read It: May 12, 2013
Read It For: The Classics Club, 2013 TBR Pile Challenge (October Selection- I do realize it's May...Don't ask), 1001 Book Challenge
Number of Stars: 3/5

The story is Edna Pontellier’s and it begins whilst she is on vacation in Louisiana where she falls in love with Robert. Robert feels the same so he sets off for Mexico since Edna is married and has two children. Edna goes back home to New Orleans where she pines for Robert. Soon her husband goes away on business and sends the children to his mothers. For the first time Edna is able to be on her on with just herself and she’s given plenty of time to consider her life and how she wants it to be. Having found a comfort in this independence she moves from her family home to a smaller one around the corner. She soon takes up with Alcee who is somewhat of the neighborhood player, yet Edna holds her own with him only to come undone after her affair with him. Robert returns to confess his love only to realize this mistake. He then leaves Edna a John Deere letter causing Edna to drown herself at the same beach that she first met Robert.

I did not like this book.  I could not relate to the main character at all, which is unfortunate because I should have been able to fully connect to her as someone who has always craved independence myself. Edna was very unlikable. I wanted desperately to be fond of her, but the character development was exceedingly lacking for me.

It was not just Edna that I did not like; I also did not particularly care for the story. I had a high anticipation for this particular book as there are so many positive reviews, it was banned which is always a plus for any book, it was shocking when first published, it was about a young woman’s sexual awakening- what’s not to love? Well, for starters I did not care for the writing style. I normally like the naturalism approach, yet this one bored me to tears. I personally found that the book was not all that shocking. I kept comparing the book to one of my favorite books dealing with marital infidelity: Anna Karenina. While making this comparison I found Anna to be much more shocking. I felt connected to Anna and Vronsky and Daisy and every single character in Anna, yet I can barely even remember the characters names in The Awakening (and not just because they were French/Creole!). There was not much story to the story. It felt like the book built to a crescendo only to let the reader down in the end. I wanted to feel more remorseful over Edna’s suicide, yet I just didn't care enough about her, or any of the other characters really, to give a damn. I did really like the one part where her husband thought that she was going crazy and got a good chuckle out of that, but that is about it. There was no anticipation to the novel for me. It was a page turner, but only because I wanted it to be over with. If the book were longer, I probably wouldn't have finished it. I did end up giving the book three out of five stars (it was okay) only because of the impact that the novel had on feminism and feminist literature. I’m just grateful that all feminist literature are not like this one. 

Mini Book Haul

Today is day one of my three day weekend and when we woke up this morning both Geoff and I realized that we wanted to do something today instead of our usual Saturday sitting around the house (and this is the only day that Geoff has off during the three day weekend) so we got rolling and Geoff was finally able to show me where he works at and I was able to get a bottle of blueberry wine there! Then went to several other places in Charlotte, but best of all places was The Last Word, a used bookstore. I would say it's one of my favorite used book stores, but it's really not. They don't have near as much stuff as Ed McKay and their prices aren't nearly as great, but I was able to find a few things that tickled my fancy and so here is my mini-book haul for the weekend:

Emma by Jane Austen (For Jane in June/Austen in August)
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (For Jane in June/Austen in August)
Persepolis:The Story of A Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple (I'm leading a discussion on this one for September's Book Club!)
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Classics Club Spin #2

I missed the first Classics Club Spin completely. I saw people tweeting about it and I have to admit that I had no clue what it actually was. I have been so lax in blogging and keeping up with my clubs and challenges that I'm in, but since summer is rearing its beautiful head I am finally getting back into the swing of things and I'm participating in Spin #2.

So here is how it goes:
Below I have picked twenty books still unread from my Classics Club TBR List.
The books are divided into categories: Five books I am dreading to read, Five books I can't wait to read, Five books I am neutral about and Two re-reads and Three Jane Austen books. I'm hopeful that the number picked will be a Jane Austen so that I can read it for Jane In June and kill a few birds with one stone.
The list is supposed to be up by tomorrow morning (May 20). I almost missed this round of Classics Club Spin as well, but thank goodness I was trolling Roof Beam Reader and discovered it just in the nick of time!
Now, the challenge is to read this book by July 1, EVEN IF it is one of my first five books (the ones that I am dreading!).
I figure I've got plenty of time to do this so I am not too worried about it. I am a little concerned of the possibilities of it being one of those "books I'm dreading" especially #'s 1, 2 and 5! I think it's going to be fun though and I am excited to see what number we get tomorrow morning! Tomorrow is out first round of End-of-Grade state-mandated tests so I might not get to check the number until lunchtime, but I am eager to get started!

Books I Am Dreading:
1. Les Miserables
2. Scaramouche
3. Tropic of Cancer
4. Cranford
5. Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Books I Feel Neutral About:
6. The Phantom of the Opera
7. Watership Down
8. Peter Pan
9. Bleak House
10. Vanity Fair

Books I can't wait to read:
11. Tess of the D'Urbervilles
12. Lolita
13. Wuthering Heights
14. Brideshead Revisited
15. The Godfather

Re-reads and Jane Austen (to help with Jane in June, perhaps?)
16. Anne of Green Gables
17. Gone With The Wind
Jane Austen:
18. Mansfield Park
19. Persuasion
20. Northanger Abbey

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Review: The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

I’m going to say something that I don’t normally say and that I will probably catch a lot of heat for. Well, whatever, I don’t care. This is my blog and I can write whatever I feel and I feel that in the case of the book I’ll be reviewing today….the movie was better.

The Silver Linings Playbook (in case you've been living under a rock for the past 6 months) is the journey of Pat Peoples after his release from a Baltimore Mental Institution. Pat is released after serving years for a violent crime that he has blocked from his memory. Pat returns home to New Jersey to a surly and withdraw father, an altered brother, a wife he is having “apart time” with, and a mother who is trying to hold this whole motley crew together with some hugs and crabby snacks. Pat is convinced that his life is a movie and that he is making his way to his happy ending, or his silver-lining, if you will. The novel is Pat's journey to re-self discovery and his true silver lining, even if it is not in the form that he thinks it will be.

Title: The Silver Linings Playbook
Author: Matthew Quick
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books
Where I Got It: Target in Huntersville, NC
Dates I Read It: May 14 – May 18, 2013
Number of Stars: 4.5/5

Though I did enjoy the movie more than I did the book, I still really loved the book. It was a quick read (I had it finished in four days during one of the worst and busiest work weeks I have had all school year) and I was actually really sad when it was over. The movie was quite different from the book and several scenes were distorted, added or dismissed and the characters were somewhat different, this is especially true when it comes to Pat.

Pat is suffering from some sort of mental illness (major depression?) which has kept him locked inside of “the bad place”, a mental institution in Baltimore, for more than three years. When Pat is released and we meet him, he has the voice of a child. It is difficult to say if this is a result of the drugs that he is taking copious amounts of, the fact that we learn late in the book that he has had a major head injury, the fact that Pat is still in some ways incredibly immature, or because Matthew Quick thinks that all people suffering from mental illness are childlike. Despite the fact that it is so childlike, I have to admit that I did love Pat’s voice. He provided a great, fresh perspective to the book that I thoroughly enjoyed. The book read like Pat’s journal (and a part later in the book makes me believe that it, in fact, was supposed to be Pat’s journal). There were also several chapters towards the end that were a series of letters between Pat, “Nikki” and Tiffany (his best friend’s wife’s sister who Pat begins spending a lot of time with upon his release. Tiffany, too, is suffering from some mental health issues.) At first I thought that Quick was giving Pat the childish voice because he was mentally ill (Pat, not Matthew) and that is how Quick thought all mentally ill people thought and spoke. However, I have to admire the chapter on Terrell Owens that Quick includes in the book. During this section Pat is extremely uncomfortable at the Eagles fans mocking Owens’ attempted suicide and devotes an entire chapter to understanding what mental illness really is and why it’s important to be empathetic.

The best part of this book is without question, Pat. I found myself missing him once the book was over, like a friend that you suddenly think of one day and want to call, but can’t because it’s been years and they don’t have a Facebook. I feel like Pat would understand my pining for him so much. At one point in the book he ventures back to his Alma Mater and perfectly captures the feeling of missing a place or a time or a person or an event so much:

“…it makes me feel happy and sad at the same time to be back at La Salle- almost like looking at old pictures of people who have either died or with whom you've lost contact.”

As I was reading about this book online I learned that it was a nominee for the PEN/Hemingway award and that Quick has three other books published. I will absolutely pick up these other three as I did enjoy Silver Linings Playbook so much and I hope that the others will be just as enjoyable.

Review: A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is probably the most well-known Appalachian Trail memoir that is published. In fact, as I rated it on GoodReads the majority of my friends had already placed it on their “read” shelves. I enjoy reading trail memoirs, probably because I love to hike and camp and have actually done about 5 miles on the AT (in Virginia). This particular trail memoir is about Bryson and his friend Stephen Katz who, in middle age, decide to hike the trail together. The two set out ill-prepared and soon find that it is not the easiest thing in the world to do, in fact, it's pretty damn difficult. The two have some hilarious experiences and I found myself wondering the entire book if they were going to actually make it the full 2,000+ miles to Mount Katahdin.

Title: A Walk in the Woods
Author: Bill Bryson
Publication Date: 1998
Publisher: Anchor Books
Pages: 394
Where I Got It: The Last Word (Charlotte, NC)
Dates I Read It: May 12 - May 16, 2013
Read It For: March 2013 TBR Challenge Selection
Number of Stars: 3.5

I started out LOVING this book and laughing hysterically. I made it to page 26 and had to put the book down because of one paragraph in particular had me laughing too hard: 

"what would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die, of course. Literally shit myself lifeless. I would blow my sphincter out my backside like one of those unrolling paper streamers you get at children’s parties- I daresay it would even give a merry toot- and bleed to a messy death in my sleeping bag."

 However, the story sort of lost its momentum for me about halfway through. [Spoiler Alert] At this time Bryson and his partner part ways and the book didn't have as much heart or humor to it anymore. It actually became somewhat depressing. Part of what added to this depression was the sections that Bryson added about the history of the trail. I actually loved the fact that he did this, and I will touch on this more later, but there were some parts where Bryson told us about the damage that pollution and logging are doing to the trail. While this is reality and an important topic to be aware of, it definitely took away from his humor.

Like I said, Bryson blends his experience of hiking the trail with long sections on different trail topics such as pollution, the history of the trail and it’s beginnings, and trail murders. I especially liked the fact that he talked so openly and freely about the fact that there have been 9 murders on the Appalachian Trail. This is something that I think that other trail memoirs, at least the ones that I have read, either gloss over or leave out entirely. Most of the trail memoirs that I had previously read seemed to be trying to convince me to walk to AT, this is especially true of Jennifer Pharr Davis’ Becoming Odyssa which I have mentioned several times on my blogs. However, I did not get that feeling with Bryson’s book. Rather, by the end of the book, I realized that this was the only trail memoir that I have read in which [Spoiler Alert] the author did not in fact finish the trail. This is more a tale of Bryson’s personal experiences with the AT and a brief history of the trail. I appreciated it more after I realized this and bumped it up from 3 stars to 3 and a half stars. This book is definitely worth a read, especially if you are in the mood for a trail memoir or a fan of the outdoors in general. 
One of the infamous "white blazes" that mark all 2,000+ miles

Partnership Shelter

The Appalachian Trail in Virginia

Friday, May 17, 2013

Bookshelf Tour Part One

Lately I have been obsessed with watching bookshelf tours on YouTube so the other day I got inspired and decided to make my own!
Despite the fact that I don't record a lot, I actually had a lot of fun with this and might be uploading more video posts in the future.
This is part one of my bookshelf tour. Like I say in the video, I have three bookshelves in my apartment and this video is the first one. I will be uploading those soon. Enjoy! And let me know if you want more video posts!

Click here to view the video

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Review: The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

The June selection for book club is The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. Since I haven't read (or even been to) any of the books for book club since JANUARY I figured that I ought to read the book and attend the meeting for June. (I did attend for May, I just didn't finish the book: Look Me In The Eye: My Life With Aspergers). I tried to get a used copy of this book everywhere since summer is coming and anyone who works in public education can tell you that the summer months really can strain you financially. I was unsuccessful with that and when I tried to borrow a copy from the library the waiting list had 55 people before me! So, last Saturday I sucked it up and bought a copy at Barnes and Noble. I got myself a green tea and sat down to see what the book was going to be like. I ended up sitting in the cafe for over an hour, absorbed in the story. I would have had it finished in just a few days, but that pesky thing called "work" got in the way and it was a doozy of a week last week. However I was able to read the majority of it this weekend (over half of the book in two days!) and finished it up this morning, sobbing on my balcony and into my coffee.

Title: The Orchardist
Author: Amanda Coplin
Publication Date: 2012
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 426
Where I Got It: Barnes & Noble (Huntersville, NC)
Dates I Read It: May 4-12, 2013
Number of Stars: 4/5
Read For: Book club

The Orchardist is a man named William Talmadge and later the orchardist is a baby born into the land, Angelene Michaelson/Talmadge. William Talmadge had a rough childhood involving the death of his father in a mining accident and then his mother to sickness and then his sister to a mysterious disappearance. Left with literally nothing but the land he makes his life among the trees which he cultivates into a profitable orchard. By the time Talmadge is already well into middle age two teenage girls, Jane and Della, swipe fruit from him one day then follow him back to the orchard where Talmadge leaves food for them and eventually draws the girls in like stray cats to the comfort of his home. Did I mention that the two girls are pregnant, 'cause they are; very. Since they are teenagers and have been living in the wild, needless to say the pregnancies don't end completely happy, yet a child is born and named Angelene after one of Talmadge's family members. Over the course of the book the daughter grows into a woman all the time living in the orchard and picking up farming techniques rather astutely. If I give away any more of the plot it could be spoilerific, so I'll stop there, but do know that there is so much more to the story than just that.

I really enjoyed the story, despite the fact that it unfolded very slowly and the only real "action" didn't occur until the end of the novel. There were several themes that were explored throughout the book that piqued my interest. The first of those is the theme of family, specifically, what makes a family? It is not necessarily the people that we are born to, but rather, for Talmadge, it is the people you choose to love despite their aversion to affection. The question of what length would someone go to for someone that they love, especially if that person was incapable of giving love back is explored through the various characters in this book and examined closely through the difficult relationships of Talmadge and Della and Angelene (and to a lesser extent, Caroline Middey, the town Midwife and companion of Talmadge and Angelene).

The trauma of childhood comes into play as a central theme of this book as well. All of the characters have experienced some kind of trauma, some more than others, but for each character it is still something that motivates and gnaws at them throughout the entirety of the novel. With this type of theme and high emotion one would expect an extreme amount of character development and certainly Coplin left room for that development, yet it was so lacking in this department.  I needed to know more of the emotions felt by these people who were obviously drowning in emotion. For me, this was well done with Angelene, yet I felt as if I never really understood Della's or Talmadge's reasoning behind the actions that they took and the actions that they take are severe actions of the desperate.

The story blooms very slowly, much like the fruit on Talmadge's trees and it spans over two decades. The manner in which Coplin writes it, however, makes it seem much faster than that as she effortlessly makes the years seamlessly flow together. I was confused at times by the lack of quotation marks and it took me a good 10 pages to realize when people were speaking. I'm not sure why Coplin went with this strategy of forgoing quotation marks. It did add well to the flow of the novel, and that is one thing I can't praise enough about this book is how easily it seemed to flow. It read like an easy day by a slow moving river. Coplin is a master of the "show; don't tell" theory of writing. Each word, then sentence and ultimately each paragraph are chosen carefully and well thought out. Overall this is a very well done and beautifully written first novel! I will seek out more of Coplin's books should she write any more in the future.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Looking Ahead: May

I've been pretty MIA (again) for a while but it is what it is. I got SWAMPED at work and then I busted my ankle and knee running and have been languishing over that injury for weeks now and I have not felt like reading. Any time I picked something up, it would not hold my interest. I had no desire to go to the library, I had no desire to read and catch up on my favorite blogs, I missed three months worth of book club, I was just in another deep reading funk. I did manage to read one cozy mystery that only required 2 brain cells to get through. But, now I'm hopefully back (and things at work are going to wind down soon, only 24 more days at school with the babies and then a week of workdays and then glorious summer with ample time to read!!!)

So, since I've been in a reading funk I obviously wasn't keeping up with my 2013 TBR pile or my Classics Club list or my 1001 books list. Le sigh. However, I'm hoping like mad to play catch up which means I've got a lot of work ahead of me for May! The above picture is my TBR for this month (I've already read and rated The Great Gatsby). Our book club selection for next month is The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. I got my hands on a copy yesterday after a frantic search and a 55 person request in front of me line at the library and so far I am very much enjoying it! It's rainin cats and dogs here right now and I can't wait to finish up this post and go sit by the window, sip some hot chocolate (it's also pretty chilly here today, which is very odd for the south and for the fact that we had such a mild winter, but I love nothing more than a rainy day that allows me to cozy up with a good book so I'll not complain) and keep reading it.

Since I need to get caught up with my 2013 TBR I need to squish in March's selection: A Walk In The Woods and April's: Love in the Time of Cholera; this one will also knock off one in my Classic's Club list as well as 1001 Books. 

As I was visiting family for Spring Break my aunt gave me a copy of Marmee & Louisa that I am dying to read as well. I doubt that I will be able to knock all of these off my list this month, but I do hope to stay out of that funk I get into sometimes and to be able to get through as much as I can. 

Since there wasn't a lot of reading going on lately, I won't do a looking back part to this post for this month, but check back at the end of May to see a looking back segment for the upcoming month.