Friday, January 30, 2009

Confessions of an Audio Book Addict

I've always known that we bibliophiles are cut from a different cloth, and I think it is safe to say that we are quite proud of that fact. However, this morning I had to step outside myself and really closely analyze my reaction to a minor issue that arose last night.

I was 30 minutes away from finishing Pride and Prejudice on audio book. I'm into the romantic finish and schmaltz up to my knees. I pop the earbuds into my head to finish out the book while making dinner. And the iPod freezes up. I mean, it's done. It doesn't respond to my frantically smushing buttons, plugging it into the charger, or my attempts to sync. I'm screaming to myself "No, No, No!" First things first, I sat down at the computer, pulled up iTunes and listen to the end of the book, foregoing dinner preparation. OK, now and I at least breathe. But then my mind starts to erratically race in various directions. I need to make an appointment at the Genius Bar on Friday to get it fixed. OK, done. What if I have to buy a new one? OK, money is no object in this case. What if they need to send it off to fix it? It could be weeks. What will I do? How will I clean the house? How will I exercise? I HAVE "DRAGONFLY IN AMBER" (all 33 discs) LOADED AND READY TO ENJOY!!!!!! I NEED TO HEAR ABOUT JAMIE!!! I start to get the shakes. The kids are talking to me, and I won't respond. I keep jabbing the iPod buttons. I very quickly sink into a malaise. I do remember that I have an old iPod Mini that will hold a gig of stuff, and I transfer the first three discs of Dragonfly onto that. OK. At least I'm not totally stranded. But I'm still depressed.

My husband comes home from work to find me sullen and untalkative. After he hears about my crisis, he quickly reminds me that the financial world is crumbling around us, there are people starving in Africa, innocent people dying in religious wars in the Middle East, and to straighten out my priorities. I remind him that he is the one that bought me the super duper iPod and is his fault I am addicted. This goes nowhere.

This morning, the iPod had lost its charge, which was expected. I plugged it in to charge, and after I few minutes, I found it to be in normal, working order. My funk was gone, just like that. The swing of my mood was so extreme, it almost made me dizzy. This cannot be normal. Should I seek help? Am I bipolar? Is my need to read out of control? I seriously scare myself.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen (audio)

I may be the last person on earth to read this book, and assuredly the last to read Jane Austen. It's embarrassing, really. I have recently been lamenting at the lack of exposure I received in high school and college to the literary classics. It makes me feel a bit cheated. I need direction, discussion and analysis! I need hand-holding! These things aren't always easy to read or understand! (Note to self: do not read classics on audio tape. It seemed like a good idea at the time, since I have more time to multi-task than I do sitting down to read. The narrator sounded like a stressed-out Maggie Smith. Love her to death, but ten discs of shrilly, tremulous narration, with little variation of tone from character to character is very hard to bear and even harder to concentrate on.)

OK. That all being said, I absolutely LOVED this book. What the hades have I been doing the last 42 years? Jane Austen is a genius, and all of her works need to be bestowed upon me, soon. Then I think I need to read about Jane Austen, as I understand her biography is as good as her books. As a side note, I have not seen anything remotely related to Jane Austen or her novels in movie form. I'm not generally drawn to period movies. I think I will be rearranging my Q on Netflix, however.

I'm thinking I don't really need to tell you all what the book is about. You already know, right? Well, just for grins, here is the nickel tour. We have the middle-class Bennett family with five girls. They are all a-twitter over some new, available bachelors moving into the neighborhood. These girls need to be married off, you know. Our heroine, Elizabeth, the second to oldest, and a strong independent gal, has taken an immediate dislike to one of the new guys in town, Mr. Darcy. He appears pompous, prideful and rude. She later hears rumors of his having wronged people important to Elizabeth, and decides he is the most despicable person she has ever known. She lets him know, too. Of course, we all know how this kind of thing goes. She discovers later, to her horror, that Mr. Darcy has been unfairly judged. They eventually resolve their misunderstandings, fall in love, and live happily ever after. I will admit, its predictable, but it's all good. This is the classic romantic comedy... maybe even the pioneer of the genre.

There are obviously other plots to the story, all of which are very laugh-out-loud entertaining. With the exception of the oldest sister Jane, Elizabeth's family is a bit of a freak show. A meddling, materialistic mother, an uninvolved father, one nerdy little sister, and two other little sisters that are obnoxious little snots that are determined to nab a military officer and beat their older sisters to the alter. We have the cousin that stands to inherit the Bennett home when Daddy Bennett dies, who breezes into town looking for a wife, any wife will do. When spurned by Elizabeth, he grabs the neighbor spinster Charlotte, and throws Mrs. Bennett into a jealous tirade. There is Mr. Darcy's aunt, of noble blood, that thinks the whole Bennett family is beneath her. Austen insightfully portrays the disparity between the classes. Perfectly titled, the story is also a fine character study of those who are either waylaid or completely derailed by their pride and prejudices they hold against others.

I am open to suggestions as to the next Jane Austen novel I should read!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I've Been Happy Tagged!

I woke up this morning to find I'd been Happy Tagged by DeSeRt RoSe at DeSeRt RoSe BoOkLoGuE. Thank you!!! This is an easy one! So what makes you happy? Now, just the other day I had to divulge my obsessions, which can be a manic type of thing. I recognize that not all obsessions make you happy...happy is a bit more peaceful, right? So I will try not to allow them to entertwine. Not too much anyway!

Here are the rules:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. List 6 things that make you happy.
3. Post the rules and tag six more people.
4. Let your tagger know when you have completed your mission.

Here are the things that make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside:

1. Spending time with my family.

2. Cooking a feast for my friends and family. It gives me joy to see happy, full people.

3. Taking a long walk with a good audio book. This helps fight off the effects of the risotto obsession I have.

4. St. George Island. There is no place I'd rather be.

5. My husband's mixology talents.

6. Viggo Mortensen. Bumbles, I failed you by not posting a picture of The Man the last time I had a chance. This is for you.

I would like to pass this tag along to the following bloggers:

Molly and Andy @ The Bumbles

Frances @ NonSuch Book
Melissa @ Shhh...I'm Reading
Wendy @ Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Melody @ Melody's Reading Corner
Jackie @ Farm Lane Books Blog

Wordless Wednesday

A breath-taking view of the French Riviera in Nice, France, from the balcony of Palais de la Mediterranee. This is one of my happy places where I go in my mind when I'm in a malaise...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Holocaust Chronicle: A History in Words and Pictures

A few days ago, I was slowly trying to drag myself out of bed, and my eye fell upon this book on the bookshelf. It had been awhile since I'd looked at it, and honestly I had forgotten it was there. I pulled it down and started flipping through it, and suddenly remembered what an incredible reference book it was. My first thought was "I have to tell James about this...maybe it would make a good Wednesday Wonder." As many of you may know, C.B. James features a special kind of book each that you don't necessarily read cover-to-cover, but entertaining nonetheless. As it worked out, he did decide to feature my post today on his blog!

The Holocaust Chronicle is a not-for-profit effort...a massive 750+ page collaboration by scholars, authors and experts in the field, with the intent of "providing students and lay people the basic facts of the Holocaust and its roots of development". I chuckled to myself at the use of the word basic, because from my viewpoint, this is anything but basic.

The stage is set in the prologue, with the roots of the Holocaust, starting in 1500 B.C. and moving through history. It is a shocking reminder that the Jews have been persecuted since nearly the beginning of time. From there, the overall structure of the book is a timeline. Along the bottom of each page are bullet-point events in chronological order, from 1933 to 1946. To support the timeline and fill in the cracks, each page contains photos, letters, propaganda posters, and mini-biographies of not only the "players" in the Nazi regime, but the unsung stories of the victims. There are, in fact, over 2,000 photos, some from private collections, archives and other from official documents. Here are some examples:

These two pictures are German propaganda. The one on the left is of "happy Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto". I won't show you the real pictures in that Ghetto - they are way too disturbing. The picture on the right is a demonstration of the Nazi's desire to keep the Aryan race pure...mixed race on the left, healthy Aryan youth on the right. It amazes me that not only did the Germans feel these types of brainwashing were effective, but that they were!

These are all photos from three of thousands of compelling stories in the book. The first picture on the left is the official ID card of Cyrla Rosenweig, a "Schindler Jew" and survivor. The center picture is of Maximilian Kolbe, and one of my favorite stories. He was a Polish-Catholic priest that was imprisoned in Auschwitz, and sacrificed his life for one of his fellow prisoners that had a family. This prisoner went on to survive the camp, and until his death, traveled the world to tell the story. Kolbe was made a saint in 1982. Seriously, Google this guy. The story is unforgettable. The picture on your far right is of Jan Harski. Harski was a gentile that wanted the world to know what was happening to Jews in Poland. He disguised himself as a Jew and entered the Warsaw ghetto. He also impersonated a guard and entered a death camp. From both experiences, he gave eye-witness accounts of the atrocities, and, driven by his sense of urgency, traveled to Washington to address President Franklin Roosevelt. Someone needs to make a movie of this gentleman.

I found myself educated by this book with regards to not only the atrocities we have all heard of, like Treblinka, Auschwitz, the Warsaw ghetto, etc.. There is also documentation of the slaughter at Ejszyszki, Lithuania, in Babi Yar, Ukraine, Serbia, many of the Baltic countries, Scandinavia, and Britain. These are the events you hear nothing about.

Interestingly, the publisher of this book also has a corresponding website at Everything that is in the book is on the website. You certainly don't get the same impact as looking at the real thing, but is still available as an excellent reference.

This is not a bit of light reading. Not something you want to put on your coffee table. The pictures do not shelter you from the graphic ugliness of the Holocaust. Some of them can be grotesque, heartbreaking and sickening, and I cannot look at the book for too long. At the same time, it is an expansive piece of work that deserves a spot on the shelf of every person with an interest in this topic.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - Show Tunes...

This week's Movie Meme is all about Musical Films...I can't say that I seek them out, but I have a few nostalgic favorites. Here they are:

1. West Side Story - I liked it even as a kid!
2. The Sound of Music - Again, loved it as a kid. Now my kids dig it!
3. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - the old one, by the way.
4. Fiddler on the Roof - I've watched it probably 50 times...never get tired of it. Cool dancing!
5. Moulin Rouge - the first time I saw this, I was entranced.

What are your favorites?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Yippee! My first award!

The day has finally first award! This honor was bestowed upon me by one of the coolest blogs I read these days...The Bumbles. Not only do they review books, but also have alot of fun with movies, music and their keen observations of others while working out in their local gym. With this award, I must pass it along to five others. In addition, I have to list five things I'm addicted to. So I have to first come to grips with my addictions, then air all my dirty laundry for the rest of you to see!

I am a fairly new blogger, but have really been swept up in the fun of the blogging network. I've come across alot of good role models. These people have really got it all going on. They post something every day, they are organized (or at least seem to be!), and have amazing insights into the books they read. It is hard to pick five, but here are the ones that I turn to again and again:

Carrie @ Books and Movies - she homeschools four kids AND has great reviews of books and movies
Michele @ A Reader's Respite - this girl makes me laugh every day; her personality shines through
James @ Ready When You Are, C.B. - a prolific reader, great writer, and I love his dog
Beth @ BethFishReads - on top of her great reviews & sense of humor, she's a phenomenal photographer
Matt @ A Guy's Moleskin Notebook - this guy should write a book. I am in awe of him.

OK, now down to the really hard part. My obsessions, in no particular order:
1. Wine - smelling, tasting, appreciating, glugging, bathing
2. Blogging - I know its predictable, but there you go. I'm on here all the time. I can't stop.
3. Cooking - I like a challenging recipe. I can make just about anything, or die trying. Its therapy.
4. Viggo Mortensen - I shouldn't have to explain this one.
5. Risotto - my butt doesn't thank me, but this is my favorite food of all time. I think I'll make it tonight.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

"Away" by Amy Bloom

Away is one of those books that I'm not sure I can describe easily. But I can tell you that I loved it. I've not read any of Amy Blooms' works, but talk of her is all over blogdom. I'd heard so much chatter that this book landed on my TBR challenge list for 2009.

Lillian is a young Russian Jew whose entire family has been killed in a Jewish pogrom. Her husband, mother and father, ruthlessly butchered. Her four year old daughter Sophie, missing and presumed dead. Lillian is devastated yet focused and strong-willed. She leaves for America - a new life, a new start - and hooks up with a relative living in New York. Only when she dreams does she acknowledge the lingering horror that threatens to erode her from the inside out.

Lillian learns quickly what it takes to survive in New York. She doggedly learns the language, and becomes the mistress of a handsome young (and later we find out, gay) actor and his wealthy father. Lillian is in a way very innocent, but extremely practical, and is not afraid to use her sexuality to ensure shelter, food and nice clothes for herself. A visiting relative shockingly reports that indeed Lillian's daughter Sophie is alive, saved by her Russian neighbors, and is possibly living in Siberia. Motivated by love, and the most basic animal instinct of motherhood, Lillian embarks on a journey across America, with the intent of crossing into Russia via the Behring Strait, to find her baby. She encounters your garden variety of characters that assist her and exchange tiny slices of affection with her along the way...a soft-hearted hooker, a Chinese convict and grifter, a widowed constable, a loner running away from the law.

The story is told by a third-person omniscient narrator that almost mimics the tone you would expect to come from someone foreign to America. Basic, matter-of-fact, slightly stilted, but with a sense of humor in experiencing the insanity of the US in the 20's from the perspective of a Russian Jew. With the omniscient narrator, the story becomes one-of-a-kind. We receive these absolutely delightful flash-forwards. As Lillian intersects with each person on her journey, we are allowed to see the future of every one of them, including Lillian herself. We see them take their own lives, have children and die of old age, become lonely and sick, all in an almost nostalgic tone of voice. I have honestly never read a book that treats the peripheral and main characters in such a way. What a gift Amy Bloom has given us! This little gift is what turned a likeable book into one that I love.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Wuthering Heights - Discussion on chapters 16 - 34

Having finished Wuthering Heights, I am back and ready to talk some more about this perplexing book. It is a real tribute to Emily Bronte and her literary skills that I should get so wound up over the characters in this story. I found them to continue to be wickedly brilliant personalities, and I truly wished damnation on them all. More than once, I laughed out loud at Heathcliff's over-the-top nastiness. He is the devil incarnate! OK, I've got that out of my system! Now for a few thoughtful questions:

1. What is your opinion of Linton? Do you feel any sympathy towards him?

He's not really a likable fellow at all, is he? He's whiny, a martyr and manipulative. Because of his sickly nature, he has most likely been spoiled and coddled by his mother. However, once he arrives at Wuthering Heights, he suffers the wrath of his father, and endures nothing less than full stop child abuse, physically and emotionally. What good can come from that? The role he plays in the entrapment of Cathy is obviously under duress. It doesn't mean I like him any more, but I do feel pity for a kid that never had much of a chance.

2. Why is Cathy so vulnerable to Linton's appeal for pity, when she is otherwise strong-willed and independent?

I was perplexed by this question throughout the last half of the book. I so wanted Cathy to kick him in the butt and tell him to get over himself. But I think there are two forces at work here. First, we have to realize that for all of Cathy's vivaciousness, she has basically been locked up at the Grange for most of her life, with her father and Nosy Nelly to keep her company. She desperately wants company her own age, no matter what the cost. She has to believe this is her only choice...I'm sure she doesn't fathom that she could take off for London and find herself a nice normal guy to hang with. Secondly, it seems that Cathy is generally a kind-hearted girl, and truly doesn't want to hurt anyone, thus prone to an easy guilt-trip.

3. Do you think that Nelly ever recognizes the part she has played in everything that has happened?

Despite her supporting actress role, Nelly has managed to subtly affect the outcomes of nearly every incident in this story. I would love for someone to re-write this book without Nelly in the mix, just to see what might have happened. To answer this question, I only need to quote Nelly in a very poignant paragraph on page 284:

"I seated myself in a chair, and rocked, to and fro, passing harsh judgement on my many derelictions of duty, from which, it struck me then, all the misfortunes of all my employers sprang. It was not the case, in reality, I am aware; but it was, in my imagination, that dismal night; as I thought Heathcliff himself less guilty than I."

Nosy Nelly's conscience starts to haunt her. It is funny that she still reassures herself that nothing is her fault REALLY, but the truth creeps into her mind late at night, when she is tired and vulnerable.

4. Why do you think Heathcliff finally lets go of his animosity and his obsession with revenge at the end of the story? Do you feel any sympathy for him?

Heathcliff has devestated everyone in his path. He has won the game, inherited everyone's wealth, taken revenge and crushed the spirits of anyone remotely related to any perceived wrong done to him. His lifetime of atrocities has not brought him peace however. He is still haunted by Catherine, just as much now as ever. He is aware that despite his attempt to ruin Cathy and prevent happiness from residing at Wuthering Heights, it has blossomed right under his nose. He realizes his efforts have been all for naught, and therefore loses his will to live, and finally finds happiness in knowing he will soon be reunited with Catherine. Does he feel remorse for his past actions? You know, I don't think so - I didn't see it. So I can't really say that I feel sympathy for him. I feel pity more than anything. Nelly, who has known Heathcliff since he was brought home as an orphan, doesn't even know his full name or his birthday. Heathcliff's headstone therefore only bears his one name and the day he died.

5. What was your last emotion in finishing the last page of the book?

Despite my outrage I felt throughout the book, I had an overall sense of peace and closure at the end of the book. I always look for the lesson, not necessarily that I need one, but it is a common question I ask of my kids when they read. I can't say the lesson is that love conquers hate, because that just didn't happen. Maybe the lesson is the possibility of overcoming generations of inbred hate and hysterical behavior. (Sidenote: What the hell is it with this "willing yourself to die" nonsense? These people drop like flies by simply willing themselves to the greater beyond! If people died simply because they wanted to teach their loved ones to take them seriously, nobody would live past the age of 10!)

I hope those of you that have read the book with me have had an enlightening experience. Will I read this again? Probably not in the near future, but I dare say I might at some point. It would be interesting to have a second go at it, knowing what to expect. Now I need to move on to more upbeat subjects, like the Holocaust...

"Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon (audio)

Well, my estimate was right on took me two and a half weeks to listen to all 28 discs of the first book in the Outlander Series. Whew! What a ride. I've been pondering which category this book would fall under...historical fiction? drama? action? romance? Well, it covers them all folks.

The basic premise is this: After WWII, a combat nurse (Claire) and her husband travel on holiday to Scotland to do a little bonding after a long separation. They stumble upon a miniature Stonehenge-type place, where Claire touches a particular stone and is sucked back in time. To 1743, to be exact. She finds herself in the middle of MacKenzie clan territory, where she meets the dashing (and virile, we find out later!) Jamie Fraser. With Jamie, she faces innumerable dangers and drudgery typical to the era...British soldiers who are hunting Jamie for crimes he did not commit, townspeople that want to hang and burn Claire for suspected witchery, disease and infection, clan leaders with hidden agendas, jealous nubile wenches that want Jamie for their own, the lack of hot baths, etc. The biggest threat, however, is the evil, psychotic Jack Randall (who is actually an ancestor of Claire's husband) who only lives to torture, maim and sodomize anyone that crosses him. Beyond all of this drama, Claire finds the love of her life in Jamie. I'm not sure I could find another book that better portrays such a sweeping, epic love story such as this.

This is a very long book, and the time-traveling scenario initially seemed a bit goofy. There were plenty of reasons for me to walk away from this reading challenge, but I am so glad I did not. The author does an excellent job of using Claire's practical, no-nonsense, ball-busting personality to allow us practical, no-nonsense ball-busting readers to believe in the time travel premise. She is my kinda gal. She doesn't take any crap from anyone, she applies her nursing knowledge to the use of herbs to help heal others, and by the end of the book, the girl starts to leave behind a body count (wolves AND bad guys). Jamie is also quite a treat. He's a man's man, big and strong, but emotionally open and sometimes vulnerable, and has an insane libido. Yeah baby! The writing is pretty close to real-time, so you feel you have lived the last year with these two. Throughout most of the book, you will get your share of Jamie saves Claire, Claire saves Jamie, a couple of times over. But as the book draws to a close, Claire starts to pursue her faith and religion that she lost in her childhood. Serenely, she reaches out for answers to haunting, theological questions relating to Jamie's likely death, her husband who lives in 1945, and what she should do with the knowledge of the future. The writing comes close to poetic.

I feel relieved that I have the whole series in front of me to explore. No waiting (except that I am actually still waiting for the library to deliver the next set of discs!!). If I had to wait for the author to crank out book #2, I would lose my mind. And exploring I will do, as there are I believe a couple hundred more discs to listen to. Also, a note about listening to this book via audio. I had a blast listening to the narrator, Davina Porter. She has a lovely accent, she is spirited and lively. I have a hard time finding enough moments in the day to sit down and read a hard book, and with almost 900 pages, I think this was the way for me to go. Aye, bonny book!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

This picture is of Orava Castle, built around 1267, and resides in small village named Oravsky Podzamok in Slovakia. For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - Stop Calling Me Shirley...

This week's movie meme is all about spoofs. I was really hoping for a meme about the best movies about paralyzed people, since I am in the middle of watching "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". I invent topics for the Monday Movie Meme in my head and invent my answers. Only I am a million miles from where Molly and Andy are. OK, I am switching my gears. I may copy a little from Molly and Andy, but I do have some of my own:

  • Airplane! - You HAVE to include this one on your list. It is the pioneer of spoofs.
  • Waiting for Guffman - To hell with Spinal Tap (Actually not. Spinal Tap is a good one!) My movie-manic sister turned me on to this Christopher Guest spoof that I could watch 1,243 times and still laugh.
  • Best in Show - You obviously know now I am a fan of Christopher Guest. I love animals, especially dogs, and I watch the Westminister Dog Show every year. This is pee-your-pants funny. I understand completely why it is OK to have a meltdown when you have lost your dog's favorite busy-bee squeaky toy.
  • Blazing Saddles - there are about thirty one-liners in this movies that are repeated frequently in our home. At least between my husband and I.
  • Scarey Movie Series - Not gonna win any awards, but pretty funny if you are in the right mood!

To participate in this very fun, weekly meme, go visit The Bumbles. What are your favorite spoofs?

Friday, January 16, 2009

"Wuthering Heights" - Discussion on the first 15 chapters

Well, C.B. James said I was "in for it", with regards to reading this novel. He was right. What a bunch of dysfunctional narcissists! My goodness, these people would have benefited from some intervention. Anyway, a few of us are reading this lovely tale at the same time, and we thought it would be fun to break it up into two parts, and have some discussion questions to volley back and forth. But even if you read this book 15 years ago, please join in!

1. What was your first impression of the inhabitants of Thrushcross Grange, as described by Mr. Lockwood?

It took me a chapter or two to really figure out what was going on. I'm also not used to reading this type of prose, so I felt like I was wading through it a bit. However, it became apparent straight away that this was a house full of angry, unhappy people. Maybe even a little sadistic. It is the state of this household that grabs hold of you and makes you want to know more. How on earth can three people (Joseph doesn't count because I can't understand what he is saying!) be so wretched?

2. Do you think the ghost of Catherine was real or a product of Mr. Lockwood's imagination?

I don't think Mr. Lockwood knew anything of Catherine, except seeing her named scratched in the bureau. He did not even know she was dead, I don't think. Therefore, my love of a spooky story makes me want it to be real.

3. Can we rely on Nelly's account of events?

To me, this is the million dollar question. Nelly never did seem to like Catherine, and the altercation with the pinching incident sealed the deal. I think Nelly liked Heathcliff originally, when they were younger, but after seeing what he was capable of, I believe she became disenchanted with him as well. As much as it is painful to read about these horrible people in the story, and how easy it is to be disgusted by them all, I keep asking myself whether the stories are fact. It is a human frailty to undermine the reputation of people you don't like. My gut instinct tells me there is some exaggeration in Nelly's tale, along with snippets of truth. I just haven't figured out yet the difference between the two. (Side note: So what is up with the fact that Nelly is always in the room during these intense, private, awkward moments? Is that what servants do? Or is Nelly too dense to give people the privacy they need?)

4. Do you think Catherine really knows the true meaning of love?

I think Catherine is a spoiled, self-centered, drama-queen, materialistic narcissist. When Nelly asks her why she loves Edgar, she can't answer the question satisfactorily. When asked how she feels about Heathcliff, she provides a fairly heartfelt answer. She justifies her marriage to Edgar as a way to protect Heathcliff from poverty (so she can take care of him) which I don't buy at all. I think it is obvious she doesn't love Edgar, unless loving his money counts. As for Heathcliff, I think in a weird, perverse way, she does love him. But greed and pride get in the way and override any possibility for the relationship to work.

5. Which character so far do you like the least? The most? Why?

Ugh! It isn't hard to dislike anyone in this story. If I had to pick the greater of the evils, I guess I dislike Heathcliff the most. See below for my rationale. And I'm going to take the easy way out of the second part of the question. The character I like the most is Mr. Lockwood. He is lonely and wants someone to talk to. He is a benign character, and nobody else in the story really is. That is pretty pathetic!

6. If you had to come up with one word that represented Heathcliff, what would it be?

The perfect word for Heathcliff is Revenge. He comes into the family hating Hindley because of the childhood abuses he receives from him, and I suppose for the competition for the father's affection. Heathcliff manages to win over the father, thus causing the father to extricate his love from his son. Heathcliff also wins the affections of Hindley's sister Catherine. And once Heathcliff returns from his 3 year departure, he forcibly stays in Hindley's house, and dominates his son Hareton's time, teaching him awful words and actions. Then he exerts his efforts of revenge on Edgar, for "stealing" away Catherine. He marries Edgar's sister Isabelle to avail himself of the Linton fortune, then treats her cruelly. He continues to stalk Catherine, and ultimately contributes to her death (well sort-of, if you can get past this woman martyring herself.)

I am off now to read the last half of this stomach-ache-rending story. We'll see how everyone fares after Catherine has met her maker...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Just one more challenge...War Through the Generations

I am trying REALLY hard not to over-commit myself, but I just couldn't help joining this reading challenge. It is called "War Through the Generations" Reading Challenge, and for 2009 the theme will be WWII. You only have to read five WWII-related books during the year (or more if you would like.) Heck! I've already read two and I wasn't even trying!!!

Now as most of you know, I drift towards these books as a matter of instinct. My husband is from Poland, and his family grew up in the throes of WWI, WWII and the Solidarity movement. We have visited many places in Germany and Poland that both inspired me, and made me sick to my stomach. Reichstag in Berlin, various German bunkers (including the one hosting the assassination attempt in Valkyrie), the monuments erected to commemorate the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and even Auschwitz. There's nothing like seeing this stuff in person to give you a good smack in the face. Anyway, I digress.

My goal this year will be to read 10 books related to WWII. Like I said, I have already read Suite Francaise and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I have "Resistance" by Owen Shears in my TBR Reading Challenge, and a friend of mine recommended a trilogy written by Richard J. Evans that was about the Third Reich. I'm off! If anyone would like to join this reading challenge (although I think I am the last to join!), click here. I'm off!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

I've seen a few bloggers participate in Wordless Wednesdays...all of them with beautiful pictures they have taken. I liked the idea. I don't have a fancy camera, but I take it with me everywhere and record life that happens around me. This is another effort of mine to spiff up my "book only" blog.

The picture you see above was taken in a wildlife refuge up near my little slice of heaven in the panhandle, in an area called St. Marks. This friendly little guy was following us on a nature walk that we were taking. I think he wanted a snack. To see more Wordless Wednesday pictures, click here>

Monday Movie Meme - Play It Again Sam...

In the spirit of the new year, I've seen many of my fellow bloggers spiffing up their sites and trying new things, so I've decided I needed to get on the bandwagon. Even though books are my main passion, I've got alot of other things going on in my life. So I'm going to mix it up a bit!

I recently discovered a fun and creative blog called The Bumbles. They created the Monday Movie Meme, which I have found to be quite entertaining, as well as a discussion starter in my house. This week's topic is all about remakes...I bet you we can all come up with a long list of really bad ones. Like why even bother? How did they get funding for this crap? But once in awhile, you find a remake that is actually as good or better than the original. Here are mine:

  • Cape Fear (orig. 1962) - not to copy from you Molly and Andy, but DeNiro gave the performance of his life in this one (his physique alone was amazing). It gave me nightmares for days to come.
  • Titanic (orig. 1943) - I remember watching the original as a kid, but Cameron's opus can't be beat.
  • The Grudge (orig. 2003) - another one that gave me nightmares.
  • The Fly (orig. 1958) - this one won't win any Oscars, but was entertaining.

What are your favorite remakes?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (audio)

First "Suite Francaise", then "Remembering Blue", and now this. How can I become so entranced, this early in 2009, by three books in a row? (C.B. James, I think your karma has rubbed off on me!) I'm starting to feel easy. You know, I have a dear friend who years ago read "A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle. He was so inspired by the charm and whimsy of the French countryside in this novel that he moved to France for a year. I thought of him while reading (actually listening) this book. Now I want to move to Guernsey.

We are in London in the year 1946. The war just over, the world is struggling to find its footing again. Juliet Ashton is a young woman who has just hit it big with a recently published book, and she is looking for a new muse for her next project. Serendipitously, she received a letter from a Mr. Dawsey Adams, a native of Guernsey, one of England's channel islands. Mr. Adams has come to possess a used book written by Charles Lamb, which he is quite taken with, and Juliet's name and address is written on the inside of the front cover. How did it find its way from London to Guernsey? Since there are no bookstores in operation currently in Guernsey, could Juliet give him the name and address of one in London where he could order more books by this author? Juliet and Dawsey begin corresponding, finding much in common, and a wonderful tale unfolds.

Juliet learns of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, which was created as an off-the-cuff alibi to prevent a group of curfew-breaking Guernsians from being arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis. In order to uphold the charade, they all select books to read and report on at their next "meeting". With the exception of a couple of ladies, this group never would have picked up a book in their lives. This group of loose acquaintenances soon form a tight bond, originating from a newfound love of the classics, and enforced by the day-to-day survival of the Nazi occupation. Juliet begins to correspond with the entire cast of characters, and soon falls in love with their stories, their spirit and their quirks. She leaves London to visit her new friends. It seems she has found her muse.

Uniquely, the story is told as a series of letters between Juliet, her best friend Sophie, Juliet's publisher (and Sophie's brother), Juliet's new boyfriend, the various members of the Guernsey Society, and a few other colorful folks. It provides the points of view from all sides, and although not allowing too much in-depth character study, it makes for a very fun, fast-paced read. I had more than one laugh-out-loud moment listening to the antics of the islanders. And while most of the dialogue is light, it also travels down the dark path of suffering and war-time atrocities that sobered me up pretty quickly.

I must make a special comment about listening to this on audio tape. If you read my recent review of "Testimony" by Anita Shreve, I was blown away by the fact that a whole cast of narrators were used. Well, Guernsey employs the same strategy. It was absolutely delightful listening to the accents and inflections of the narrators, which brought the whole lot of characters to life. I can't imagine reading the book in hard copy!

This is a touching, heartwarming tale that I will recommend to everyone (and when I say the name they will look at me like I have three heads). I dare anyone to not love it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Wuthering Heights...who's in???

I am a bit embarassed to admit that I have never read this classic. On vacation at Thanksgiving, I happened upon a bookstore that was closing its doors and selling everything on its shelves for quarters on the dollar. I spied an old yellowed paperback of Wuthering Heights and decided it was a sign. So I placed this title on my TBR Reading Challenge list, and lo and behold, there were some other people who hadn't read it either. And a few more that wanted to read it again!
So I thought I would draw a little attention to the fact that I am about to start reading it. Most likely tonight, after the kids are in bed, and am snuggled down for my evening reading time. If anybody else out there wants to join me, please do! (Carrie, Melissa, Michele?) I would welcome your insights!

"Remembering Blue" by Connie May Fowler

Have you ever read a book where you felt afterward that your heart has been wrung out? Or that you have been hypnotized with some mysterious essence that has crept into your soul? These are the emotions I am experiencing after reading this book (my first book in my TBR Challenge). I am smitten. Perhaps for different reasons than the average reader, but my guess is that this novel would work its magic on you too. Many of you may have heard me wax fondly about a little corner of Florida (just tell me to shut up if you have heard this too many times), in the panhandle, that is nearly untouched by the loud, garish development and consumerism that has taken over much of my state. It is a place where there are thousands of species of birds living peacefully, the smell of salt water that permeates everything, roads lined with little seafood shacks and docks, and any local would be happy to stop and pass the time chatting with you about why their corner of the world is special. This is the setting for Remembering Blue.

At its heart, this is a love story. It is also a testament, as we learn from page one, to the life and legacy of the late Nick Blue by his grieving wife.

The story begins with a young woman named Mattie, whose father abandoned her as a child, and whose emotionally unavailable mother recently died. Mattie has few ambitions, and although she is very self-aware and well-read, has been beaten down to the point where she no longer believes she is intelligent or beautiful. Then one day Nick Blue walks into the handy mart where Mattie works, and they immediately form a connection and thus begins their whirlwind love affair. Nick is a salt-of-the-earth guy, a romantic, who sees the beauty and potential in Mattie that the rest of the world has ignored. He has recently left the island where his family lives and works, for reasons I'm not sure I ever fully understood. Did he want to escape the fate of his forefathers...premature deaths on the shrimp boats that provide the Blue family their livelihood...or did he just want to see what else was out there? Nick cannot stay away from the sea for long, however, and he and Mattie move back to the island.

The island was founded by Nick's ancestors, and is not accessible by car. It resides off the coast of Carrabelle, and actually exists in real life, but the name has been changed (probably to keep tourists from storming it). It is here that Mattie begins blossoming. She discovers the meaning of family, of maternal bonds, of tradition. She learns to identify bird species, shell species, how to garden, how to cook, and how to build things with her sweat and her own two hands (freedom by carpentry, she calls it). She becomes her husband's fishmonger, selling his shrimp to seafood wholesalers, making friends on the mainland, and goes to college. She rides out a large hurricane on the island with the Blue family. She is transformed into a butterfly, and you can't help but love her.

This story is a gift. Fowler's writing has a mesmerizing cadence that washes over you. I liken the experience of reading this book to swinging lazily in a hammock on the back porch on a warm summer day, with a gentle breeze blowing. Fowler captures every wonderful detail of this niche of the panhandle, every quirk and nuance, even the insane experience of preparing for and surviving a hurricane. It includes references to the little shops and historic inn in Apalachicola, Highway 98, and the oysters that make this part of the world famous. My little slice of heaven. But, we know from the beginning that Nick is going to die, and as the book progresses, it weighs heavily upon the reader. You will fall in love with Nick just like Mattie did (although I have some doubts as to whether a man such as this truly exists!) and you don't want to see him go. It is heartbreaking, but at the same time, heartwarming. I shall very much look forward to reading two other books by Fowler that I received for Christmas. She is truly a talented writer.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

They Have Arrived!

This is a very exciting day for me. I am very pleased to announce that the library delivered my first set of audio books for the Outlander Challenge today! For the first book, Outlander, there are 28 discs, and I am uploading them to iTunes as I am writing this. When I popped the first disc in, I closed my eyes and said a very heartful prayer to the Gracenote Database Gods that they recognized the material on the disk (am I the only one out there that has this annoying problem? ) No, I do not want to manually type the Outlander data into iTunes for over two hundred discs, thanks!

So, soon I will begin my journey. For anyone out there that is interested in joining in the quest to finish all the books in the Outlander series before the new one arrives in September, please register here. I must first finish "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" on audio book (which I might add is the most delightful thing I have read in a very long time) then I am off. Wish me luck!

Monday, January 5, 2009

"Phantom Prey" by John Sandford (audio)

Sandford's Prey series, featuring the hardened, streetwise, and ever-studly Lucas Davenport, are books that I cannot turn my back on. I have a compulsive want and need to read whose butt Lucas is kicking these days. A man's man through and through, Lucas continues to swear, get shot, B.S. with his cop buddies, bend to his wife's every whim, and chase down the latest bad guy (or girl). This may be the 18th installment of the series, but Lucas ain't dead yet. In fact, I think he is getting better with age.

A rich heiress has gone missing, and her mother, who is a couple cards shy of a deck, is begging for help in finding her. Lucas' wife, Weather, asks Lucas to humor the crazy lady (who happens to be her friend) and give it some of his special TLC. But when Lucas starts digging, he finds himself entrenched in the goth underworld, and things just don't add up. A string of murders occur, and it not only becomes apparent that they are tied in with the missing girl, but that they may have been committed by a mysterious "fairy" goth hottie. Then there is the missing $50,000. And the personal trainer that was sleeping with both the mother and the daughter. Then Lucas gets shot (it isn't a Prey novel unless some of Lucas' blood is spilled). Lucas doggedly chases down clues, running into more dead ends than he likes, and soon finds out there may be more than one rotten apple in the bunch.

This is classic Sandford. I can't say it is the best Prey novel ever written, but this is not really a criticism. You just can't beat the installment where he meets Weather and she saves his life with an emergency tracheotomy, or the one where he is obsessing over creating a list of the top rock -n roll songs of all time. It is kinda fun, actually, that Sandford secretly reveals to the reader one of the evil-doers about halfway through the book, and we get to see this person unravel into madness. Sandford is kind enough to save the discovery and arrest of another unlikely culprit for the end. He's also kind enough to leave us wanting for more.

Friday, January 2, 2009

"Suite Francaise" by Irene Nemirovsky

Suite Francaise is one of those rare books where I actually experienced trepidation in reviewing it. I'm not really sure my pedestrian use of the English language can do it justice. A friend of mine, John Cole, very highly recommended it to me, knowing my interest in WWII stories are above the norm. (My husband was raised in Communist Poland, and his parents and grandparents were intimately involved with the Solidarity movement, WWII and WWI.) But this isn't just a book about WWII. It probably was THE first book about WWII. This will probably be the longest post I have written thus far, but please bear with me. It is worth it. Let me give you the back story...

Irene was born in Kiev, Russia to an upper class Jewish family. They fled Russia in 1918 because of the revolution, and ultimately ended up in Paris. She studied literature at the Sorbonne, married Richard Epstein (also a Russian Jew) in 1926, and continued to live in Paris for the duration. Between 1926 and 1939 she published several successful novels. Despite spending their adult lives in France, neither had citizenship. With the threat of the German invasion looming in the distance, both Irene and her husband converted to Catholicism, but the French government still would not grant them citizenship. They shipped their children off the countryside to stay with friends, and themselves stayed in Paris where Irene continued writing. In June of 1941, the Germans took over France. Irene and her husband went into hiding, and Irene began to write "Suite Francaise". She fabricates a fictitious story about a collection of people trying to survive the German occupation, writing it "real time", as it occurred to her. Despite Irene's notoriety as an author, and her conversion to Catholicism, Irene was arrested in 1942 and jailed briefly, all the while still writing. She and her husband were eventually taken to Auschwitz, where Irene died of Typhus and her husband was gassed. The authorities vigorously pursued the children, but were never caught. Years later, Irene's daughter discovered the unfinished manuscript, as well as creative notes, and had them published.

The book is separated in the four sections. The first is "Storm in June", which depicts the mass exodus of Parisians into the countryside to avoid being killed by the approaching German army.

"Then a dark shape would glide across the star-covered sky, everyone would look up and the laughter would stop. It wasn't exactly what you'd call fear, rather a strange sadness - a sadness that had nothing human about it any more, for it lacked both courage and hope. This was how animals waited to die. It was the way fish caught in a net watch the shadow of the fisherman moving back and forth above them."
Nemirovsky focuses in on a handful of families, some hard-working, modest middle-class, and some fussy, superficial upper-class. She intricately writes about the little details of their struggles to survive...their worries about their sons fighting in the war, their attempt to find food and petrol, their frantic grasping for their wordly possessions, their fight for survival on a minute-by-minute basis. The author very keenly captures the terror and confusion of these events - I felt it myself while I was reading it - and we know this is because Irene is experiencing it firsthand.

The second section is called "Dolce". The insanity has settled a bit. The Germans have occupied France, and have settled into the towns and villages, living with the embittered townspeople in their homes. Irene has chosen to focus on one particular small village, where a few of the characters from "A Storm in June" live. There is a food shortage, fatherless families left to fend for themselves, and in the middle of all this, Germans living among them. The disparity between the rich landowners and the farmers is a stark contrast in this section. ..the rich hoard the food and supplies, and the poor are forced to steal. Central to Dolce, however, it the story of Lucile, whose husband is a POW and is forced to live with her rigid mother-in-law, and the young handsome German soldier, Bruno, who lives with them. There is a connection between the two that is likened to an eye of a cyclone. War, hatred and uncertainty outside, but peace and happiness between them. This, more than anything, communicates that war is universally damning. Sacrifices are made by both the victors and the defeated. There are moments so chaste and beautiful between these two, I am amazed Nemirovsky could resurrect such an emotion in light of her circumstances.

The last two sections are Appendix I and Appendix II. Ordinarily I don't give much attention to such things, but in this situation, it is where it all becomes way too poignant and emotional for me. In the first Appendix, we are allowed to read Irene's notes and her creative train of thought with regards to the storyline. It becomes heartbreakingly apparent that this novel would have been one of the great masterpieces of the time, had she been allowed to finish it. We see that she envisioned five sections, the third named "Captivity" and the fourth and fifth unnamed due the uncertainty of the direction the war would take. She muses on the fates of Lucile and other characters, who will fall in love, who will be imprisoned, who will die. She draws inspiration from "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina". In the second Appendix, we know that Irene has been imprisoned, and we read the frantic pleading in the correspondence between her husband and the authorities to release her. We read the letters sent by friends, trying to locate her once she is deported to Poland. It is simply devastating to read.

How many books do you read in a lifetime that truly haunt you? I can only name a few, and Suite Francaise would be one of them. Obviously the circumstances surrounding the author are attributable. That aside, Nemirovsky is a wonderful writer. She has a fresh, humorous, unique style of prose that is easy to read. One particular technique that she uses is when she suddenly steps inside the mind of an unlikely bystander...a pet cat or a small child for chronicle an impression. Her writing also has a texture, a smell, an aura, that makes you feel that you are living the moment yourself, and stays with you for a very long time. Irene Nemirovsky is yet another treasure, tragically taken from us as a result of the Nazi regime.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2009 TBR Challenge

It seems to me that reading challenges are a bit like volunteering at the kids' is a slippery slope, and if you don't find the will to say "no", you will regret it later! I've already pledged my audio book life to the Outlander Challenge, and I've signed up for the Read and Review Challenge, which is a no-brainer (you just review everything you read, which is what I do anyway). However, this challenge piqued my interest. It is the TBR challenge (for rules and sign-up, click here). You simply pick out 12 or more books from your To Be Read stack and read them in 2009. You can read them all in one month, or you can spread them out. This will be my way of forcing myself to stay somewhat focused on my ever-growing pile of prepaid fun. So here is my list:
1. The Hour I First Believed - Wally Lamb
2. The House of Mondavi - Julia Flynn Siler
3. Remembering Blue - Connie May Fowler. This is an author local to the panhandle, near where we vacation every year. This part of Florida and its essence is in my blood. I received three of her books for Xmas and I will put them all on here!
4. Sugar Cage - Connie May Fowler
5. Before Women Had Wings - Connie May Fowler
6. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte. Can you believe I have never read this? I'm embarassed...
7. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen. Another embarassment.
8. Say You're One of Them - Uwem Akpan. This was Entertainment Weekly's #1 new fiction of 2008.
9. Sashenka - Simon Montefiore
10. Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell
11. Resistance - Owen Shears
12. Away - Amy Bloom
So there you are! Keep your eyes open for the reviews of these books to come!