Thursday, January 26, 2012

{Update} Classes, reviews & such

I hope everyone is having a good day. I'm kind of drowning in homework, which my son is taking personally. He would much rather mommy be discussing how awesome his choo-choos are than trying to read/critique a book on sociology, watch/read lectures on sociology, view films on sociology, answer discussion questions about sociology... have I mentioned my major is sociology? No? Well, now you know. All of my classes this semester are in the soc. department and it's already getting a little confusing *sigh*. I enjoy classes and have always been a good student, but this semester I suppose I'm just a little bitter that school is eating up so much of my reading time.

Because my reading time, and therefore my reviewing time, has been cut back so much, I'm probably only going to be able to write and post one book review a week. This makes me just a tad depressed, and I apologize in advance. Are any of you in school, too? If so, what's your major? And how's it looking on the homework front?
Mary Beth

Monday, January 23, 2012

Flirting in Spanish Giveaway Winner!

Good evening! I would like to thank those who entered into the Flirting in Spanish ebook giveaway! It was a lot of fun and I greatly appreciate your participation.

I would also like to extend a big thank you to Susan McKinney de Ortega, the author, who provided this ebook, thereby allowing me to host this giveaway.

I greatly enjoyed Flirting in Spanish {go to my review here} and I hope the winner will love it as well.

{Review} Fall of the Birds by Bradford Morrow

{cover image courtesy of Open Road Media}
Fall of the Birds by Bradford Morrow
Published by Open Road Publishing, 2011
Ebook, 35 pages
ISBN-13 9781453239339
Genres: literary fiction, novella

My review: This is a powerful novella-- memories of the past, revelations about the present, and a determined resolve concerning the future all woven into thirty-five pages. Instead of detracting from the work's meaningfulness, its compact size makes Fall of the Birds even more poignant, driving home its message concerning the fleeting nature of companionship and life itself. The diction is beautiful, drawing the reader into the lives of the characters so subtly that their pain and sorrow become the reader’s burden. Only on the last page is it remembered that the characters one has come to care so much about are, in fact, fictional, leaving the reader with a sense of catharsis.

From the very beginning I strongly empathized with the narrator and main protagonist, a middle-aged man struggling with his many roles: insurance claims adjuster, birding enthusiast, grieving widower, and struggling step-father. His first-person musings are thoughtful and honest, exposing his extreme vulnerability to the reader as he shares his deepest fears and greatest joys. Throughout the novella he mourns the loss of his wife Laurel to cancer, narrating not only his struggles and loneliness but those of his teenaged step-daughter Caitlin as well. While privately grieving he attempts to maintain as normal a home-life for her as possible, understanding fully that through their mutual loss their single channel of communication has disappeared as well.

Communication becomes increasingly vital, however, when Caitlin notices that, though spring has come, the usual birds have not returned to nest in her and her step-father's back yard or even to eat seed from their overflowing feeders. Then the narrator is called to survey the destruction wreaked on a client's greenhouse when hundreds of birds simply fall from the sky to their deaths. These eerie mass bird deaths become regular occurrences throughout the narrator's region and beyond, though not only are the birds perishing, they are also behaving erratically with many far outside of their typical zones and flight paths. No one, from civilian witnesses to ornithologists, are able to provide any explanation as to why this is happening, and as time goes on the narrator is called to more and more such sites to record the resulting damage.

These violent and disturbing scenes combined with the recent trauma of losing Laurel put both the narrator and Caitlin on edge, straining an already delicate situation with yet more images of death and loss. The seemingly pointless nature of the birds' deaths also reflect the sentiments Caitlin and her step-father feel about Laurel's, though they find it impossible to directly express their true feelings to each other. As the narrator and Caitlin band together to try and determine what is killing the birds, however, a bond grows between them, this very tragedy being the means through which they learn to communicate independently.

This bittersweet story of loss, acceptance, and the discovery of peace through the most unlikely of circumstances is a testament to human resiliency. It serves as a reminder that it is possible to rise up through tragedy and embrace the good that remains in our lives, however little we think we have left. I would encourage any reader to spend just a couple of hours reading this memorable piece, as it carries a significance that far outweighs its small size.

Bradford Morrow {image
courtesy of Open Road Media}
About the author {via Open Road Media}: Bradford Morrow is the award-winning author of six novels and numerous short stories, essays, poetry collections, and children’s books, as well as the founding editor of the celebrated literary journal Conjunctions. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Pushcart and O. Henry Prizes, and the PEN/Nora Magid Award, as well as other honors. (For full bio, click here.)

The following video, courtesy of Open Road Media, gives wonderful insight into the author's mind as well as the development of Fall of the Birds.

Note: I received this ebook, Fall of the Birds, through Open Road Media via NetGalley in exchange for my wholly honest review and rating.

Mary Beth

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

{Review} Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary || {Update} Fight Club & more

A mini-review, just for you.

Henry Huggins 
by Beverly Cleary
Published by HarperCollins, 1990 (originally published 1950)
Paperback, 160 pages
ISBN 0380709120
Genres: children's fiction, YA

My review: From page one, with his gloomy outlook on life and case of third grade ennui, you can't help but love Henry Huggins. His extreme propensity for accidents, combined with complete obliviousness, firmly cement Henry as one of the most memorable characters from children's lit... at least as far as I'm concerned. I remember reading about him in grade school, wishing I had a friend like him, and asking my mom for pet guppies just like Henry's. She said no. Fast forward a few years and now I'm a mother identifying with my own mom and Henry's (I giggled every time the poor woman said, "Oh, Henry." and Henry asked, "What? It was an accident..."). I was so happy when I discovered there are a total of six books about Henry and Ribsy, a couple of which I haven't read. I can't wait to read them with my son soon, and again when he's old enough to ask for pet guppies. I already know what I'm going to say.

This has been an awesome day (even with SOPA hanging over our heads). Last evening Brooks from Forever Overhead told me that a book I've been really wanting to read is on NetGalley, so I hopped on over there quick as a bunny to get registered and submit a galley request. While over there I found several other books I'm interested in reading and reviewing from a variety of genres and sent a few more requests.

This morning I got into my e-mail and discovered a bunch of galley request approvals as well as an email from Dana at Let's Book It notifying me that I won her What wasn't under your tree? Giveaway!! Eeeeeehh! The point of this giveaway was to enter to win a book you'd requested for Christmas but didn't end up receiving. Well, I've been wanting a copy of Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk for two Christmases running now, but to no avail, so I'm sure you can figure out what I requested. Now by this point I was extremely excited-- NetGalley membership, galley approvals, my own beautiful copy of Fight Club on its way. But that wasn't all. As I was emailing Dana with my mailing address the UPS man dropped off a package. I had no idea what it could be, so I quickly tore it open and discovered this...

A gorgeous hardback copy of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey! I requested this book from Anna, an Online Marketing Associate of Little, Brown and Company, through this post at Book Blogs, a large online community of book bloggers and blog readers. I am so excited to read it and, well, a bit in shock that it simply showed up on my doorstep!

I was so thrilled I called my husband at work to tell him, and then I called my mom (hey, it's the little things). Apparently I was so excited my voice rose by about two octaves and while my husband is quite used to this phenomenon, my mom is not. She thought something was wrong. Really wrong. And she about started freaking out. I had to take a few breaths and tell her that no, nothing was wrong. I had just gotten some brand-spankin' new books. While she was happy for me I have a feeling it was a little anti-climactic, ha. Ah well, I'm still doing the happy dance in my head and feeling quite giddy. I'll share a couple more images with you to celebrate :)

Exquisite. I have heard so many great things about The Snow Child, and I simply can't wait to read it.

I hope you have a wonderful evening filled with books and other simple joys.

Mary Beth

Saturday, January 14, 2012

{Update} New books!!

New books. Ahh. The joy of perusing the shelves of a bookshop and carefully selecting my favorites; clicking add-to-cart in an online bookstore and waiting for the books to show up on my front porch; and signing up for review copies from authors or advanced reader programs and actually winning one all make me feel a little giddy inside. And bubbly on the outside. Ask my husband. I'm pretty sure I'm bordering on book addiction, but you know what? I'm just not that interested in being helped.

Over the past few weeks I've added to my book collection a bit {yippee!}. I made a trip with the hubsy and kiddo to Vintage Stock, a store about thirty miles away that is an all-around geek-fest and specializes in new and used books. Here, I found the first five James Bond books with ultra cool covers...

complete with femme fatales, of course.

I've been meaning to read these for ages but have never gotten around to them, though my husband picked the first one up the minute we got home. Hm.
I discovered a privately owned second-hand bookshop in the town we're trying to move to sixty miles away. The owner is very nice and carries a great selection of genres and authors. She bought a couple of books from me, the money from which I turned right back around and spent. Plus some, ha. Here are three of the books I purchased:

The fourth book I got is Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid, also by Lemony Snicket. Unfortunately, it has been misplaced and didn't make it into the photo showcasing my mad photography skills. You'll hear about it in future, though, when it surfaces...

In Tuesday's Shelf Awareness e-newsletter for readers there was a message from Jamie Forbes, author of Unbroken, saying that she was giving away five hardcopies of her book. Interested readers/reviewers could email her and request a copy, as well as share a few words about a particularly meaningful book. I've heard a bit about Unbroken and am interested in reading it, so I emailed Ms. Forbes and requested a copy, also including a bit about To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (fantastic book -- if you haven't read it, you need to). Earlier this evening I received word that I'm receiving a copy and it should be here within the next couple weeks! I'm pretty darn excited.

When I got my Kindle I signed up for Pixel of Ink's daily e-newsletter with links to newly- discounted and currently-free Kindle books. I don't always find ebooks I'm interested in, though I have found quite a few. I would leave a few book links at this point, but looking through my Kindle, I can't remember which ones I've gotten through Pixel of Ink and which ones I found through other sources. I hear sleep helps with short term memory loss. Maybe I should try this theory out ;)

Speaking of my Kindle, I really like it. Nothing will ever replace the feel and smell and, well, friendliness of paper books. But I must admit it is extremely convenient when requesting ARCs and review copies from authors, especially since most of them come in an ebook format. I went with the Kindle 4th Generation with wi-fi and special offers because a) I'm cheap and it is $79 and b) the special offers are not nearly as annoying as some people made them out to be. Sometimes the special offers are even coupons for Kindle books. This is how I got Tinkers for free (which I am really looking forward to reading). Hooray!

I'll post some more free Kindle books I've found later on. Blogger is starting to act a little squirrelly (hence the reason the image of Tinkers is stuck all the way up there instead of down here where it belongs) and I need to go saw a few logs before The Great House Hunt starts up tomorrow. Wish us luck & happy reading!
Mary Beth

Thursday, January 12, 2012

{Review} Flirting in Spanish by Susan McKinney de Ortega

Kindle Edition, 2010
Genres: adult non-fiction, autobiography, memoir, romance, spirituality, travel, women's fiction

Synopsis (via Publishers Weekly): Running from paralyzing memories of an attempted rape and the decade of silence and shame that followed, Ortega lands in Mexico at 33, trying not to fall for a much younger local. In 1992 the author, the daughter of champion NBA coach Jack McKinney, was teaching English to Mexican teenagers when she met 19-year-old Carlos, who ardently pursues her despite the age and huge cultural differences. She resists at first, due to their divergent backgrounds--Ortega's childhood was one of summer vacation rentals and white gloves at Mass, while Carlos was a high school dropout who didn't have running water until age 10. But when she realizes that she is surprised a man could be kind to her like her father, "I didn't feel like a nervous wreck of a person anymore." It's not an instant happy ending as Ortega contends with the extreme poverty Carlos and his family live in, the machismo culture, and her own lingering doubts, with one foot in Mexico and the other wavering. When she finally achieves hard-won contentment, it's a joyous moment.

My review: I enjoyed this book immensely from the minute I picked it up until I finished it this morning. It is not a large book, but it is one I took my time reading because I wanted to savor the story as much as possible. In fact, towards the end I found myself procrastinating a little about finishing it because I simply didn't want the story to end.
I immediately liked Susan; I found her very relatable, laid back, with a writing style that is not self-conscious in the least (unfortunately a feature of some memoirs). In fact, it is an easy, even mix of stream-of-consciousness and objective yet vivid observations about her surroundings, acquaintances, and the local social scene and customs. San Miguel is still a relatively small town, comprised of about 59,691 inhabitants as of the 2000 census {source}, so throughout the book Susan and Carlos tend to gravitate towards the same places time and again:

to El Jardin, the main square, for example, as seen from atop the...{source}
Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel.

Instead of the descriptions of these places becoming tedious, however, Susan makes them feel familiar, homey and ever-richer. By the end of the book the reader is so familiar with these locales it is as if he or she has visited San Miguel in person.
Perhaps what I appreciate the most about this book is its honesty. Susan broaches difficult subjects with skill and sincerity, sharing her thoughts, feelings and reactions in a genuine and mature way. Throughout the book Susan struggles with the trauma of an attempted rape from several years before, essentially the reason she lost her way and ended up in Mexico in the first place. After she meets Carlos and begins to assimilate into San Miguel local culture, Susan begins to realize how many differences there are between the American and Mexican cultures, not the least of which being much stricter gender roles in the latter. She and Carlos also have their share of difficulties after committing to one another and to a family of their own. But you know? Never once when she was telling her story did I feel she was throwing herself a pity party, and while there were dramatic moments, they were very appropriate for that part of her story and never passed into the dreaded territory of melodrama.
The love story between Susan and Carlos is such a joy to read, they are so truly in love with each other. In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to read this book is because they have been committed to each other for many years, happily raising 2 children who are now both in their teens. Their relationship is proof that an age difference, even one of fourteen years, does not automatically spell doom. They have proven that cultural and socioeconomic differences do not have to determine the success of a relationship either.

One last thing: Susan has a hilarious sense of humor and irony, which complement the serious issues she delves into. Flirting in Spanish is such a well-balanced book that the story develops at a consistent rate throughout, preventing the book from getting slow. I do my best to read every book with an unprejudiced mind, but even so, I wasn't expecting to be so taken with this one. It left me feeling very uplifted and, well, so very happy for Susan and Carlos. All I can say is even if memoirs aren't typically your thing, you may find you like this one anyway. It's definitely worth reading.

Don't forget to enter for your chance to win an ebook copy of Flirting in Spanish! To go to the giveaway, CLICK HERE.

Thank you for stopping by and happy reading!

Mary Beth
San Miguel de Allende {source}

Note: I received an ebook copy of Flirting in Spanish at no charge from the author in exchange for my honest rating and review.

Monday, January 9, 2012

{Giveaway} Flirting in Spanish ebook giveaway! (Closed)

Welcome! bibliophyte is giving away an ebook copy of Flirting in Spanish by Susan McKinney de Ortega to one lucky reader!

I read it and loved it and hope you'll love it too! To read my review, click here.

This giveaway starts now and will end at 6:00 pm (central time) on Monday, January 23rd, 2012.

Read on for a synopsis of the book...

"Running from paralyzing memories of an attempted rape and the decade of silence and shame that followed, Ortega lands in Mexico at 33, trying not to fall for a much younger local. In 1992 the author, the daughter of champion NBA coach Jack McKinney, was teaching English to Mexican teenagers when she met 19-year-old Carlos, who ardently pursues her despite the age and huge cultural differences. She resists at first, due to their divergent backgrounds--Ortega's childhood was one of summer vacation rentals and white gloves at Mass, while Carlos was a high school dropout who didn't have running water until age 10. But when she realizes that she is surprised a man could be kind to her like her father, "I didn't feel like a nervous wreck of a person anymore." It's not an instant happy ending as Ortega contends with the extreme poverty Carlos and his family live in, the machismo culture, and her own lingering doubts, with one foot in Mexico and the other wavering. When she finally achieves hard-won contentment, it's a joyous moment." --Publishers Weekly

Now for the rules! To be entered into this giveaway you must do the following:

1. Leave a comment along with your email address at the bottom of this post.

That's it! After the giveaway ends a winner will be chosen via random number generator, after which he or she will be notified of their win via the email address left below.

Don't forget the giveaway ends at 6 pm (central time) on 01/23/2012. Thank you for stopping by & happy reading!
Mary Beth
Note: the ebook being given away has been kindly provided by the author.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

{Review} Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011
Hardcover, 282 pages
ISBN 0316129283
Genres: contemporary fiction, fantasy, magical realism, YA

Synopsis (via Goodreads): Lucky Linderman didn't ask for his life. He didn't ask his grandfather not to come home from the Vietnam War. He didn't ask for a father who never got over it. He didn't ask for a mother who keeps pretending their family is fine. And he certainly didn't ask to be the recipient of Nadar McMillan's relentless bullying, which has finally gone too far.

Lucky has a secret—one that helps him wade through the daily dysfunction of his life. Grandad Harry, trapped in the jungles of Laos, has been visiting Lucky in his dreams—and the dreams just might be real: an alternate reality where he can be whoever he wants to be and his life might still be worth living. But how long can Lucky remain in hiding there before reality forces its way inside?
Printz Honor recipient A. S. King's distinctive, smart, and accessible writing shines in this powerful novel about learning to cope with the shrapnel life throws at you, and then taking a stand against it.

My reviewThis book is unexpectedly poignant and tends to linger in the back of your mind. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't really looking forward to reading it. I had read some rather unsavory things about Everybody Sees the Ants on Goodreads and was tempted to simply return it to the library and pick up a different book instead. I suppose another reason I was hesitant to read it is because YA books that claim to discuss teen issues have the unfortunate tendency to come off as angst-y and superficial and discuss "teen issues" instead of actual teen issues. For example, books that suggest dating is the single biggest issue teens deal with annoy the heck out of me, not to mention always made me feel a little insulted. I mean, even at my angst-iest I did, in fact, have more on the brain than dating. Anyway, this book does not fall into that category, thankfully, and far surpassed my expectations.

I really like the main protagonist and narrator, Lucky. He is believable and relatable, a normal kid dealing with several years of bullying culminating in a traumatizing locker room experience. He has a flair for honesty that tends to get him into trouble, especially with the adults at his school who prefer to delude themselves into believing Lucky's problems are inside his head rather than the result of them ignoring the obvious signs of bullying for years. Most of the adults in this book are portrayed as being schmucks in one way or another: Lucky's father neglects his wife and son, incessantly working so as to avoid facing his personal problems; his mother cares deeply for Lucky but ignores the bullying to please her husband (who insists that confronting Nadar [the bully]/Nadar's parents/the school will count as coddling); his teachers and school principal are more concerned about politics (upsetting Nadar's father) than making sure their most vulnerable students are safe; and the only man Lucky has ever really looked up to is discovered to be a serial-cheater. Even though this cast of weak and ineffective adults may appear prejudiced and unreasonable, it seems to me to be a pretty fair appraisal of the reality of a lot of kids and teens: no real support at home and no protection at school. This book is, in a way, a social commentary and strives for change in the school system as well as perceptions of bullying (i.e. it is not inevitable, it can be prevented, etc.) through the student body itself, rather than through the adults (though it is hoped, of course, that at least some adults will take the time to read it and change their perceptions as well). It encourages empowerment and a refusal to allow yourself to be a victim, while at the same time being sensitive to those who have been or are being victimized. I feel Lucky sets a good example by refusing to become disillusioned and mean himself, instead believing he can be better than Nadar and his buddies and acting on those convictions.

Possibly the most interesting aspect of this book, though, concerns Lucky's paternal grandfather, Harry, who has been MIA ever since he was taken prisoner in the jungles of Laos during the Vietnam War. Lucky has vivid dreams about going to the jungle to save his grandfather, seemingly harmless until they become a form of escape for him and he begins to retreat into sleep to avoid real life. Harry is instrumental in helping Lucky face his reality and realize life is what you make of it, no matter how hard it may seem. Harry should know about this first hand since his fate was decided by the draft lotteries, a rather cruel system that dictated, according to the men's birth dates, in what order they would be drafted.

The most unique aspect of this book is the author's use of the ants. They are literally a little group of ants that Lucky starts seeing after Nadar beats him up badly. Sometimes they comment on a situation or a thought of Lucky's, act out a farcical scene, or simply provide insight. They are one more way it is demonstrated to the reader that we all have our demons. They are a clever tool and tend to provide comic relief.

No matter how much I enjoyed this book, though, I gave it 4 stars instead of 5. The reason is because there was some discussion of sex, some pretty graphic (and disturbing) images, and a lot of language, and while these things won't stop me from reading a book (Chuck Palahniuk, who is certainly not squeamish, is one of my favorite authors), this book's target audience is not adults, it is kids. The YA genre can attract readers as young as 8, 9, 10 years old, and the idea of children that young having access to this book and possibly being encouraged to read it bothers me. Maybe I'm being namby-pamby, I don't know, but I am really uncomfortable with the idea of anyone under the age of 15 or 16 reading this book.

I am extremely interested to know your honest opinion about this book, as well as what you feel is appropriate for young readers to have access to. I'm pretty torn, so please feel free to leave a comment below letting me know what you think. Thanks so much for stopping by & happy reading!

Mary Beth

{Update} thank you/giveaway/ARCs

I have some updates and info for you. First on the agenda:

One! One glorious month!
>>Today is Yesterday was my 1 month book blogoversary! I have been posting about other things for longer than a month, though it has only been in this short period of time that I have focused my energies and started blogging specifically about books. It has been so very rewarding and I would like to say thank you to all of the wonderful people I have met: thank you for coming back, for taking the time to read my reviews, and for leaving comments. This means a lot to me :) Okay, before I get too sappy, on to the next item.

>>I will be having another giveaway very soon! This time of an ebook, Flirting in Spanish. You can read more about it on Goodreads here and Amazon here. The author, Susan McKinney de Ortega, has very kindly sent me a copy for review, which I will be reading next, and will also provide the winner's copy (thank you, Susan!). I promise I will have more details very soon. I think the giveaway will be up and running tomorrow- I just need to get a few things rearranged on ye olde blog first.

>>One last thing. Jonathan from I Read a Book Once... passed on some helpful information about getting ARCs (advanced readers copies) of upcoming books from publishing companies. He says that he gets most of his physical ARCs from LibraryThing through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, "where every month they post the books that are up for review, and you request a copy of each one that you want. At the end of the month they run an algorithm that looks at your library, your reviews, etc., and then selects the requested book (if any-- sometimes you don't get selected for anything) you're most suited for." All you have to do is sign up with LibraryThing (for zero glorious dollars!) and start adding the books you own, you've read, and are currently reading to your personal library. It's very simple to use and I hope to have some ARCs to review in the future.

Tomorrow Today (how is it past midnight already??) I will be posting my review of Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King. Sorry it's been a while since I posted a new review. The only excuse I have is that I've been busy reading.

Mary Beth

Thursday, January 5, 2012

{Review} Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Published by Penguin Books, 2007 (originally published 2006)
Paperback, 334 pages
ISBN 0143038419
Genres: adult non-fiction, autobiography, memoir, travel, women's fiction, chick lit, spirituality, romance

Synopsis (via Goodreads)In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want--husband, country home, successful career--but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she felt consumed by panic and confusion. This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and of what she found in their place. Following a divorce and a crushing depression, Gilbert set out to examine three different aspects of her nature, set against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.

My reviewOh my. This book bothers me, and the more I think about it the more my negative feelings intensify. First of all, I don't care for Liz at all. She comes across as needy and dependent-- leech-like, in fact. I'm not saying she's the only person who has ever entertained high school-esque relationships and drama a little too long (i.e. into her thirties), but to regard her emotional and psychological maturing as major breakthroughs? Come now, let's not lose touch with reality... which is something, it seems, "Groceries" does a lot of in this book. She bawls and complains (and then bawls some more) about how hard everything is, about her wrecked marriage, about her horrible, horrible divorce, about how David "broke her heart", about her terrible, eroded self-image, about money at points, and I can't help but think (over the shrieking in my head about how frequently some form of the word "brokenhearted" appears) that she really needs to read Dr. Seuss's Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are. She obviously has no idea how much better she has it than a heck of a lot of other people, quite possibly most people; people who somehow manage to work through grief, tragedies, and trauma without going on year-long quests for personal fulfillment. While still maintaining jobs and their everyday responsibilities. I guess it's frustrating to me that most of her misery was self-imposed and yet throughout much of the book she regards herself as a victim. And for having such a small sense of self-worth she certainly has a grand sense of entitlement.

To be honest about the spiritual aspects of this book, they feel very watered-down. God/Jehovah/Allah/Shiva/Brahma/Vishnu/Zeus forbid we make any definite statements about our beliefs that might offend anyone. I thought this book would involve more serious spiritual discovery and examination, but Liz seems to credulously absorb a little of what everyone tells her until she has a pretty convenient spirituality going on, but with no real foundation or basis, no definite conclusions ever arrived at. On page 175 Ms. Gilbert writes, "You abandon your comforting and familiar habits with the hope (the mere hope!) that something greater will be offered you in return for what you've given up. Every religion in the world operates on the same common understandings of what it means to be a good disciple -- get up early and pray to your God, hone your virtues, be a good neighbor, respect yourself and others, master your cravings." This seems to me to be a pretty shallow perspective of faith. First of all, we are self-sacrificing in order to try to attain something better? Wait a second, I didn't think self-sacrifice was about what has been lost or might be gained, but about the giving itself. And secondly, the next sentence sounds like a general description of a good person, but seems hardly adequate to describe the lifestyle of anyone's disciple.

There are tidbits of this book that were enjoyable (primarily some of the descriptions of Italy and the wonderful-sounding food there), but these hardly make up for the rest of this wishy-washy (and frequently all-too-whiny) "memoir". This book has left a decidedly unpleasant taste in my mouth, and while before starting this book I was interested in some of the author's other works, this interest has died a tragic and heartbroken death... though if her ex-husband ever writes his side of the story, I may be interested in reading it.

Mary Beth

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

{Update} Time/Resolutions/Proust

I typically don't make New Year's resolutions. I suppose I tend to not pay attention to calendars too much when given the chance, and instead I divide up the different periods in my life by experiences and feelings. So while my son's birth and the different stages of his growth mark major emotional milestones in my life, the start of a new calendar year does not hold any particular meaning. I suppose in a way I have Proust to thank for how I view time. A few years ago clocks and calendars stressed me out because they constantly made me aware of the seconds ticking and days flying by. How are there ever enough seconds or days? Then I took an amazing literature class from the amazing Dr. Teller, and he introduced me to Proust, who minutely examines the passage and nature of time in his epic work In Search of Lost Time. Now, I have not read the entire work, though I would love to if I'm ever able to get my hands on my own set (it's not the kind of thing I borrow from the library since they only let you borrow books for a miserly two weeks at a time and Proust requires a bit more time than that, at least for me :) So, even though I haven't read the entire work, Dr. Teller had us read many excerpts representative of larger portions. Everything I read is exquisite, filled with an almost painful beauty that frequently accompanies the acts of remembering and reflection. I was completely absorbed and Marcel seems to so entirely understand the range and progression and intensity of emotions that accompany memory, it is overwhelming. However magnificent the literary and aesthetic aspects of the work are, though, it also served a practical function in my life for which I will be forever grateful. By reading Proust I understood that my internal and personal lives are independent of clocks and calendars, which are essentially social constructions. I can interpret time, to a certain extent, in any way I wish to. If I want to think of right now, this exact time in my life, as happily married with a small son and two kitties while living in Pittsburg, Kansas, instead of January 2012, I can do so. For some reason this gives me peace; Proust's way of thinking and interpretations give me peace. So, as I said at the very beginning of this rather rambling post, I usually don't make New Year's resolutions. However, now that I am reviewing and blogging I have realized that I need some sort of tangible goal for things like how many books to read and reviews to write. I have also been playing around with the idea of creating a specific list of works I have been wanting for several years but have never gotten around to purchasing, and then working my way down it throughout the year. I tend to buy books in stops and starts, and I'd like to instead consistently expand my personal library while not resorting to a credit card to do so *ahem*. I think that if I plan out my book purchases a little better I'll actually be able to buy more books for less (yippee!). Anyway, books are extremely important to me, and along with personal events they help define the different periods of my life. For example, I read Willa Cather's My Antonia this past summer and will forever associate it with bright, hot days, sitting on the back steps, and watching a happy two-year-old little boy play with his trucks. Maybe this year I can read more books, expand my book collection further, and create even more wonderful memories by planning ahead just a bit. How do you feel about New Year's resolutions? Did you make any for this year? Feel free to share your feelings below! I'm always curious about other people's opinions.
Mary Beth

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Versatile Blogger Award

Thank you so much to Amber from Fall Into Books for giving me the Versatile Blogger Award!

> Thank/link to the blogger who bestowed the award
> Share seven random facts about yourself
> Spread the love by passing the award to five other bloggers & be sure to let them know

Seven random facts about me:
(1) I'm allergic to chocolate
(2) I got married the day I graduated high school
(3) I have 2 kitties, Peregrine Keats and Archie Shelley
(4) My first TV character crush was Captain Kirk
(5) My husband took my last name when we got married (he's a pretty awesome guy :)
(6) I would love to write a novel someday
(7) I have a 2 1/2 year old son, Gabriel, and I love him more than he could ever imagine

And now for the five bloggers who I wish to pass the Versatile Blogger Award on to:

Thank you again to Amber! & I hope you'll stop by these great book blogs and maybe discover some new reads and new friends. Thank you so much for stopping by and happy reading!
Mary Beth

Monday, January 2, 2012

A little late but... my favorites from 2011

I haven't been book blogging for very long (this is day 26 :) so most of my favorite books from 2011 weren't reviewed and posted about. However, I wanted to compile a list anyway. I didn't read nearly as many books this year as I was hoping to, but there's always next year and I did discover several new favorites. Here they are...

favorite children's picture book:

The Composer Is Dead by Lemony Snicket
This book is hilarious... and educational! The reader learns about the different parts of an orchestra, lots of different instruments, is introduced to many composers (who are also, alas, dead) and narrates the difficulties of an inspector attempting to conduct a murder investigation in the middle of it all.  My 2-year-old son gave The Composer Is Dead to his 2-year-old cousin for Christmas (they have such good taste :) and I think he may have to borrow it so that we... *ahem*....he can actually read it cover to cover and listen to the CD without Mommy grabbing it and wrapping it in paper...

favorite children's chapter book

Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary
I am so glad I rediscovered Beverly Cleary this year. I remember loving her books when I was little; her characters always felt so real and relatable. Oddly enough, my enjoyment seems to have only increased since having a child of my own. I read a few of hers this year and my favorite is Henry Huggins, the story of a rather serious, extremely accident prone little boy who craves excitement. It is a charming little read, perfect for reading aloud to a rather serious, extremely accident prone 2-year-old little boy :)

favorite children's/YA series

Redwall Series by Brian Jacques
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
I finally got around to starting two great Children's/YA series this year: Redwall by Brian Jacques and A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. I adore them both and look forward to finishing up the rest of each series in 2012. So far I have read Redwall (Redwall #1) and most of Mossflower (Redwall #2), and since there are 22 books in the series you will definitely be hearing more about Redwall in future. I have read the first eleven of thirteen volumes from A Series of Unfortunate Events, my favorite thus far being The Carnivorous Carnival (#9). These series are both so much fun, though for completely different reasons, which is why I couldn't narrow down my favorite to one series. Redwall is charming and whimsical and, as one goodreads friend describes them, "magically delicious". A Series of Unfortunate Events is a little cynical, a little snarky, a whirlwind of fun and even a little educational, in a very non-traditional kind of way. They are both awesome series and each worth checking out no matter your age.

favorite YA book

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
I loved this book. It's not going to appeal to everyone, but for me, it was a fun, fast read with more originality and consistency than you typically see in recently published YA novels. I love the quirky addition of vintage photographs sprinkled throughout the volume, which added to the level of creepiness as well. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children ends with an obvious set-up for at least a sequel, though it will probably turn into a several book series. And I am completely okay with this :)

favorite play

Biloxi Blues by Neil Simon

I read several plays this year including Biloxi Blues (obviously), A Streetcar Named Desire, Our Town (a re-read), and Death of a Salesman. I greatly enjoyed all of them, though for some reason Biloxi Blues sticks out to me as the one I enjoyed the most. Maybe it's because it reminds me of my dad who is a veteran and was a bit wild back in his heyday, most of which he won't even tell me about (he's probably doing me a favor, ha); it brings back fun memories of a drill sergeant I encountered a few years ago; it was absolutely hilarious; and it had an extremely poignant ending. Now, don't be misled because this piece is included in a list alongside Redwall and Beverly Cleary. It is most certainly not family friendly. There is sexual content and a lot of strong language. However, if you're an adult and not too terribly worried about these things, or if you've ever met an in-the-flesh drill sergeant and are already aware of their flavorful bedside manner, it is definitely worth reading.

favorite contemporary adult fiction book

Wicked by Gregory Maguire
I don't know what it is about this book that I like so much because in all honesty the writing is not stellar and there are gaps in the plot that can be frustrating. However, Wicked is such an honest book and what I would consider a social commentary. I really like what Gregory Maguire is trying to do through this series and can't wait to read the fourth and final installment, Out of Oz. The second and third books (Son of a Witch and A Lion Among Men respectively) are just so-so though still worth reading if you are a big fan of Wicked. I suppose I'm also a little biased because I can't help but really like Gregory Maguire. I don't know what it is about him but he seems so down-to-earth and approachable. I am eager to find out what other projects he has in the works now that the Wicked Years series is concluded.

favorite classic

My Antonia by Willa Cather
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Once again I can't decide which is my absolute favorite between the last two contenders in this category, so I'll just say, "Both." :) I re-read Pride and Prejudice this past spring and loved it even more than when I read it the first time three or so years ago. Jane Austen takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of emotions, though it is so well executed it is not tiring (I can't take too much drama, haha) and instead is uplifting, exhilarating even. If you can't find time to read the original work, I suggest you watch the film adaptation starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy (ahh, perfection) and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett. It is simply the most wonderful adaptation of a book ever made and the only one of Pride and Prejudice worth watching.
Favorite number two is My Antonia, of course, and I love this book so much I can't say enough good things about it. It is a beautiful story that is beautifully written, chronicling the life of a Bohemian girl from around age six on into her forties. To be fully appreciated the reader has to be ready to read this book, really want to read it, and allow him or herself to be fully immersed in it. I really want my own copy of this book so that I can make notes in the margins and underline particularly poignant passages. It is a book that gives the reader a feeling of peace and contentment. I look forward to reading it again.

I'd love to hear what you think of any of these books as well as what your favorites from 2011 are, so please feel free to leave a comment below! I hope this new year is wonderful for you and you find the time to read even more books than last year :) Happy reading and Happy New Year!
Mary Beth