Saturday, February 28, 2009


I read Elie Wiesel's Night in one sitting yesterday evening. Although I did take one break because I had to cry. Night is the author's memoir of his childhood in Auschwitz and other camps. I'm not going to say much about the plot because I think that description says it all really. I'm lucky I could read it from the comfort of my own living room, after a nice dinner and while sipping some good red wine. Very lucky indeed.

One of the things that struck me is that even in times of war human beings don't really entertain then thought that something bad could happen to them. The Jews in the village where the author lived had heard rumors about the atrocities going on in the camps and about persecution everywhere. They even had actual evidence because of one their own had been taken away and had escaped and come back to warn everyone. And yet they still believed that the war would end just in time or that the Germans would never get that far or that they would somehow be more merciful in their village. Amazing thing, the human mind.

It also struck me that in the camps, in the end nothing mattered but survival. Watching others die didn't always have the effect that we would think it would. It's incredible what kinds of circumstances we can get used to, what becomes normal. I hope that I would be as strong in such situations, even though I find that hard to believe.

If books like this one are written, they deserve to be read. Night is the first in a trilogy - has anyone read the other two books, Dawn and Day?

Challenges: A-Z Challenge, 999 Challenge, Bang Bang Book Challenge, In Their Shoes, Jewish Literature Challenge, Lost in Translation, War Through the Generations, What's in a Name?

The Family Way

I've read Tony Parsons' earlier books, or most of them anyway, and liked them. I picked this one up because the subject interests me at this point in life... the books deals with having kids, becoming a family, whether you can be a family without kids, what happens if your only choice is adoption, how kids change your relationship with your partner etc.

There are many books about these things out there, but I thought that this one was particularly sensitive to all the problems and resulting emotions. I've been reading it on the metro to and from work and I had to hold back tears many times...

I liked all the main characters - three sisters with very different attitudes towards life, love, careers and kids. I thought that each of the characters brought something to the story and they were all realistic. I din't like how some of th plot lines were so neatly worked out, but hey, it's fiction.

If the subject interests you, I recommend this one!

Challenges: A-Z Challenge, Chick Lit Challenge

Friday, February 27, 2009

BBC Book Meme

Apparently the BBC reckons most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here... I'd bet some of us book bloggers can prove them wrong! ;-)

1) Look at the list and put an 'x' after those you have read. (i put mine in bold)
2) Tally your total at the bottom.
2) Put in a note with your total in the subject

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible S
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Berniere
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tart
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupéry
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

I've read 35... so many good books still left to read!!!

How many have you read?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Aesop's Fables

I really enjoyed my audio version of this. The narrator was great and even did some of the animal voices! :-) A nice and quick listen.

I knew that Aesop lived in Ancient Greece (around 620-560 BC) but I didn't know that he was a slave. Apparently there isn't much information on him except that he was freed at some point and that he died in Delphi. Although some scholars claim that he never existed, he is refered to by both Aristophanes and Plato in some of their works. So I guess he did exist after all.

Fables are short tales involving animals, each with a moral at the end. The morals concern lots of areas of life - how to behave, how to relate to people, how to survive, how to be nice and good. I like that animals and plants and ancient Greek Gods are used to illustrate lessons.

There were many that made me smile as I was listening, but of course I can't remember any right now. :-) But I'll give you another interesting piece of information that I read on Wikipedia - the first printed English version came out in 1484.

I will also say that I was surprised that some of the concepts that we all know today actually come from Aesop - like The Boy who Cried Wolf and the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing. Many others are also recognisable.

Anyway, these simple life truths are definitely worth listening to, if you haven't done so already.

Challenges: 999 Challenge, Audiobook Challenge, Casual Classics Challenge, Centuries Challenge, Lost in Translation, What an Animal

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch

I think it was J. Kaye who alerted me to the fact that Harlequin was celebrating their 60th birthday and therefore had some e-books available for free download. They're still doing this, so have a look if you're interested. Now, I had never read a Harlequin novel before this one, but I thought that they would be nice and pleasant and easy and would go nicely with my coffee break at work. I was right about that.

Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch by B.J. Daniels is from Harlequin's Intrigue series and exactly what I thought it would be. Basically a romance with a crime and mystery added in. I don't really have much to say other than it was pleasant, light reading.

I'll go through the other ones I donwloaded too. This one certainly relaxed my brain between serious work tasks! :-)

Challenges: A-Z Challenge, Every Month is a Holiday, Romance Reading Challenge, Suspense and Thriller Challenge

International giveaways

Wow, there's a lot going on! Make sure you also keep an eye on the Book Giveaway Carnival hosted by Tracy from Bookroom Reviews - it's on March 2-8.

Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha readin'? is giving away a copy of The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It sounds really funny! She doesn't mention anything about worldwide entries, so I'm assuming that they're ok, for now. Enter here by February 28.

Melissa of Shhh I'm Reading is giving away a copy of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin. Seems like everyone is talking about this book!! Enter here by February 28.

Jackie of Farmlanebooks is giving away a copy of the very recent Random Acts of Heroic Love by Danny Scheinmann. This is her first giveaway and she's very excited! ;-) Enter here by February 28. is giving away an annotated edition of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen as well as Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure. Enter here by February 28.

Katrina from Stone Soup is giving away books of your choice. Intrigued? Go check it out! Enter here by the end of the week, she draws winning names on Mondays!

Steph from Steph Su Reads is giving away an ARC copy of How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier - this one sounds really fun, so make sure you don't miss it! Enter here by March 15.

Dar from Peeking Between the Pages is giving away an ARC copy of The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson. Enter here by March 2.

Dar from Peeking Between the Pages is ALSO giving away a copy of Grayrider by Bruce Skye. Enter here by March 9.

Aaron from That's the Book is giving away a copy of the winning novel of Canada Reads 2009. Enter here by March 6.

And - already announced but still ongoing...

J. Kaye is giving away an e-book called The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing by Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards - enter here until March 28. She's hoping for lots more e-book giveaways, which is great news for us international bloggers!

Carrie from Carrie's YA Bookshelf is a very new blogger but already wants to share the love. Yay! She's giving away 3 great sounding YA books with a supernatural twist. She doesn't specify anything about international entries, so for now I'm assuming they're allowed. See all details here - her contest ends on 28 February.

P.S. Anyone want to make me a button for international/worldwide giveaways? :-)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Orbis Terrarum Challenge

Another one that I loved doing last year and the 2009 version promises to be bigger and better! For all info and to sign-up, visit the dedicated blog - and don't miss Bethany's blog either, Orbis Terrarum is her fabulous idea.

The challenge is to read 9 books by authors from 9 different countries in 9 months. My possibilities are listed below.

Completed: ALL 9/9 as of 19 August 2009 (read my wrap-up post)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Sweden)
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Russia)
Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz (Poland)
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (Mexico)
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombia)
The Bone People by Keri Hulme (New Zealand)
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan)
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (the Ukraine)
Seek the Fair Land by Walter Macken (Ireland)
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (Germany)
The White Tiger by Aravind Ariga (India)
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (France)
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (Italy)
Wild Swans by Jung Chang (China)
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (Czech Republic)
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler (United States)
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Canada)
A Midsummer Night's Dream by Wiliam Shakespeare (United Kingdom)
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (France)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Banned Book Challenge

Yay, another challenge! :-) I participated in this one last year and really enjoyed it, so here I am again.

The challenge is to read books that have been banned or challenged - you choose the number you want to read and read them between 22 February and 30 June. I plan to read 4 during this time, out of the list below.

For sign-ups and info, visit the Fahrenheit 451: Freedom to Read.

Completed: ALL 4/4 as of 6 June 2009 (read my wrap-up post)

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (re-read)
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Karlson on the Roof

Astrid Lindgren is best known for the Pippi Longstocking character, but a friend of mine raved about Karlson so I wanted to check him out.

I wasn't blown away or anything, but then I'm not 7 and the main characters of this book are. Smidge is an ordinary boy with an ordinary life - except that he becomes friends with Karlson, a strange little man who lives on the roof of his building. Karlson can fly and he's the best at everything he tries, so makes for a very exciting playmate. I''m sure it's enchanting when you're in the right age group - or if you're re-reading it is an adult rather than reading it for the first time!

It was pleasant to read and exactly what I wanted for a couple of pages of light reading here and there in between more serious stuff.

Challenges: A-Z Challenge, 1st in a series, Lost in Translation, Themed Reading Challenge

Friday, February 20, 2009

International giveaways...

This is what I found - anything else going on? Let me know in the comments and I'll add it in!

Wendy at Caribousmom is giving away a signed copy of Matrimony by Josh Henkin. Enter here until 21 February - hurry, that's tomorrow!

J. Kaye is giving away an e-book called The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing by Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards - enter here until March 28. She's hoping for lots more e-book giveaways, which is great news for us international bloggers!

Carrie from Carrie's YA Bookshelf is a very new blogger but already wants to share the love. Yay! She's giving away 3 great sounding YA books with a supernatural twist. She doesn't specify anything about international entries, so for now I'm assuming they're allowed. See all details here - her contest ends on 28 February.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Complete Persepolis

Wow. It's really original of Marjane Satrapi to choose to write her memoir as a graphic novel. It really worked. I'm glad I liked it so much, because it's my first 'real' graphic novel. I read the first Buffy Season 8 ones earlier this year, but that was an easy way to get started since I'm such a huge Buffy fan. I consider Persepolis the real deal.

So, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's memoir about growing up in revolutionary Iran - war, revolution, repression, persecution... what can these do to a willful teenager? I thought it was fascinating on so many levels. The coming-of-age storyline is one I usually like. I didn't know anything (and I mean anything) about Iran and learned so much. I want to read more about this interesting country.

I didn't know details of the fundamentalist repression either. I just can't imagine it, to be living like a 'normal' teenager and for everything to be taken away. All her dreams - of being free, of going to university, of going to the US - everything was taken away. I suppose that's when we find out what we're really made of but still.

It was strange to read about all the horrors in comic strip format. I somehow thought it would be lighter, even though that doesn't really make sense since I knew it would be about Iran. We're so used to graphic descriptions in books and we're so used to violent films and even cartoons, but we know that they're not real. It's strange when you look at the pictures, in the same format as Superman, and know that they are real. Does that make any sense? The simplicity reinforces the message, I know, but it was still weird to me.

I thought her story was beautiful and inspirational. To survive so much and to tell the world about it in such a meaningful way is amazing. I could empathise with her when she moved to Vienna - I know what it's like to be on your own when you're too young to be on your own, to be foreign, to miss that understanding from others of the same background.

And I loved the art. I loved that it wad black and white and simple. The emotions kind of jumped out at you. The hopeless romantic in me loved the page about how she and Reza are total opposites but they complete each other. Still makes me smile when I think about it.

This is certainly going to be on my list of favorites this year. If you haven't yet, you should definitely get this one.

Challenges: A-Z, 999, Countdown, Graphic Novels, In Their Shoes, Lost in Translation, My Year of Reading Dangerously, New Authors, Well-Seasoned Reader, World Citizen, Dewey Decimal

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Life As We Knew It

I can't believe I finally read this book by Susan Beth Pfeffer! Everyone's been talking about it and it's been on my list forever. I'm home sick with a stomach flu this week and was looking around for something that would grab my attention and there it was!

Life As We Knew It is about Miranda and her family as they try to cope with life after the moon gets knocked out of its orbit and ends up closer to Earth. This of course affects tides and weather so suddenly the world sees a lot of tsunamis, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, etc. Add to that the general problems of no electricity, gas shortages, food shortages and isolation and life gets pretty tough.

From day to day, teenage Miranda's life turns upside down. There is no more school and friends and socialising at the mall. Instead, she needs to learn to take care of herself and of others and to do things like do laundry by hand.

The book is pretty grim of course, but the way Miranda and her family handled the situations thrown at them was uplifting, I thought. And since the changes in life and weather were not (in this case) caused by man's selfishness but by natural occurence underestimated by scientists, they really were sudden - just to say that what I took out of it was pretty much 'enjoy life while you can'. Here's a passage that touched me:

Maybe because I don't know anymore if there is a future, I'm grateful for the good things that have happened to me this year. I never knew I could love as deeply as I do. I never knew I could be so willing to sacrifice things for other people. I never knew how wonderful a taste of pineapple juice could be, or the warmth of a woodstove, or the sound of Horton [the cat] purring, or the feel of clean clothes against freshly scrubbed skin.
I'm not pretending to know how Miranda felt, but the passage touched me at this point in time because our heating had been broken for almost a month and temperatures were around zero. I never really thought about heating as a luxury until then. And now that it's been working again for a week, I barely remember what the cold felt like and I'm taking it for granted again.

I think we can all benefit from thinking about all the things that we do have on a daily basis, the simple things. My friend Amy recently told me about something she heard on Oprah about writing down 5 things you're grateful each night before you go to sleep. Might be an interesting thought.

Now, I do want to point out that just because in this book the climate change was caused by nature, we can lead ourselves to the same point anyway. Read The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd for more on that.

By the way, at the end of my copy a companion book called The Dead and the Gone is mentioned - about the same events but in NYC. Has anyone read it?

Challenges: A-Z Challenge, 999 Challenge, Countdown challenge, New Authors, Young Adult

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Getting Rid of Matthew

What a fun book! Jane Fallon's Getting Rid of Matthew was the perfect chicklit - believable characters, interesting plot, romance, man problems and career problems too. Not simplistic but not too serious either. Perfect for this genre.

Helen is dating Matthew for four years. The only problem is that Matthew is married to Sophie and has two daughters and he doesn't want to leave them. When he finally does, Helen realises that this is not what she wants and she does her best to get rid of him and get her life back. How does she do this? By using a fake identity and befriending Sophie of course. :-)

I really enjoyed this, as I do most intelligent chick lit. I'm definitely going to read anything else Jane Fallon writes - she gives Sophie Kinsella a run for her money!

Challenges: A-Z Challenge, Countdown Challenge, New Authors, Themed Reading Challenge, Chick Lit 2, Romance Reading Challenge, TBR Challenge

Nothing's Sacred

Nothing's Sacred is comedy by Lewis Black - an American stand-up comic. I don't really have much to say about it, other than I didn't like it much. I'm very particular about comedians, because too many of them use profanity that I don't think is needed. That sounds like I'm against profanity, which I'm totally not, I just don't like it used where I don't think it belongs.

So although I agreed with his ideas in general, I just didn't like his style. Too crude for me. Although I did enjoy his comment about finally seeing the end of the world - a place where there's a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks. That was funny. :-)

I listened to this on audio and I loved his voice - maybe he reads other people's stuff? If not then he should! :-)

To give you an idea of what I do like, Eddie Izzard is by far my favorite stand-up comedian. By far.

Challenges: 999 Challenge, A-Z Challenge, Audiobook challenge, Countdown Challenge, In their shoes, Jewish Literature Challenge

Monday, February 16, 2009

Blog Improvement Project: Blog Post Bingo Wrap-up

The Blog Improvement Project over at Kim's at Sophisticated Dorkiness encourages us to branch out to make our blogs more attractive and more popular with readers. The latest assignment was Blog Post Bingo, which asked us to post different kinds of posts in the past couple of weeks. I joined late and only managed a few - but I'm still glad I joined since it opened my eyes to kinds of posts that I don't do often but which do add some spice to a blog.

I managed the following:

A Link Post - I posted about giveaways which are open to international bloggers and decided to make it a permanent feature. I was glad to see that others found it a good idea too!

A List Post - I participated in the letter game that's been going around. Fun!

Plus several review posts (of course) and a giveaway post to end the challenge I was hosting.

Not tragic, but I was hoping to do better! On to the next assignment!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The letter V

Thanks, Nymeth, for sending the letter V my way... I think. I'm having trouble thinking of things I love that start with the letter V! Let's see how I do, I need ten!

Vacations - who doesn't like going on holiday? I love to travel and discover new places - and I'm always thinking about our next vacation!

Vegetarian food - I'm not actually vegetarian, but I love vegetarian food and eat it often. Beans, legumes, vegetables, yum!

Vocal Music - as many of you know, I sing with a couple of groups in my spare time. The voice is my favorite instrument and I love listening to music that heavily relies on singing. Anything a capella goes without saying, but I also love female vocalists - anything I can sing in a karaoke bar at some point! :-)

Vampires - I'm sure I wouldn't love them in real life so much, but I sure do love them in stories and on tv! I remember when my friend Larissa made me watch Buffy for the first time, my comment was: I don't really like shows about vampires and fighting.
Now, thanks to Joss Whedon, I'm a fan of Buffy and so many others.

Vietnamese Food - I think I must have been Asian in a past life, because I could seriously live on Asian food. Vietnamese is one of my absolute favorites - kind of like Chinese, but so much ,ore flavorful and aromatic. I can't remember a single occasion when I didn't feel like eating Vietnamese food. I'm having it this evening, as a matter of fact!

Violin - I've always wanted to play an instrument but somehow never managed. Joe, who plays with a band, inspired me to want to try again. I now fool around with the hurdy-gurdy, which is a medieval French instrument, and with the violin. I had a fantastic violin teacher but she moved to Barcelona. Oh, and actually what I enjoy playing is folk music, so I call my violin a fiddle. It's the same instrument though.

Vineyards - this is in here only because wine starts with a 'w' not a 'v'. Unless you're Dracula. I love good wine and I have a glass or two (or three) several times a week.

Vilnius - I visited this city a couple of years ago and was very impressed. I felt so at home, it was actually strange. I loved how proud the people were of their history, even their old, pre-Christian history. In Poland, it seems nothing existed before Christianity came. Whether you care about such things or not though, Vilnius is definitely worth visiting, it's one of the most beautiful cities I've been to.

Vistula - this is what the main Polish river is called. I love it in the same way I love my country - in fact it's kind of a symbol of Poland. One of our traditional songs states that so long as the Vistula is there, Poland will exist.

Villages - can you tell that I'm scraping the bottom of the 'v' barrel? I do love visiting villages though. I find many charming. The house we bought and to which we're moving next month is in a village near Brussels and I can't wait to live there. It's so much quieter and cozier than in a city!

Well, there you have it. I'm very proud that I didn't have to include Valentine's Day! I don't love it, though I think it's a nice enough holiday, so Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Want to play along? Just ask me for a letter in the comments.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

New Classics Challenge - giveaway!

It's now mid-February so I think I've left enough time for wrap-up posts for the New Classics Challenge. For those of you have finished the challenge (most links to wrap-up posts are here) and chose a favorite in your wrap-up post, you're eligible for the end-of-challenge giveaway.

Here are the books that were chosen as favorites:

Heather votes for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Nymeth votes for The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Ginny votes for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by
Kristi votes for The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Rachael votes for The Giver by Lois Lowry
Diane votes for Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
Mrs V votes for The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

So - 78 people signed up for this challenge and 7 completed it. I shouln't talk though since I wasn't one of the 7! ;-)

Since no book won hand-down, I have to alter the rules. I shall pick one of these seven names out of a hat and that person can choose one of the books nominated.

Ok... off I go to choose a name out of a hat...

And the winner is... DIANE from Book In Hand! Congratulations Diane - leave me a comment on this post and tell me which of the books on the list above you'd like to receive. Also leave me your email address please!

Well, that's that. This was the first challenge I hosted and I must say that although I enjoyed it, I have more respect for the people who host challenges out there. It's so time consuming! I'd do it again, but not just now. Too many things going on.

Thanks to all those who participated! If you'd like to continue reading from the New Classics List, there is now a perpetual challenge over at A Review from Here. Go on... you know you want to! ;-)

The Witch of Portobello

Organising my thoughts about this book isn't easy. Let me first say that I've read several Paolo Coelho books in my life. Some of them I loved - like The Alchemist and Veronika Decides to Die. Some of them were only ok. After reading The Devil and Miss Prym last year, I pretty much decided that I would stop at that. But my Mom had read The Witch of Portobello and said that it made her think of me and that I'd really like it. So I read it.

I should have liked it a lot more than I did. The main character of Athena is someone I would have really identified with when I was younger. Many facets of her behavior and belief system still appeal to me and yet I didn't find her as fascinating as she could have been. I didn't want to jump into the book and follow her. But that's what I wanted to want, which made me feel let down in the end.

Coelho is known for inspirational books, for themes like spirituality, destiny and finding one's path. The Witch of Portobello was no different here - Athena was a quest to discover herself and to spread teachings ruled by love and by nature. I love those themes and believe a lot of the same myself. That we are all part of one, that we can each reach a 'higher' level, that nature and earth is what we come from, that worshipping is being part of, etc. I won't bore you with details. :-)

But somehow the writing disappointed me - I didn't feel inspired. Although I did get something out of reading this. It made me think of some of the things I used to think about and forgot as I got older. One of them is that filling my life with stuff and tasks and activities doesn't do me and my development any favors. I've forgotten how important it is to just be. Just sit and do nothing, connect with myself and my surroundings. This is very difficult for me, so maybe I intentionally forgot! But it's something that I think is a good thing to work at, so I'll try.

The other issue I used to think about and now don't is awareness and how that developes intuition. I always believed that I knew the answers to all my questions somewhere deep down, that I knew which path to take, which decision is the right one for me. But my intuition was never developed enough to completely trust it - outside influences like wishes and thoughts played too big a part in there. One of the excercises used to develop intution is working at being aware of one's surroundings. Like when you walk down a street, you should practice noticing everything around you. I'm the opposite - I tend to get lost in my thoughts (or more recently my audiobook!) and ignore what's around me. This is something I'd like to get back to.

Reading The Witch of Portobello also made me want to read about Gypsy beliefs. Anyone know of any good books on this subject?

Challenges: A-Z Challenge, 999 Challenge, Latin American Reading Challenge, Lost in Translation, Spiritually Speaking

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

International Giveaways

I love giveaways. They are such an amazing example of the generosity and community spirit of the book blogging world. Plus you get to find out about some really cool books. And maybe win one once in a while. ;-)

My problem, living in Belgium, is finding giveaways that are open to international participants. Most are open to US and Canadian residents only - completely understandable of course. But I'd like to minimize the disappointment of going through giveaway posts only to find out that there isn't anything I can enter.

So I decided to regularly make a list of current giveaways open to international bloggers. Obviously I will be helped by the various bloggers who publicize giveaways on their blogs, such as Teddy Rose who publishes a very extensive list. But I thought a filter would be useful not only for me, but also to some of the others worldwide.

So - here is what's going on this week. I'll add onto this as I find more. I'll try to post every Monday. Good luck!

Raidergril3 is celebrating two years of blogging by giving away a book from the Anne series by L.M. Montgomery. She is actually from PEI so getting one of the Anne books from her would be extra-special! The contest closes on 12 February so hurry - enter here. Happy Bloggoversary Raidergirl! :-)

Steph Su was enchanted by the lovely new books at a Barnes and Noble and has decided that the winner of her contest will receive any YA book that's being released in February. Wow! And she decided to have the contest open to everyone since it's harder to get our hands on books in some places. Generous! :-) The deadline is 12 February so hurry on over - details are here.

Carrie from Carrie's YA Bookshelf is a very new blogger but already wants to share the love. Yay! She's giving away 3 great sounding YA books with a supernatural twist. She doesn't specify anything about international entries, so for now I'm assuming they're allowed. See all details here - her contest ends on 28 February.

Dar of Peeking Between the Pages is giving away Cassandra and Jane by Jill Pitkeathly and throwing in a copy of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice too. Her contest's deadline is on 18 February - enter here.

Katrina from Stone Soup is giving away at least one autographed copy of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. Enter here before 15 February.

Megan from Po(sey) Sessions is celebrating her birthday by giving away some gift certificates. So generous, considering that she should be the one getting presents! Check out the details here - the deadline is 15 February.

Linda from You're History is giving away a copy of Bloodprint by Kitty Sewell. She hasn't specified anything about international entries so for now I'm assuming it's ok! Enter here before 19 February.

Jill from The Magic Lasso is giving away a copy of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin, just in time for Valentine's Day. I for one have been wanting to read this for months now and I'm sure many of you have as well. Here's your chance - enter before 14 February.

Hmm... that's quite a few! More than what I expected to find! If you know of any others let me know and I'll add them in.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Time Machine

The Time Machine was my first book by H.G. Wells and I owe my discovery of this fantastic author to Nymeth, who in her recent review mentioned that it's available online here.

Reading this online has been a great way to use my coffee breaks and lunchtimes. I will definitely check out loads of the other classics available there when time allows.

The Time Machine itself was very enjoybale and I plan to read more by H.G. Wells. I've certainly always wanted to read War of the Worlds so that might be next. The story is told by an unnamed narrator who hears it told by a man known only as The Time Traveller. He is sceptical at first, but is convinced that time travel is possible by the end of the story.

And what a story! The Time Traveller travels to the year 802,701 and finds life on Earth very different from what he knows in his own time. The people are happy and peaceful and he assumes that this is the natural progression of intellect. I don't want to give away anything about the story, but obviously there are a few twists and surprises.

What I liked most about it is what I also liked about Lois Lowry's The Giver - the question of do we really want peace and quiet and order and what it will really look like once we achieve it.

I was also very impressed by how far ahead of his time H.G. Wells was. Even the chapters where he travels even further than 802,701 show are realistic. I hope not, but you never know, with the direction our planet is going in!

The books was published in 1895 and contains in it so much of early science fiction, but also astute social commentary and an understanding of the world and its people and how they fit together. Figuring out what 802,701 was really like took some knowledge of human nature and interaction.

Anyway, I loved The Time Machine - thanks Nymeth for the suggestion and for helping me discover online reading! :-)

Challenges: A-Z Challenge, 999 Challenge, Casual Classics, Decades 2009, New Authors

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Bad Beginning

The Bad Beginning is the first book in the series called A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. It's about kids and for kids and reads so quickly that I had it finished during my bedtime reading the other night.

This first book introduces the Baudelaire siblings, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, and starts off their story. Unfortunately, their story starts off sadly with their parents dying in a fire and with them being carted off to a distant relative no one has ever heard of. Needless to say that they are mistreated there. Why? Well, their parents had been very wealthy so maybe someone is out for their money!

I borrowed this from a friend's son, as I was intrigued. I was told that if I liked the Harry Potter series then I'd like this too. We'll see, I'm planning on getting the next one on audio.

One thing I did like about the book is the way it how it includes more difficult vocabulary and explains the words as part of the narrative. I didn't find it obtrusive, in fact I liked the way some of the definitions were phrased. It seems a good way to get some vocab development in!

Lemony Snicket is a pseudonym of author Daniel Handler - he's also one of the characters in the books. I haven't seen him there yet, but he's the narrator too so his voice is there!

I'm curious to read about these children's next adventures. And I really hope they manage to escape from this relative they are living with!

Challenges: 1st in a series, A-Z Challenge, 999 Challenge, Young Adult Challenge

Friday, February 6, 2009

Little House in the Big Woods

Charming little book! Even if I never watched the tv show... I'm actually surprised that I learned a couple of things about life back then as well. Bonus!

Laura Ingalls Wilder describes growing up in one of the first pioneer families in Wisconsin in the late 1800s. She didn't actually write the books until the 1930s and they're all autobiographical. I think that's amazing.

Laura Ingalls Wilder was born on 7 February 1867 so I'm using this book for the Celebrate the Author challenge. Visit Wikipedia ro read more about her life.

Even more amazing is the fact that this is a children's book and it describes so many details of life in the 1860s - including how Ma churned butter and how Pa made bullets. It's a great book for kids to read - childhood today is so very different, after all.

There's plenty for adults too, though. What really struck me was how hard everyone had to work all the time and how they didn't let anything go to waste. Nothing was wasted. Wow, compared to today? I wonder what those people would say if they saw today's world...

Anyway, I loved this book and will certainly be getting the next ones in the series.

Challenges: 1st in a series, 999 Challenge, A-Z Challenge, Casual Classics, Celebrate the Author, Decades 2009, In Their Shoes, New Authors, What's in a Name

Blog Improvement Project: Blog Post Bingo

I wanted to joint this when I saw it announced late last year but forgot about it in the challenge-frenzy that followed in my head. But I'm doing it now, joining in on the 3rd project.

The Blog Improvement Project is the brainchild of Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness. It is a year-long challenge with twice-monthly activities that are meant to improve your blog. After a year of blogging, I feel that my blog needs some sprucing up, so I'll try to participate in some of these activities.

The 3rd project of the year, Blog Post Bingo, requires that we vary our posting style. I need this desperately, as most of my entries are simple review posts. Kim has listed 10 different kinds of post and wants us to use some of these ideas by Saturday, 14 February.
  1. A Link Post - share a series of links your readers might find interesting
  2. A Short Post - less than 200 words
  3. A List Post - simple as it sounds, a list of some sort
  4. An Opinion Post - take an event, news, or another blog post and share your opinion on it
  5. A Poll or Question Post - post a poll or ask your readers a specific question for feedback
  6. A How-To Post - You’re an expert in something; big or small, share how to do it
  7. A Long Post - more than 700 words
  8. A Review Post - self-explanatory, I think :)
  9. A Definition Post - show your expertise about a topic related to your blog
  10. FREE SPACE - a type of post of your choice (that is not the same as one of the previous posts)
So here I go - I'll post a wrap-up on 14 February. :-)

Thursday, February 5, 2009


I'm a few days too late to count Natsuo Kirino's Out for the Japanese Literature Challenge, which means that I didn't finish that one. Oh well, I have so much life stuff going on that I don't get as much reading done as I'd like. More on that some other time.

What a book! I don't usually read crime novels so this was way out of my comfort zone, but I really enjoyed it. I do love Japanese literature though so maybe that was part of it. It was suspenseful and gruesome at times, but it also had odd moments of clarity about human beings.

The story is basically about a group of women who work the night shift at a factory - they're all different but they all have difficult things they have to deal with and escape from. Then, one of them kills her husband. The others decide to help their friend get rid of the body and this unleashes a whole chain of events and gets a whole string of people involved. Mostly people you'd want to stay away from.

It's also a psychological study of the darkness in human beings. How far into the dark would you go? What would be capable of pushing you there? And what happens when you cross that moral line for the first time? I'm not sure I like the answers... I mean I know that we all have a dark side, but I also hope that it never comes to the surface in most of us. Well, in all of us actually, but that's wishful thinking.

The book read like a thriller - parts were even like watching a thriller. My brain kept saying 'no, don't go there, don't do it, nooooo' during some passages. That's got to be a sign of good writing!

There is one thing that I really didn't like at the end, but I don't want to spoil the book for anyone. Let's just say that I'd hope that hatred is easier to hang on to and that giving in to the dark side isn't that obvious.

I'd definitely recommend this one, whether you like Japanese literature or quality crime writing. Apparently Natsuo Kirino won a prize for another of her books, Soft Cheeks. I now see that it hasn't been translated into English (hopefully yet), but others have. More to choose from, yay!

Challenges: 999 Challenge, A-Z Challenge, Countdown Challenge, Genre Challenge, Lost in Translation, Naming Conventions, New Authors, Suspense and Thriller Challenge, Well-Seasoned Reader

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Weekly Geeks: Passions

Although I'm very, very late, I decided to participate in this week's Weekly Geeks event. Basically, I've been wanting to start participating in Weekly Geeks in general and I figure now is as good a time to start as any!

This week's assignment is this:

#1. What are you passionate about besides reading and blogging? For example, are you crafty (knitting, woodworking, scrapbooking, model building)? Do you cook? Into gaming (computer or board
)? Sports (player or spectator)? Photography? Maybe you like geocaching, rock climbing? Or love attending events like renaissance fairs, concerts? Music? Dancing? You get the idea.

Tell us why you're passionate about it. Post photos of what you've made or of yourself doing whatever it is you love doing.

#2. Get us involved. Link to tutorials, recipes, Youtube videos, websites, fan sites, etc, anything that will help us learn more about your interest or how to do your hobby. Maybe you'd like to link to another hobbyist whose work you admire or tell us about a book or magazine related to your interest.

#3. Visit other Wee
kly Geeks. Link in your post to other Geeks who've peaked your interest in their passion. Or maybe you might find a fellow afincionado among us, link to them.

Well, let's see now. I'm passionate about a lot of things that don't involve reading or blogging about reading! I suppose first and foremost, I am passionate about the performing arts. I sing, I act, I dance, I direct - I participate in both straight theatre and in musicals and I also sing with a small choir that ca be hired for events and that also organised its own concerts sometimes. All this happens within an English-speaking theatre community in Belgium. It's great because the various groups here stage tons of shows in English, so expats have it easy.

Here's a photo of me singing and acting the part of Peep-Bo in The Mikado:

And here's a very different photo of me dancing the part of Vibrata in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum:

I really love the stage and I'm always happy rehearsing and performing.

As you can imagine, this takes up a lot of my time, but I do still have some passions left. :-) I love food and cooking. I love recipes - I buy magazined and cookbooks like crazy and love looking through them over and over. I wish I had more time to devote to cooking, especially to healthy cooking - that's one of my resolutions for this year.

I enjoy loads of other activities, but I think that this post is long enough! :-) Can't wait to go see what everyone else has posted about!

Monday, February 2, 2009

One Book Meme

I saw this at Iliana's and thought it sounded fun!

One book you're currently reading: Out by Natsuo Kirino
One book that changed your life: The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (hmm, must re-read that soon!)
One book you'd want on a deserted island: an anthology of literature of some sort...
One book you've read more than once: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
One book you've never been able to finish: Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
One book that made you laugh: The Secret Dreamlife of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
One book that made you cry: The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
One book you keep re-reading: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
One book you've been meaning to read: The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama
One book you believe everyone should read: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Grab the nearest book. Open it to page 56. Find the fifth sentence…

"She shook her head and the naked woman in the mirror shook hers as well." - from Out by Natsuo Kirino

Let me know if you play along, I wouldn't want to miss your answers!