Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Finds

Ah it's been a long week. My Mom's been here to look after baby Shane, as the daycare center is closed for its annual holiday, and still I'm tired. She leaves tonight and that leaves one more week of work and then we too get to go off on vacation. I can't wait!

I already started to put together a reading list for when we're away. I'm not sure how much reading I'll actually get done, but we're going by car so space isn't so much of an issue. I have 10 books so far... and I should really only take a few since there are loads of second-hand bookstores in Wales so I'm sure to get loads of new stuff too...Sigh.

In the meantime, here are some titles that caught me eye this week.

Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker
Why? I saw it in Nymeth's 1930s Challenge Round-up and Andreea's review made it sound so entertaining!

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
Why? Another one from Nymeth's 1930s Challenge Round-up. Margot at Joyfully Retired reviewed it, plus it's one of Nymeth's 2010 favorites, plus I've been meaning to read something by Sayers forever.

Address Unknown by Katherine Kressman Taylor
Why? Also from Nymeth's 1930s Challenge Round-up, this one seems to be one of those hidden gems. Fence at Susan Hated Literature read it and she says that it gives you a completely different perspective on the Nazis and World War II. Like Nymeth, I also like books that go past the 'black-and-white' explanations, plus World War II fascinates me, so I guess I absolutely have to get my hands on this one.

Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sachs
Why? Eva mentioned it as a good science book and I liked the comments on Amazon. I've also been wanting to read his The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

* Friday Finds is a weekly event hosted by MizB of Should be Reading. Go on, join in the fun!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Four Month Reading Challenge

The Four Month Reading Challenge is hosted by Martina of She Read a Book and is already on its 4th edition. That's because it's so much fun, I'm sure! I've never joined before, but I'm finding new enthusiasm for joining challenges at the moment so here I am.

The challenge runs from July 1 to October 31 2010.

Just read books from the categories below and earn points! I list some possibilities below, we'll see how much actually gets done. :-)

Points so far: 75 as of 6 October

5 Point Challenges

Read a chick lit book
  • Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella
  • Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
Read a name with a proper name in the title
Read a historical fiction book
  • The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
Read a book with a one word title
Read a book made into a movie

10 Point Challenges

Read a book with a Civil War theme (any country)

Read a Biblical fiction book

Read a hardcover book
Read a book about a king or queen

Read a book set in France

15 Point Challenges

Read a book by an author you’ve never read before
Read a biography or autobiography

Read a book with a number in the title

Read any book and then post a review
Read any book but read it outside

20 Point Challenges

Read a book in a series AND the one after it

Read a book that was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Read a book considered Christian fiction

Read a book from The Modern Library Top 100
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Read a book by an author born in July, August, September or October
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (born August 17)
  • Agatha Christie (born September 15)
  • Fannie Flagg (born September 21)
  • Ursula LeGuin (born October 21)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Piano Teacher by Janice.Y.K. Lee

Beautiful. I really enjoyed this book. It was the first regular novel I've read in a while, and I was totally lost in the story. I liked the writing, the characters, the storyline, pretty much everything.

The Piano Teacher takes place in Hong Kong, going back and forth between the Second World War and the Japanese occupation and the 1950s and British rule. The part set during the war tells the story of Will, a young Brit who ends up in Hong Kong right before war erupts. There he meets Trudy, a Eurasian beauty with a dynamite character and a survival instinct. Their story is one of wartime reality that I hope neither I nor my children ever have to experience.

The part set in the 1950s is about Claire, an English woman who follows her husband to Hong Kong and who ends up finding herself there. She meets Will too and becomes parts of the post-war relationships and vendettas that form in the community there.

I think part of the reason I liked this book so much is that I've never read anything set in Hong Kong and certainly didn't know anything about what happened there during the war. I found that side of it fascinating, the Japanese occupation and the Westerners living in Hong Kong during that time simply never entered my thoughts before. There is so much fascinating history there.

But aside from that, I thought that the author did a great job describing the realities of war - how some people change and how some just show their true colors. The fact that we're all the same no matter what time period we belong to is so apparent, it seems so simple.

My edition had a short interview with the author at the end and I found that really interesting. Lee is Korean but grew up in Hong Kong so she has a different perspective on the place. My favorite part of the interview was when she said that the book took her 5 years to write and by the time it was finished she had 4 kids! How you can write something so good with 4 kids in the house is beyond me. I'm impressed! :-)

Challenges: Orbis Terrarum, 2010 Countdown Challenge, What's in a Name 3

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Orbis Terrarum Challenge

Another challenge that I'm joining really late, but I always loved this one and I want to be involved. Even if I already know I might not finish.

Bethany at Dreadlock Girl is hosting again - she created a new site for the challenge, check it out for all the info you might need. For here, it's sufficient to say that it lasts from April 1 to November 30 and requires 8 books by authors from different countries. Oh and it's great fun! :-)

Completed: 6/8 as of 15 September

China (Hong Kong) - The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee
United Kingdom - Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
United States - The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
Iran - Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Nigeria - Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ireland - In the Woods by Tana French
Japan - The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Poland - Zapalka na Zakrecie by Krystyna Siesicka
Australia - The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
Canada - Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
India - The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
France - Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Dominican Republic - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Italy - I'm Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti
Germany - The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
Malta - The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Best Friends' Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood by Vicki Iovine

I really like this series of books about pregnancy and motherhood by Vicki Iovine. Last year, I read the Guide to Pregnancy and found it very helpful and honest. I'm happy to say that this book was just as helpful. And honest. :-)

Iovine provides information in an informal way, telling us about her own experience and the experiences of her friends. It's a fun and honest discussion of the beginnings of motherhood and includes the tough bits too. Getting lots of different stories means you get various perspectives but no judgment. Plus you see that you're never alone in what you're experiencing and that there are people who experience extremes of all situations. Sometimes things are better and sometimes things are worse.

The only criticism I have is that most of the book was really about the first 6 months. I've done that now and would have liked some more information about what to expect in the coming months. The title says 'first year' so I assumed it covered more.

I won't go into details here, since the subject matters appeals to such a small number of people, but if you're ever in need of such books, this series is a good choice. Not as good as Naomi Stadlen's What Mothers Do, Especially When it Looks Like Nothing, but still worth getting. It made me laugh out loud a good number of times and a new Mom sure needs that! :-)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

This was my first Persephone book, i.e. my first book printed by a publisher who rescues and reprints neglected classics of the 20th century, mostly by female authors. I think that it's an incredible thing for a publisher to do and I will happily read others - any recommendations?

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is incredibly enjoyable. The story is about a middle-aged spinster who works as a nanny and hates is. She is looking for a new position and is sent to the house of Miss LaFosse, a lounge singer who to Miss Pettigrew appears to be quite outrageous. This initial reaction turns into adoration and admiration, leading to an addiction to the exciting events that happen in Miss LaFosse's life. No children are to be seen anywhere but there isn't time to ask Miss Lafosse about the vacant position, Miss Pettigrew is too busy sorting out love lives and giving life advice. And falling in love herself too.

The book is charming. Amazon calls it a Cinderella story for adults and it's true - lovely characters, a belief in the power of love and a beautifully happy ending make this the ultimate feel-good story.

Oh and it's written and set in the 1930s, which adds to its charm immensely.

Positively lovely.

Challenges: Women Unbound, 1% Well-Read

Friday, July 23, 2010

1% Well-Read Challenge

Here we go again. I didn't manage to finish last year's challenge and on top of that I'm signing up in July when the challenge started in April. Hopefully my time management will improve! :-)

Michelle is hosting the 1% Well-Read Challenge, which is to:

Read 13 titles from the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die combined list (of 1294 titles) from April 1, 2010 through April 30, 2011.

Here are my possibles.

Completed: 3/13 as of 4 October 2010

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Wild Swans by Jung Chang
Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard
I'm not Scared by Nicolo Ammaniti
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Fall on your Knees by Anne-Marie MacDonald
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
Dracula by Bram Stoker

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dead until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Ever since I got addicted to Buffy I have loved vampire stories. No, let me rephrase that, I love quality vampire stories. That needed to be clarified, since there are soooo many vampire books out there now. I certainly haven't tried them all - I enjoy the MaryJanice Davidson Queen Betsy books and I thought that Twilight was ok. I have a couple more on my shelf. And I decided to buy the Charlaine Harris box set when it was on sale at Amazon a few months ago.

I absolutely loved Dead until Dark. One of the Amazon reviews said that if a realistic vampire story is possible then this is it. I totally agree. The world Harris created is not one where monsters attack you after it gets dark. It's a world where vampires are tolerated since the Japanese invented fake blood. In fact, they're explained away by a virus that makes them seem dead.

In this world lives Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress with a disability - she can read minds. This 'condition' has  made sure that she was always on the periphery of society and she has managed to build some sort of life for herself within these constraints. Enter vampire Bill - how can Sookie not fall for him?

Great characters, great story, great book. The only reason why I'm not reading the next book right away is that I've read too much supernatural recently and needed a more 'normal' novel. But I'll certainly be back for more soon!

Challenges: 2010 Countdown Challenge

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Ha ha, very funny book, a lovely way to spend a relaxed Saturday afternoon.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid tells of the adventures of Greg and his best friend(s) as they try to survive middle school. Greg is a great character and I can imagine that he's convinced many young boys to read his diary, writing which, as Greg will tell you on the first pages, was definitely not his idea!

This a graphic novel with a difference. Really fun, genuine and endearing, I'm looking forward to reading the next one in the series.

And I'm happy to be discovering books that my son will be interested in when he's older - much older, as he's 6 months today, but still. I always imagined I'd have a daughter and I had tons of stuff in mind for her to read when the time came. I thought I'd be at a loss with a boy and so discovering great books like this one makes me extra happy!

Challenges: 2010 Countdown Challenge, Graphic Novels Challenge

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Gods in Alabama by Joshlyn Jackson

"There are Gods in Alabama. I know because I killed one." - says the back cover of Joshlyn Jackson's book. How could I not be intrigued?

I started reading the first chapter and immediately found out about the body that Lena successfully hid and the deal she made with God, certain things she promised to change in herself and in her life if the body was never found. Thing is, Lena's past is catching up with her and her future beckons. How can she agree to a serious longterm relationship when she has these kinds of secrets?

Gods in Alabama is about teens who think they know it all and about the adults they become, trying to correct some of the mistakes they made along the way. It's also about the power of family and the loyalty that comes with it.

It's a good book about the American south and about personal values. Enjoyable.

Challenges: 2010 Countdown Challenge, What's in a Name 3

Friday, July 16, 2010

To Kindle or not?

Do any of you have a kindle?? Do you use it? Do you still read regular books?

I'm considering getting one - make that, I really really really want one though I'm not sure why exactly. One good reason I can think of is storage - there are so many books I want to read but many I know I won't want to keep. We have a fairly big house but even then we're running out of book space. Plus I like reading new books too but I don't like hardcovers. Plus when I travel I end up taking like 5 books for a week and that really adds onto my luggage allowance.

OK, so that's 3 good reasons.

What do you think?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fables, volume 2: Animal Farm by Bill Willingham

Since Nymeth convinced me that graphic novels were worth reading, I've discovered so many great stories. The Fables series is one of these great finds, a series of comics about the fable community in New York. You see, all the fairy tale characters had to move there when their lands were taken by an unnamed enemy. Good stuff.

I read the first volume last year and was hooked. This collection focuses more on the farm nearby New York City, where the fables that cannot pass as human live. There has been some unrest in their community, some of the fables feel trapped and like second-class citizens because they can't live out in the open.

Great story, beautiful artwork. I'm really learning to appreciate this genre more and more. :-)

Challenges: Graphic Novels Challenge, 2010 Countdown Challenge

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

This is my second book by Sarah Addison Allen. I read Garden Spells last year and found it completely magical and beautiful. Kind of like Alice Hoffman and Joanne Harris, two of my favorite authors. Some of you recommended The Sugar Queen as well and I'm glad you did as I was afraid that the second book wouldn't measure up. It did.

The Sugar Queen is about a young woman racked by so much guilt and with such serious issues that she actually owns a secret closet she keeps full of chocolate, candy and romance novels. When she's in this closet reading and munching away is the only time she feels good. One day, she opens the closet to find a waitress she barely knew sitting there, dishing out love and life advice. Great beginning, right?

I loved the main characters, the transformation they underwent. It's amazing what can happen if you let you a little and open yourself up to the possibilities.

Fantastic book. Magical, yet real. I mean, I don't have a closet full of candy, but there are times when I would really, really like one. :-)

Definitely recommended, this author is great!

Challenges: 2010 Countdown Challenge, What's in a Name 3

Monday, July 12, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

I loved, loved, loved this book! I'm very happy indeed that it's the first in a series of many and that I get to spend quite a bit of time with Percy Jackson.

Percy appears to be a normal boy, he goes to a regular school (although he gets kicked out a lot), he plays basketball, he loves his Mom. He accidentaly vaporises his math teacher and it becomes obvious to everyone that he's more than just a boy. In this first book, Zeus, God of the Sky, thinks that Percy stole his lightning bolt. Great stuff. I can't wait to read the next one in the series, it's on it's way already.

If you like Harry Potter, Neil Gaiman and myths and legends, you'll love this! And The Sunday Times apparently said 'It's Buffy meets Artemis Fowl'. How can you lose with that?

Challenges: 2010 Countdown Challenge

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Carbon Diaries 2017 by Saci Lloyd

The further adventures of Laura Brown, an ordinary English girl living in a time when natural disasters and right-wing politics plague the world and carbon is rationed. Doesn't seem implausible does it?

In the first book, Carbon Diaries 2015, we got a real taste for what life was like with carbon rationing. In this one, the idea is more established and accepted, the focus is more on social tensions and politics. This is a year of water shortage, student revolt, immigration problems and poverty. How is a poor student supposed to survive? Plus, all of Laura's friends are getting more and more revolutionary, resulting in a trip across Europe which proves that things are just as bad (if not worse) across the continent. Poor Laura.

I really like these two books, it's a fantastic idea for a story. Like I said when I read the first one, I hope that many young people are reading stuff like this and hopefully deciding to change behaviors so that we can avoid this kind of situation. No one wants to live in Laura's world.

Challenges: 2010 Countdown Challenge

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Then Again, Maybe I Won't by Judy Blume

I always knew Judy Blume as THE writer for tween girls - I loved her books when I was 10, 11, 12, she was one of the only authors I could find whose characters I really identified with. I'd heard of Then Again, Maybe I Won't when I was a tween myself, but for some reason had never read it. Imagine by surprise when it turned out the star of the story is a boy!

The Again, Maybe I Won't is about a young boy whose family comes into some money and moves into a big house in a rich neighborhood. He is forced to leave his friends and to get used to this new environment, where he finds that rich people come with a whole new set of problems. All while dealing with the usual pre-teen boy issues and growing up.

I'm obviously not a boy, but I thought that these boy issues were really well-dealt with. I'd be curious to hear an actual boy's opinion though! :-)

I enjoyed the fact that it's so dated. I loved how the family, including an infant, were going somewhere by car and the adults would just pass the baby around to feed it, burp it etc. Nowadays you're not allowed to go home from the hospital without a car seat. How times have changed and the 80s weren't even that long ago! Or does it just seem that way because I'm getting old? :-)

I think that anything by Judy Blume is worth reading, that's my main message to you!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

What a book. Frankie is a perfect heroine. Brave, unfaltering, ambitious. I love her character and how she comes to be something more than her family's good little girl. I love how she challenges the male-dominated mindset in the private school she attends. I love how the other characters have cannot phathom what she is capable of.

Is anyone else a Gilmore Girls fan? Frankie reminded me of Rory and the boys at her school reminded me of the rich boys at Yale with Rory. The banter was so self-assured, so dripping with privilege and so intelligent, in both cases.

What E. Lockhart did with language in general was absolutely wonderful. Look out for the positives Frankie makes out of words, fantastic.

This book really is a gem, one of a kind. And (again) one of those books I never would have read if it wasn't for the blogging community. Thank you!!!

Challenges: 2010 Countdown Challenge

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New Look

Please bear with me as I experiment with a new look and additional elements! If you have any comments or suggestions, please let me know! :-)

The Ivy Chronicles by Karen Quinn

I really need to keep up with my reviews. I no longer remember my impressions! I liked The Ivt Chronicles, it was an enjoyable, entertaining, satisfying light read.

The story is about high-flying Ivy, living the good life in Manhattan, in a super-high-paying job and able to afford anything she could ever dream of. Then it all collapses and she is suddenly single, unemployed and forced to move to a cheaper neighborhood, where her kids actually have to attend the local school. Horror of horrors. Not surprisingly, the normal life grows on her (albeit slowly) and she learns to appreciate the small things in life.

The style is funny and engaging, the characters are likeable, if you need a light summer read, this could be it!

Challenges: 2010 Countdown Challenge, What's in a Name 3

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Size 12 is not Fat by Meg Cabot

A very quick review, just to catch up. This was my first Meg Cabot book that didn't have a teenage heroine and I admit that I like the pure young adult ones better. Size 12 is not Fat is a mystery featuring Heather Wells, a teenage pop star who lost her career and her fiancee in one go and is trying to set her life on the right path. It's simple and entertaining enough, but I liked The Princess Diaries better. I doubt I'll be continuing with this series, unless you tell me that it's worth it!

I'm on holiday with my family in Poland at the moment and having a great time. My Mom and Dad keep baby Shane with them at night so I get to sleep in - I'm obviously happy to get some extra rest and they're happy to have the opportunity to take care of him. Everyone wins. :-)