Friday, January 28, 2011

"Time Out" from Reading (3) - The Pillars of the Earth & The Luxe

"Time Out" from Reading
(click on the link for an explanation of this feature & to join in)

Well, I'm still sick. It's been a couple weeks now, & it seems to be just one thing after another keeping me down. I took a break from reading, but am finally starting to get back into it. While taking the said break, I decided to indulge in some movies (what better time than when I'm sick?).

After reading The Pillars of the Earth last year, I came across the miniseries on Amazon. Because it didn't have a rating, I decided to rent it from Netflix instead of purchasing it. I loved the book, so was anxious to see how the movie was. I really liked it. Sure, they changed some things, especially towards the end, but overall, I felt like the movie did a pretty good job capturing the feel & general story of the book. I had to close my eyes a lot because I really hate watching violence. There was also more nudity than I care to see. For these reasons, I won't buy it, but I'm still glad that I saw it (even if I had to look away at times).

I also recently finished The Luxe, & was constantly reminded of Gossip Girl while reading it. I decided to rent the first season since we don't have TV at home, & I'd only ever seen a couple episodes. While the story (both in The Luxe & Gossip Girl) makes me wonder what ever happened to moral behavior, I have to admit, I enjoyed both the book & the show it reminded me of. While watching Gossip Girl, my favorite thing had to be the fashion, especially Blair Waldorf's. Her clothes were awesome! If I weren't such a jeans & t-shirt type of girl, I would love to dress like her!

Now here's hoping I feel well enough to start reading & blogging regularly again!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Review - Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare

Author: Cassandra Clare
Released: Aug 2010
Publisher:  Margaret K. McElderry
Pages: 479
Rating: 5/5
Source: Owned
Purchase: Amazon

Summary from Goodreads
Magic is dangerous--but love is more dangerous still.

When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own.

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by--and torn between--two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length...everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world...and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.

I loved this book!!! I flew through it & was so sad when it was over. I mean come on! I have to wait how much longer for the next one to come out?! I was ready to start reading right away!

I read Clare's The Mortal Instruments series last year & really liked them, a lot! But I admit, it took me a little while to get into them (at least the first one). I didn't really see what all the hype was about until I got to Book #2: City of Ashes, & then I was pulled in. THIS book, however, pulled me in pretty dang quick! I loved the characters & the storyline. Sure the language was a bit awkward to read at times, but once I looked past that, I became enveloped in the world of the shadowhunters & downworlders once again!

Tessa's character was great! She started out kind of young, helpless, & naive, but soon changed into a much stronger character. I loved her references to books throughout the story: A Tale of Two Cities, Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre. She was a reader, & I could relate to that ;). I also loved that she was a fighter & stood up for what she believed in. She didn't shrink back in the presence of men, but voiced her opinions & stood her ground when it probably wasn't very normal to do so in Victorian England. But even with her strong convictions, she wasn't preachy, arrogant, or superior. She was just good.

I'm also curious to see what happens with Will & Jem - the two guys who are perhaps part of a love triangle with Tessa? . . . still not too sure what's going on here, but I'm excited to see where the story goes with this. I don't think I can pick a "team" yet. I thought I had it all figured out, but was left wondering who would really be best for her in the end. Plus I'm just excited to learn more about their back stories - I bet they're pretty interesting!

I am so excited for the next book in this series to come out!!! I feel like Clare's writing just continues to improve with each book she writes, and I'm so glad that this one wasn't nearly as predictable as The Mortal Instruments series. I thought I had something figured out, & then was shocked with how things worked out instead. This book had me flipping pages so fast!

So now I don't know what to read next because this left me on a shadowhunter high, & I don't know how long it's going to take for that to burn down enough for me to move on to something else! Help! I think I'm addicted to a new series!

"You know," Gabriel said, "there was a time I thought we could be friends, Will."

"There was a time I thought I was a ferret," Will said, "but that turned out to be the opium haze. Did you know it had that effect? Because I didn't." 
~ Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel

"Waiting On" Wednesday (5) - The Peach Keeper, by Sarah Addison Allen

Jill at Breaking the Spine hosts the weekly meme,
"Waiting On" Wednesday
It offers the opportunity to share soon-to-be-released books that we are excited to read.

I'm really excited to read The Peach Keeper, by Sarah Addison Allen. I discovered her last year & enjoyed all of her books so much. She has such a fun writing style, & I love the bits of magic she throws into her stories. I can't wait for her newest book to come out!

It’s the dubious distinction of thirty-year-old Willa Jackson to hail from a fine old Southern family of means that met with financial ruin generations ago. The Blue Ridge Madam—built by Willa’s great-great-grandfather during Walls of Water’s heyday, and once the town’s grandest home—has stood for years as a lonely monument to misfortune and scandal. And Willa herself has long strived to build a life beyond the brooding Jackson family shadow. No easy task in a town shaped by years of tradition and the well-marked boundaries of the haves and have-nots.

But Willa has lately learned that an old classmate—socialite do-gooder Paxton Osgood—of the very prominent Osgood family, has restored the Blue Ridge Madam to her former glory, with plans to open a top-flight inn. Maybe, at last, the troubled past can be laid to rest while something new and wonderful rises from its ashes. But what rises instead is a skeleton, found buried beneath the property’s lone peach tree, and certain to drag up dire consequences along with it.

For the bones—those of charismatic traveling salesman Tucker Devlin, who worked his dark charms on Walls of Water seventy-five years ago—are not all that lay hidden out of sight and mind. Long-kept secrets surrounding the troubling remains have also come to light, seemingly heralded by a spate of sudden strange occurrences throughout the town.

Now, thrust together in an unlikely friendship, united by a full-blooded mystery, Willa and Paxton must confront the dangerous passions and tragic betrayals that once bound their families—and uncover truths of the long-dead that have transcended time and defied the grave to touch the hearts and souls of the living.

Release Date: 3.22.11

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review - Unearthly, by Cynthia Hand

Title: Unearthly
Author: Cynthia Hand
Released: Jan 2011
Publisher:  Little, Brown and Company
Pages: 341
Rating: 4/5
Source: NetGalley
Purchase: Amazon

Summary from Goodreads
In the beginning, there's a boy standing in the trees . . . .

Clara Gardner has recently learned that she's part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn't easy.
Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place—and out of place at the same time. Because there's another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara's less angelic side.
As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she'd have to make—between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?
Unearthly is a moving tale of love and fate, and the struggle between following the rules and following your heart.

I don't know why, but I'm having such a difficult time writing a review for this book! I mean, it was really good, but I just can't seem to put my thoughts into words without giving anything away.

The only books I've read that touch on the subject of angels are Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments series. Other than that, my experience with paranormal beings has been with vampires, wolves, shadowhunters, wizards & any other creature in the Harry Potter series. So, what were my thoughts on reading a book about a part-angel, part-teenage human girl? It was refreshing. This story was not dark like so many others in its genre. Sure there were dark moments, but overall, it had such a light, happy feel to it.

I loved the main character, Clara. While first getting to know her, I worried she was going to be another whiny, awkward, swooning girl. At times she showed hints of this (what teenage girl hasn't?), but as I got to know her, I realized that while not perfect, she was strong, independent, self-sufficient, competitive, & easy to relate to. She was awesome!

While this book can be categorized as paranormal fantasy, & the overall premise of the story had to do with Clara & her angel purpose on Earth, I was amazed by Hand's ability to make it so realistic. So much of the focus was on the characters & what it's like to be a teenager - trying to get a boy's attention, making friends, fitting in, & being teased by the Gilbert Blythe of Jackson Hole, WY (when said boy called her "Carrots," I'm pretty sure I started rooting for him right then & there!). At the same time, Hand threw in magical qualities: flying, visions, glowing, hair having an almost life-like mind of its own. This book felt more like magical realism than paranormal fantasy, & I loved that about it. It made it easier to escape in the story & feel as though it could really happen.

Another thing I appreciated about Hand's story was the fact that she didn't make the romance aspect of it ridiculous. It felt natural & was very well-developed. It wasn't about fantasy, obsession, love at first sight, & lust (well, maybe a little), but rather, they were equals & grew close through actually spending time together & getting to know each other. And while the swoon-worthy boys were comical at times in their stereotypes, I enjoyed them. Tucker especially made my list of literary crushes, while I imagine Christian isn't far behind!

I am so excited for the next book in this series to come out! Unearthly left us with some unanswered questions, & I can't wait to see where this story goes! I wish I could just relive the story all over again - if this were a movie, I would have pushed "replay" as soon as I finished watching it, just so I could experience it all over again.
"So often we only do what we think is expected of us, when we are capable of so much more." ~ Cynthia Hand, Unearthly

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Author Interview & Giveaway - Holly Weiss' Crestmont!

Author Holly Weiss was kind enough to do an interview for her debut novel Crestmont! She has also offered up a signed copy of her book for giveaway. She has also included a Crestmont bookmark (to enter, fill out form at bottom of post). I finished reading this book around the holidays & felt a great connection to the Crestmont Inn & the richness of its history & continuing traditions. It was a fun, sweet read.

Title: Crestmont
Author: Holly Weiss ~ website, twitter
Released: April 2010
Publisher:  Star Publish
Pages: 309
Purchase: Amazon

"A dream, after all, needn't be fueled by particulars, only by desire."

So notes main character, Gracie Antes, in CRESTMONT, a historical fiction gem set in the 1920s.

Determined to take control of her life, sheltered Gracie Antes leaves her unhappy home in 1925 to pursue her dream of a singing career. On her way to the big city, she accepts a job as a housemaid at the bustling Crestmont Inn. Once there, Gracie finds a life-changing encounter with opera singer Rosa Ponselle, family she never imagined could be hers, and a man with a mysterious past. Relive the 1920s with a colorful cast of characters. Discover with Gracie that sometimes we must trade loss for happiness.

Set in Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania, the story is interwoven with details about the town, the rich history of The Crestmont Inn, and the family who passed ownership from one generation to the next.

Many attempts have been made to explain how the mountaintop lake nestled in this tiny town came to be. Crestmont gives a new twist to an old Native American legend, setting the tone of grace around which the story is built.

Let the period of the Roaring Twenties spark your interest with its unique social mores, fashion, jazz, and yes, a little bootlegging thrown in for pizzazz.

First off, how did you learn about the small town of Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania?
I want to thank you for this opportunity to do an interview on Through the Pages. I think your blog is creative, well-researched and in-depth, and I’m honored to be here.

My husband and I were looking for a place to stay overnight to break up a long drive home from visiting my family. I found The Crestmont Inn on a lark on the internet. Once in the charming mountaintop town of Eagles Mere, I was hooked. By the way, the permanent residency there is only 127 people!

Have you always wanted to write a novel? What inspired you to write Crestmont?
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but was not serious about it until 2006. I sang professionally for thirty-five years. My main means of creative expression was through song. But five years ago, I contracted Post-Polio Syndrome, a late-life extension of the polio I had as a child. The increased weakness and fatigue put an end to my singing career. God led me in the direction of writing. One voice led to another, so to speak. Writing is now my means of creative expression, but music will always be an integral part of me.

Our one-night stay at the inn inspired me to write Crestmont. The restful atmosphere of the inn, the graciousness of the innkeepers and the beauty of the surrounding area captivated me. More importantly for the book, the rich history of the inn struck me. We stayed in The Evergreen Lodge, which was converted into its current form from staff quarters built in 1926. Small staff rooms that housed two or three waitresses in the 1920s through the 1970s were cut through to create the large and luxurious suite where we stayed. Original transoms over the doors and antiques from the inn’s early years perked my interest about how these staffers lived and worked.

William Warner's ideas for the future Crestmont, as you wrote them, sound ideal - the place for the perfect getaway. How did your stay there compare to his early vision?
the original Crestmont Inn
William Warner built the Crestmont Inn in 1899 to provide respite for people pummeled by the stress of everyday life. The current owners, the Mulford’s, have carried on that tradition. Foresight and attention to the needs of guests who walk through the Crestmont Inn’s doors are their hallmarks. Each time I visited to research and write mementos from the old inn, such as a brochure from 1904, postcards from the 1920s era, old stationery, had thoughtfully been placed in my guest room. The Mulford’s own stories about “difficult and unusual guests” found their way into the novel. The scene where Margaret Woods pulls the burning tablecloth out of the fireplace actually happened in 2003, not 1927. Anything I needed along the way, they gladly gave. They gave me the image of the porch filigree which I used on the cover of “Crestmont” was from their professional photo shoot. When I had a book signing in Eagles Mere in August, the Mulford’s hosted an open house for me and even arranged for a family who was staying at the inn to play Celtic music on the porch. Creative people who produce seemingly effortless special touches draw guests back time after time.

Which character do you most relate to? Was there a character that was difficult to write/create? Did you base any of the characters on people you know?
Yes, I did. I based both Margaret Woods and Gracie on aspects of myself in different phases of my life. Today I identify most with Margaret Woods. We are both type A’s, are overworked, and struggle to balance family and our professions. Margaret has difficulty letting go of her grief after her father’s death. It was no accident that many of those scenes were written the year after my mother passed away. Writing them was very therapeutic for my grief process.

Drawing a character from one’s own life carries with it the danger of assuming self- absorption when the writer is asked to articulate the character’s origin. Without becoming overly personal, I’ll simply say that Gracie begins the novel in a somewhat broken emotional place similar to where I found myself twenty years ago. Some reviewers have called her everything from “refreshingly na├»ve” to “weak and timid.” I stand by her characterization. What is important to me is not where a person starts but how she stretches herself. What happens to us doesn’t count, but rather what we make of it. Long before self-help books were on the shelf, Gracie struggled to find herself — and flourished. I’d rather you read her journey than to tell you mine.

Bessie was challenging, but enjoyable to write. She says and does everything your mother warns you not to. Nine-year-old Eleanor is the first in “Crestmont” to recognize that Bessie had hurtful things in her life and that her abrasive conduct is a defense mechanism. Inventing Bessie’s “lingo” was a blast. Whenever my husband would read a section where Bessie said, “Slammin’ Jack,” he’d ask me, bewildered, where that expression came from. I would just shake my head and say “Out of Bessie’s mouth!”

Rosa Ponselle
Singing plays a big part in this novel with Gracie's character & the appearance of historical opera singer Rosa Ponselle. What is your personal history with singing, & why was it important to include it in Crestmont?Singing has been a huge part of my life for over thirty-five years—as a soloist, on the opera stage and as a teacher of singing, so I think it was inevitable that much of that spilled over into Crestmont. Gracie meets a famous opera singer, Rosa Ponselle, who is doing a concert at the Crestmont. They become close and Ponselle gives Gracie a voice lesson. I wanted my voice students to enjoy that aspect of the novel.

Although I had to give up my own singing career, including details about a singer’s life in the character of Rosa Ponselle was fun. Ponselle’s conviction that you must sing what you feel will touch others comes from my own experience. Miss Ponselle and I have something in common also. She retired from the opera stage at a fairly young age as well.

What responsibility did you feel, if any, to the Crestmont Inn & its founders by writing a story that would bring this small mountain treasure & its history to life?
It was a daunting responsibility which I took very seriously! I travelled to Eagles Mere, PA, to the current day Crestmont Inn, several times during the writing of the novel to interview the current owners, former staff and townspeople. People who were on staff at the “old” Crestmont – the one I refer to as the “big house” in the book, gave me floor plans and photographs of the real owners and many of the inn itself. When people in Eagles Mere heard I was writing a book about the Crestmont, they perked up and said things like, “My aunt loved working there.” Or “Oh, that old Crestmont was quite a place.” I wanted to be true to their memories. During one of my Crestmont signings, an elderly lady brought me photos and mementoes from when she worked there as a teenager. She was thrilled to share them with someone else who cared about the old Crestmont. I was honored she chose me.

Gracie started out as a fairly self-isolated character. What was significant about the relationships she eventually made with those around her?Gracie had to learn that it was okay to be Gracie. She found little support from her own family, so forging new relationships helped her to figure out who she was. The fact that the Woods, Dorothy, Olivia and Isaiah genuinely liked and cared for her was a huge boost to her self-esteem. She felt safe enough with them to walk down a path of self-discovery.

What was the single most important thing you wanted to relate to readers when writing this book? Grace—favoring others with unmerited kindnesses—always triumphs. I purposefully named my main character Grace (later, Gracie) because I wanted that theme to pervade the novel. I introduced the concept when I gave a different twist to a Native American legend. Instead of flooding the lake out of anger, in Crestmont, the Great Spirit filled the lake with tears of forgiveness.

You wrote a strong theme of family into Crestmont. How important is family both to you and to the story?

I wanted family to be key in the concept of the book, but not in the traditional sense. My father always said, “If you don’t have family, you don’t have anything.” I agree with him completely, but one thing I wanted to show in Crestmont that family can also be found outside of one’s biological family. The novel is dedicated to my parents, who are both gone now. It would have made them happy to know that I decided to write my grandfather, Warren Sloan, into the novel. He invented the automatic pinsetter for bowling alleys (although he sold it shortly after) and gave me the perfect way to round out PT’s earlier life with Sloan as his mentor. Neither Gracie nor PT has family to speak of, but find it at the Crestmont.

I also decided to include my husband‘s poetry in the book. He is the “Paper bag Poet” whose poems prompt Gracie’s yearning for love. He actually wrote one of the poems to me while we were courting. How could I leave that out?

Do you plan to write anything in the future?
I am busy writing reviews of newly released books now. For my next novel, I want to explore the One Voice Led to Another concept. I may retell my “polio/professional singer becomes writer story”, or I may use some amazing life transition stories shared with me by friends.

If you could travel to any time & place in history, when & where would you go? Why?
I’d love to be in a room filled with all the books I’d like to read – and actually have the time to read them! In doing that, I could travel all over the globe and history. Having my hubby next to me while we sip cappuccino and read would be the ultimate delight!

Through the Pages (3) - Unearthly: angels & the YA trend

(Anyone is welcome to join me with their own current read's "Through the Pages" - just add your link to the comments section & link back to my blog to spread the word. Click on the link to find out more about this weekly meme.)

I am currently reading Unearthly, by Cynthia Hand, where the main character, Clara, is part-angel & has a purpose she has been assigned to fulfill.

Angles - messengers of God, ministers to mankind, teachers of doctrines of salvation, guardians, full of goodness & love.

 Angels are often depicted with wings & believed to be creations of God to fulfill his purposes. They have also been described as beings who once lived on the earth or who will live on the earth, who give messages to & lead humankind in righteousness. They have been described as floating above the ground, & having the appearance of extreme brightness & light. They have also been said to take human form with the purpose of helping & guiding others.

Angels are depicted in many religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam . . . where witnesses claim to have seen or felt angels, either as a messenger from God or as a protector. Many well-known angels - Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Moroni - are not only spoken of in scripture, but witnesses claim to have had personal experiences & interactions with them.

A Recent Trend ~ Angels in YA Fiction

What do you think of the angel trend? Do you like it? Is it a nice change from other paranormal beings? Do you have a favorite book featuring angels?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Review - Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

Author: Jay Asher
Released: October 2007
Publisher:  Razorbill
Pages: 288
Rating: 4/5
Purchase: Amazon

Jay Asher's brilliant first novel is a moving, highly original story that focuses on a set of audiotapes made by a girl before she committed suicide, and which explain to 13 people the reasons why she decided to end her life. Told in a highly effective duel narrative -- alternating between the girl s voice and the thoughts of a boy who is listening -- this honest, poignant story reveals how other people's actions shape, and by extension can ruin, an individual's faith in people. Intensely powerful and painfully real, Thirteen Reasons Why reveals how brutal high school can be, the consequences of spreading rumors, and the lasting effects of suicide on those left behind.

When I first heard of this book, the idea of reading about suicide didn't appeal to me. Who wants to read something as depressing as that?!  But I have read so many things about it lately that I wanted to know what all the hype was about.

There are two main characters in this book, Hannah Baker & Clay (I can't remember if he has a last name). Hannah committed suicide & left a set of tapes behind detailing the thirteen reasons why she took her life. Clay is the one listening to the tapes & by so doing, allows the reader to listen in as well. The book is laid out with each chapter being assigned the side of an audio tape (13 sides total, or as Clay points out, a Hannah-Baker's dozen). I liked this because it added structure to the book that might otherwise have jumped around between stories without much transition. When I started reading the book, I struggled with the back-and-forth narration of Hannah on the tapes & Clay's inner monologue. I found it distracting & lost track of what was going on in the story. This also made it hard for me to connect to the seriousness of the situation. But as the story continued, & I adjusted to the style, I was able to relate to the characters more & more & understand the deep emotions they were feeling.

The problems Hannah deals with start out seemingly trivial - who hasn't dealt with rumors being spread about them, or been treated unkindly? But as Hannah's story continues with each progressing reason, we are able to see the snowball effect of others' actions towards her & how it leads to her growing instability & ultimate downfall.

With so many teen suicides being reported in the news lately, I really appreciated the insight this book offered into the reasons someone may go down that path. This book reminded me in some ways of Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall in the sense of relating how individual behavior can affect others in ways we don't realize, either for good or bad.

I was glad the author, by allowing us to see things from Clay's perspective, did not condone Hannah's actions, even if he did sympathize with her. This story was heartbreaking, & I kept hoping there would be a miracle at the end, kind of a "Just Kidding!" moment where everything turned out okay, but of course, that wasn't possible. This story . . . Hannah's story, is a cautionary tale in ways, helping the reader know that the things they do or say carry consequences. It reminds us that we can take the time to think of others & treat them well, even if it's going out of our comfort zone to do so. It's a reminder that we don't really understand someone as well as we might think, especially if what we know about them is based on rumors. It's a tragic story that didn't have to end the way that it did, not just because how others treated Hannah, but also because she did not open up fully until she left the tapes - she could have been helped if she would have let someone in.

I enjoyed this book, even if it was a difficult subject matter to read about & would recommend it.


"You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything." ~ Jay Asher, Thirteen Reason Why

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Top 10 Books I resolve to read in 2011

"Top 10" Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke & the Bookish.
This week's list:

Top 10 Books I resolve to read in 2011

1. Unwind - Neal Shusterman: I love dystopian fiction, & this one has been calling to me for a while now. It sounds so twisted, but fascinating at the same time!

2. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo (translated by Julie Rose): I tried reading this book a couple years ago, & it took me 8 months just to get half-way through! I'm determined to try again but with a different translation. I love the musical & the movie, now I just need to make it through the book!

3. Sense & Sensibility - Jane Austen: I've had this on my shelf at home for the longest time. I finally read Pride & Prejudice this last year & am excited to get to this one. You would think having my BA in English would guarentee that I'd read every Austen, but I was only ever required to read Emma, so I have a lot of catching up to do!

4. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee: I read this back in high school & hardly remember anything about it. So many people mark it as one of their favorites, if not their absolute favorite, so I thought it was about time for a reread.

5. Daughter of the Forest - Juliet Marillier: My mom gave me this book to read a long time ago, & it's been sitting around my house ever since. It's gotten such high ratings, & I've always loved fairytales, so I am determined to finally get to this one!

6. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray: This is another book I've had sitting on my shelf at home for a really long time. I saw the movie & thought it was really good (after some reflection), so decided to read the book as well. There's something I like about stories with anti-heroes & seeing how their choices build up to make an unfulfilling life that could have been prevented.

7. The Road - Cormac McCarthy: I studied & enjoyed All the Pretty Horses in college & decided to try another of McCarthy's books. I've heard this one is disturbing, & people seem to either love it or hate it. I'm hoping I'm in the love it group!

8. Clockwork Angel - Cassandra Clare: I discovered Clare's Mortal Instruments series this last year & really liked them! I've heard so many people say they like this book even more, so I can't wait to read it & enter the lives of the shadowhunters again (dorky? yes. but I like it!)!

9. A Gracious Plenty - Sheri Reynolds: I read The Rapture of Canaan about 8 years ago & added it to my list of favorite books. This has been on my tbr list for such a long time, & I'm excited to try out another of Reynold's books. Plus it just sounds so eerie!

10. Nevermore - Kelly Creigh: Edgar Allan Poe has always terrified me, but his writing is unbelievably good & twisted! I'm really, really excited to see how they used Poe's influence in this story, & I'm always up for a paranormal love story!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Review - Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Author: Lisa See
Released: 2005
Publisher:  Random House
Pages: 253
Rating: 4.5/5

In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

I remember studying Ancient China back in elementary school & always being fascinated by its history. However, I don't remember much from all those years ago. So now when I think of Chinese history/culture, these images come to mind: (click on them to go to a Wiki article)

Reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan showed me a completely new side of China through the lives of two women - laotong, or old sames. Lisa See described in detail the atrocities of war & poverty, but most importantly, the hardships that come with being born a daughter in China. She painted a very realistic & eye-opening picture (at least I was convinced) of women in 19th century China where they were considered wortheless except for their ability to bear sons. It showed an oftentimes startling view of how women were treated & what was expected of them. They were forbidden an education, which led them to using a secret written language, nu shu, to pass stories, poems & messages along to other women. See's vivid description of foot binding (a whole chapter is dedicated to it) left me with my head between my hands, concentrating on my breathing, so I literally wouldn't throw up. (I've never had a book get that sort of reaction out of me!)

See, through her deep & detailed writing was able to beautifully & heartbreakingly portray the relationships of women with those around them: their mothers who showed mother-love (tough love is how I interpreted it), fathers, siblings, husbands, sworn-sisters, matchmakers & laotong. The language used throughout the novel conveyed the poetic & symbolic Chinese tongue, which I greatly appreciated. It made me feel as though I were witnessing the true lives of those from another time & culture instead of getting a fictionalized account of China written by a tourist. It felt genuine.

I also felt a great connection to the main women in the story, Lily & Snow Flower, two friends whose friendship & laotong bond was brought about through unlikely circumstances. They were strong & devoted women in their own way, & through them, the reader was able to feel the significance of such a relationship in a male-dominated world.


"For my entire life I longed for love. I knew it was not right for me — as a girl and later as a woman — to want or expect it, but I did, and this unjustified desire has been at the root of every problem I have experienced in my life."
~ Lisa See, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Saturday, January 1, 2011

"Time Out" from Reading (2) - Anne of Green Gables

"Time Out" from Reading
(click on the link for an explanation of this feature & to join in)

While reading Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery this last week, I kept noticing all the comments about flowers & gardens & was reminded of the fact that all my flowers either die or grow in wild disarray. I always have great intentions - I love flowers & always dream of having the perfect garden, but alas - I get lazy, I don't really like the feel of dirt on my hands (makes me think of chalk), & I'm nervous about all the spiders & bugs waiting to attack, so things get neglected. Enough was enough, & I was going to change my ways! My husband bought me flowers a couple weeks ago, & they've been sitting on the back patio ever since (I figured they'd be fine with all the rain we've been getting). As it turns out, they were starting to look pretty watter-logged & pathetic.

I was so excited last night because today was going to be the day I finally planted my Christmas Cyclamens (who doesn't have aspirations for the New Year)!!! Well, when I woke up this morning, I wasn't counting on the rain (that's what I get for staying cooped up in the house all day yesterday & not paying attention to the weather - but hey, the kid's sick, & I didn't want to get dressed - go ahead, judge me ;).  I looked out the sliding glass door & grudgingly thought I could put off planting the flowers a little longer, but I kept looking at my to-do list, & it really bothered me not to check something off of it! So I put my boy (still in his jammies with a snotty nose) into his new rain boots & rain coat, grabbed our shovels, & we headed outside (the rain had stopped, but it was still soggy & wet . . . & cold). 

I couldn't find my gardening gloves, so I just dug in with my shovel & hands (talk about sucking it up! :) & determined to get those beautiful flowers into my dirt/clay as fast as possible (did I mention it was super cold out, & my hands were shaking? I guess that's just the price you pay for attempting to be the World's Best Homemaker/Domestic/Wife/Mother . . . uh huh, right. Plus, I was determined to have something to post for my "Time Out" feature)!

But I have to admit, even with the cold, the splinters left over from digging in the bark without my gloves, & constantly telling the kid (let's call him Georgie) to stay out of the street, the flowers look beautimous, & I have one more thing checked off my list! This is going to be a good year - I can tell :) And now I feel more like Anne Shirley & Marilla Cuthbert. That's one step in the direction of having my perfect garden!