Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rebecca Read Along

A few weeks ago, I impulsively threw out an invitation for a Rebecca read-along, starting October 1st. How perfect is this? Just in time for the spookiest month of the year, and just in time for the RIP Reading Challenge! I have heard so much about this book, and frankly it has been driving me crazy that I hadn't yet read it.

We will break down our reading schedule like this:

Chapters 1 through 16: By October 8th
Chapters 17 through 27: By October 15th
I will read a wee bit ahead of you, just so I can post some thought-provoking questions on the 8th and the 15th. Take your time - these are just guidelines, but I am hoping two weeks should give plenty of time to read the book. And, if you would rather post your own review and not use my questions, that is OK too. No offense will be taken!

Here are the bloggers that expressed interest in reading along:

Michele @ Reader's Respite
Carrie @ Books and Movies
Jackie @ Farm Lane Books
Frances @ Nonsuch Book
Molly @ The Bumbles
Donna @ From Little Acorns
Another Cookie Crumbles
Alice Teh @ Hello My Name is Alice
Heidenkind's Hideaway

And two maybe's:

Jennifer @ The Literate Housewife
Gavin @ Page 247

What an excellent group! We should have some ripping, lively discussions with this crowd. If anyone else wants to join along, just leave me a comment and join the happy family. See you on the 8th!!!

Wordless Wednesday - Marlbork #6

Down in the moat section of the Teutonic Knights Castle, in Malbork, Poland.

Next week, we will move on from Malbork to Wroclaw, my husband's hometown.

For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Family Tree - Barbara Delinsky (Kindle)

On September 22, I attended my very first book club meeting. I've been searching for one for ages, but have found that some book clubs are about anything BUT books. More often, they are the perfect opportunity to complain about the husband, brag about the kids, and gossip. If they get around to discussing the book of the month, this is just an added perk. This was not the case with this group of ladies. We ate, we laughed, we talked books. The selection for this month was "Family Tree" by Barbara Delinsky.

Dana and Hugh Clarke are the golden couple. Young and attractive, both with lucrative jobs, they are expecting their first baby. They live in a stately ocean-front home, afforded by not only successful careers, but Hugh's wealthy, Mayflower-decended, and rather snooty family of priviledge. Dana, on the other hand, never knew her one-night-stand father, and was raised by her grandmother when her mother died young. None of this really mattered, though, until...

the baby was born. With black features. Then all hell breaks loose. Did Dana have an affair with the handsome black neighbor? Is there an African American in her undocumented geneology? Accusations fly, trust is destroyed, and what should have been the happiest day of Dana's life turns into a nightmare. Who would have known that so many upstanding, honorable, do-gooder people in her life were actually closet bigots? To shut everyone up, Dana not only takes a paternity test, which is demeaning, but attempts to track down her parentage. Soon, multiple family secrets are revealed. The proverbial skeletons in the closet are not only out in the open, they are all partying on the front lawn with a live band and beer kegs.

Threaded throughout the primary plot are also themes of paternal responsibilities, fidelity, integration, false selves, and good old fashioned come-uppance.

The plot is intriguing and controversial. It was easy to feel Dana's terror, confusion and disappointment - can you even imagine the chaos that would ensue if two white people gave birth to a black baby? It is also not that hard to imagine the hypocrites coming out of the woodwork. You know, the ones that would volunteer on a committee to raise money for poor black children, but don't want it in their back yard? As sensitive as the topic is, it was handled with grace and tact. Now, is this another To Kill a Mockingbird or The Help? No. It is more of a Prejudice 101 "lite".

I didn't have much of a connection with Dana personally, however. While I sympathized with her situation, I often felt that she complained enough to feel like she was beating a dead horse. Issues, attitudes, insecurities and trust were discussed over and over again. I got the point already! I also did not love her husband Hugh either. While he had his strong points, he felt slightly unstable and weak. I'm not sure I could have forgiven him.

What the book club had to say: They may have liked the book a tad more than I did, but overall it seemed the group shared my sentiments. The book did inspire long discussions about the attitudes we see, even today, towards people of color...starting in high school and extending onward...attitudes we wish weren't there. We veered off course every so slightly to talk about men of color that would look good naked (sorry, but this was inevitable in a group of women). One club member admitted to having dated a black guy. Would we be understanding if our daughters or sons did the same? We talked about adoption - would we want to adopt a black, Hispanic or Asian baby? Bottom line? The book isn't going to blow your mind, but presents a premise that inspires thought-provoking questions.

3 out of 5 stars

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - School Days

Today's Monday Movie Meme from the Bumbles is all about school in all its variations. It IS September, the time when all parents say a silent prayer of thanks that the dear angels are back in the classroom. (Actually, mine have been back since mid-August, but who's counting?) There are also the college students, who have gathered their supply of Ramen noodles, No Doze and cheap beer and are back on campus. So shall we delve into all of those great films that focus on the hallowed halls of educational institutions? There are literally hundreds to choose from - you could close your eyes and throw a dart. But here are a few of my favorites:

School of Rock - OK, why couldn't I have had Jack Black as a teacher? He is in his element in this fun flick where kids learn everything they need to know about rocking out, believing in yourself, and playing a mean guitar. This one is a favorite at my house.

American Graffiti - Another favorite in our house, even though the kids do not fully appreciate seeing Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfus, Cindy Williams and Harrison Ford in the impressionable years. (If I recall, this movie is what landed Harrison with the role of Hans Solo.) This one is a true classic.

Napolean Dynamite - Even Jon Heder would not have imagined the almost cultish success of this goofy movie about a goofy kid and his goofy friends. Vote for Pedro, dudes!

Grease - This is the movie of my youth. My friends and I saw it hundreds of times, we knew the dances, but I would forever regret having the name "Sandy". Junior high can be pretty cruel about stuff like that.

Donnie Darko - Originally, Donnie Darko flew under the radar at the box office...WAY under. But somewhere along the line, it became a cult classic. Although it is slightly off the wall (it involves visions of a giant, demonic bunny), it is amazingly entertaining. It features a great cast with Jake Gyllenhal and his sister Maggie, Mary McDonnell, Jena Malone, Seth Rogan, Noah Wylie, Drew Barrymore, and an unforgettable performance by the late Patrick Swayze as a motivational speaker/pedophile.

Harry Potter (every darned one of them) - What kid wouldn't want to be shipped off to school to a place like Hogwarts? Every element of school are in these movies, and more. We have seen these movies more than any of the other ones combined, so I'd be remiss if I did not list them!

The Breakfast Club - I think this is the ultimate '80's movie. When you flip through the channels on Saturday afternoon, and see it playing, you must stop and watch it every time, right? For its genre, it is perfection. It's even one of my mom's favorite movies of all time, so you don't necessarily even need to be a child of the '80's to love it.

Please Vote for Me - it isn't a Monday Movie Meme unless I mention something way off the beaten path. This is my contribution for the week. This is a documentary about a class of 8-year-olds in China that learn about democracy by holding a campaign and election for class monitor. For a group of teachers, students and parents that have never experienced anything but communism, they figure things out pretty quickly. In fact, if you change the names and faces, it could be any school in the US. Competitive and domineering parents, emotional kids, chaos in the classroom, you would think their lives were at stake. This is a must-see...its is fresh and entertaining.

I could have listed thirty more movies with the topic. Everything about the dymanics of school is fodder for great entertainment. But I must go back and finish off my last day of the kids' Book Fair. After today, I WILL have my life back. Happy Monday!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Best of...Emma's Top 10 Books

I have been meaning to feature my daughter on this series for awhile now. But while we were recently vacationing, we actually had a chance to really put our minds to it, and we came up with a specific list. I am directly responsible for some of the books she has grown to love in her 11 years, and some she has found all on her own. So if you want to know what trips a tween girl's trigger, this is it, in no particular order:

1. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins: We (defined as my daughter, my son and I) listened to this book on audio in the car. We were all entranced with this story, and gave us lots of fodder for discussion for weeks after we finished. What would happen once Katniss gets back home? Which boy will she choose? Who will star as Katniss and Peeta in the upcoming movie? These spirited interactions are priceless when some days you can't get a word out of them.

2. Are You There God, It's Me Margaret - Judy Blume: I had to include this particular picture, which was the cover of this book that I own from my childhood. My mom saved it all these years, and just recently I decided it was probably appropriate for my daughter to read. She read it in one night, and has read it several times since. The who Blume appeal just never wears off, I guess.

3. The Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling: Emma started reading this series when she was in second grade, and has since completed it twice. Strangely enough, she has not turned to the dark side or has joined a Wicken cult, like some proclaimed would happen. This series just firmly planted her on the side of a literary obsessive. I'm OK with that.

4. The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman: Several days before this book won the Newberry, I sent my mom out to buy it, so I could read it to the kids. (I think I got the tip from Carrie @ Books and Movies). Mom read the first chapter or two, and doubted my sanity. Granted, the plot is a bit morbid, but made it all the more appealing for the young crowd. The kids did not want me to stop reading.

5. Fairest - Gail Carson Levine: I have not read this book. It was one of the many books I ended up buying at a Book Fair last year. But Emma couldn't read it fast enough. Based on the back-of-the-book blurb, I can understand why. It seems to give a little twist on the well-worn Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty or Snow White story. The plain but smart maiden, the mean queen, the handsome prince. Who can argue with that recipe?

6. Gossamer - Lois Lowry: I'm pretty certain we have read most of Lowry's books. They are targeted at a crowd slightly younger than YA, but aren't the least bit dumbed down (which I find to be the case with kids' books at times). They are thought-provoking and beautiful. But this one started it all, and again I credit Carrie @ Books and Movies. In addition to those qualities we see in all Lowry books, this one is magical and sweet and gentle. And Emma fell in love with it.

7. The Warriors Series - Erin Hunter: At this point, I have lost track of how many Warrior Series are out there. At least three, maybe four. But Emma and I read the first series independently, but at the same time. The premise is intriguing...a community of wild cats, their hierarchies, their enemies, their habits, their higher deity, prophecies, death, life and survival. All told from the viewpoint of one narrator cat. I know it sounds hokey, but I found myself unable to put the books down. We are quite the cat-lovers, after all, which meant even more to us. We have yet to read the later series, but I'm sure we will eventually.

8. Shudders - Various artists: Straight off my childhood shelf, along with Judy Blume. These are the short stories that kept my BFF and I up at nights, worrying about shriveled monkey paws and waxworks of serial murderers and transporting corpses on lonely roads. Emma shares the thrill of the heeby-jeebies with me, and has enthusiastically read this one several times.

9. Inkheart - Cornelia Funke: Emma has read the entire series, all umpteen pages. But this one was her absolute favorite. She continues to beg me to read them (I'm hanging my head in shame), and I suppose, based on her list, I should take her good word. I try to explain to her about the TBR, and challenges and such, but she just shrugs her shoulders, rolls her eyes, and says "Whatever mom! Just read them!". Ok honey. I'll get right on it!

10. Princess Academy - Shannon Hale: This was another Book Fair purchase, at the urging of several of Emma's friends. I have not read it, but feel that perhaps I should, considering all the love that Shannon Hale gets in blogdom. This is another twist on a Cinderella story, one that won a Newberry Honor Award.

So how many more "Best of" lists can I do? This is the question. I have TWO PEOPLE who I have asked for lists and haven't received them yet. (You know who you are, Ms. Savard and Ms. Falconetti!) I know it is hard to do. You notice I haven't come up with mine! I'm wondering what in the world I will do when I run out of names. I'm liking the idea of Sunday Salon, but haven't committed yet...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

BBAW Giveaway winners!

Last week, in honor of BBAW, I held a special giveaway of some of my most enjoyable reads so far this year. Using, I selected the following winners:

The winner of Away by Amy Bloom is: Tanabata

The winner of Resistance by Owen Sheers is: Iliana @ A Bookgirl's Nightstand

The winner of The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst is: Anna @ Diary of an Eccentric

A big thank you goes out to everyone that participated, and a congrats to the winners! I will be contacting you shortly for your mailing addresses!

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Fiery Cross - Diana Gabaldon (audio)

You should all be astounded and impressed. Five books into the Outlander series, I've officially listened to 193 audio discs full of time travel, romance, violence, sex, hot guys in kilts, and historical drama. I have to admit, the delineation between one Outlander book from another is starting to become a bit blurred. I feel I've always known these people, but I haven't a clue where one book left off and the other started. As I sit here and stare at the screen and damn myself for not keeping notes, I ask the same question I always ask after finishing one of these mammoth audios. How do you summarize this much information?

In order to keep you engaged in this post, I can't possibly sum up the first four books succinctly. Here are my reviews of Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager and Drums of Autumn. Spoilers are everywhere. I try to hide away a few critical nuggets, but plots developed in one book are critical to the next, so I apologize in advance. If you don't think you will have a snowball's chance in hell of getting through these tomes, read on. If you think you will read them someday, chances are, once you get 193 discs into it (or the page equivalent), you won't remember it anyway!

Claire, Jamie, Brianna, Roger and baby Jeremiah are living happily on Fraser's Ridge in North Carolina, a plot of land granted to them by the British crown in 1770. They are making a comfortable community for themselves and their Highland friends, settling the land and establishing viable goods with which to trade and support themselves. With the land grant, however, comes one minor hitch. If ever the crown needs an active military to squash rebels (called Regulators), they must respond in kind. And of course, we all know that the Fraser clan is not destined for peace and tranquility. The summons comes, a fiery cross is lit to signal an upcoming war, and the men must go. While the war in this installment is still in the skirmish stage, there is a rumbling of thunder on the horizon, and we are filled with dread, knowing what is coming.

I see this book as a means to an end. We must read it to progress. But with other Outlander books, Gabaldon throws us what I like to refer to as "a bone". Each book until now has had an epicenter. Claire and Jamie are reunited after twenty years of being separated by 200 years. Brianna and Roger follow Claire back through time. Brianna finally meets her biological father. We have plenty of action in this book, sure. But no epicenter. A stepping stone to book six is what this is.

While the evil Jack Randall is long since dead, we have found a legitimate replacement in Stephen Bonnet. He pops in now and again, pisses everyone off, rapes, pillages, tries to kill a few people, then leaves. He is a sinister niggle in the back of our minds. We know he will be back. We are entertained with marriages, disease, legends of golden treasure, near death experiences, murder most foul, a lesson in genetics, a discovered diary of another time traveler, an abandoned baby, hangings, birth control ala herbs, sharp-shooting women, hot-blooded men, and alot of creative sexual positions. Jamie would never be in line for Viagra, ladies.

Personally, I'm a tad bit ready for the series to be done. I'm not sure if I really ever want to hear another "aye" or "kin". I have always found that I need some breathing space after I finish one of these audios, and I have one more 48 disc book to go, so it is no shocker that I will not finish this challenge that ends later this month. My goal, where I stand right now, is to finish it by year end. Of course, as soon as it is complete, I will not know what to do with myself and will miss the characters, which have almost become part of my life. Just to demonstrate how endearing these guys can be, I will leave you with the last sentence in The Fiery Cross, uttered by Jamie to Claire:

"When the day shall come that we do part", he said softly, and turned to look at me, "if my last words are not 'I love you', you'll kin it was because I didn't have time."

3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Meggie's Remains - Joanne Sundell

Over the past months, you may have caught me saying that I don't necessarily like romance novels. I can be a little bitter and jaded when it comes to the happily ever after thing. But with my never-ending audio experiences with the Outlander series, and now this book, Meggie's Remains, it seems I may have to eat my words.

We find ourselves in the year 1874, in the wild Colorado territory. Meggie has fled the East Coast to Denver to start a new life. Our first glimpse of our heroine, Meggie, is this:

It was coming - molded gray, dank, rotting. The thing was coming. This time she'd get away. This time she'd outrun the devil! Meggie took off down the narrow passage. The instant she came up hard against a door, she tried the knob. It wasn't locked! It led outside, onto a stairwell, then to an alleyway below. Ignoring the bitter cold, she scrambled down the flight of stairs and then quickly cleared the dark corner of the unknown building. She kept running, not stopping until she'd made it to the center of the deserted snowy street, until she'd made it into the light where she was safe. Spreading her arms wide, she tilted her face up into the welcoming snowfall and began to spin around as a child might - a child afraid of the monster after her - a child desperate to defend against such evil.

So my first thought is...this girl has issues. Serious issues. She is running away from something in her past, with one foot in reality and another in a fantasy world, and turning to God for protection. She panics when a man comes near her, she constantly chants a saying to ward off the evil that pursues her, and she dresses and acts like a seriously repressed schoolmarm. She lies about her name and her background, and imagines herself living in the world of Jane Eyre, having sexual fantasies about Edward Rochester. She faints and falls down and hurts herself. ALOT. I can't say I was initially too fond of this girl. She seems to be just a few cards shy of a deck, and in need of a good shaking.

Hours after her arrival in Denver, Meggie meets the well-muscled, wealthy, rugged, handsome Ethan - a Marlboro Man with some baggage of his own. But while hardship pushed Meggie towards God, Ethan's troubles have made him doubt his faith. Either way, there is chemistry abound. There is an undeniable connection here, but much confusion about prior relationships, psychological hangups, and all of those darned courtship issues. You want to scream "Get it together people! Just TALK IT OUT!". But we all know it is not that easy.

OK, so she's not THAT repressed. But my mom did teach me not to judge a book by its cover, which is a good lesson with respect to Meggie.

Without a man to protect her, she takes a job as a school teacher for a small isolated town. She lives by herself, learns to cook over a fire, battles the brutal winter, makes friends, manages a successful school, and learns to shoot a gun. She even pops a bullet into a drunkard's leg to protect a young woman from his unwanted advances. About halfway through the book, I will begrudgingly admit that I started to like her moxie.

In attempt to exorcise demons of the past, she begins to write a confessional letter to Ethan explaining her erratic and polarizing behavior. The letter is purely for therapeutic purposes - she never intends to mail it - but of course we all know that secret letters are meant to be found, right? Through this letter, though, we the readers finally see what's got Meggie so traumatized, and we begin to understand. As a result, our blood is all the more chilled when the devil himself tracks Meggie down to take care of her once and for all. We are struck with the realization that she may not be so crazy after all.

It was really quite easy to lose myself in this story - the romance, the personal struggle to overcome the worst mental and physical obstacles, a really nasty bad guy, a touch of religion, and just a hint of the paranormal. I found myself intrigued by the day-to-day life of those pioneers carving their way through the undeveloped West. I was also pleasantly surprised at the total 180 degree turn my attitude took towards Meggie. She won me over in the end.

I would like to thank Dorothy at Pump Up Your Book Promotion for inviting me to participate in this tour! And don't forget, if you are interested in winning one of two copies of this book, please leave your comments by October 3!
3.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Marlbork #5

A couple of interesting doorways in the Teutonic Knights Castle, Malbork, Poland.

For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Spotlight on Joanne Sundell, author of Meggie's Remains

I am so excited to be a participant of the Virtual Book Tour for Meggie's Remains, written by Joanne Sundell, and brought to you by Dorothy at Pump Up Your Book Promotions. I will be reviewing the book Thursday, but until then, here is a little sneak peak about the book and its author:

About the Author:

Born in a tiny hospital in rural Virginia, tucked snugly away in a bureau drawer, Joanne ever cherishes her country beginnings. Fond memories of toddling along after her older sisters along the Appalachian Trail, catching tadpoles in the local creek bed, chasing after lightening bugs, or falling asleep to the evening hum of katydids, remain with her still, despite the family move to more urban Arlington where Joanne spent her formative school years, and then on to Richmond for college. Though nursing was her chosen vocation, her chosen avocation has ever been the romance novel. Joanne grew up reading romance, falling in love with heroes and heroines from Regency England to the American West, from London’s pubs to Colorado’s ski slopes, loving that moment when the hero and heroine meet and fall in love. That moment to Joanne is the moment when Jane Eyre meets Edward Rochester, when Elizabeth Bennett meets Mr. Darcy—that’s the heart-stopping, passionate moment for Joanne in romance. That moment is what led Joanne to attempt traditional, old-fashioned, historical romance. Her first sale was in 2005 and since then, she’s sold five more historical romances to Five Star-Gale, Cengage Learning, in their Expressions line. Her books have been reviewed nationally by such notables as Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and Romantic Times. With her three children grown and off on their own adventures, Joanne now lives part-time in Colorado and in California with her husband and their entourage` of felines and huskies. Joanne’s writing groups include Romance Writers of America, Colorado Romance Writers, Los Angeles Romance Writers, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and Women Writing the West. You can visit her on the web at

About the Book:

Meggie’s Remains is a romantic suspense unlike any other. Meggie struggles with far more than meeting the man of her dreams. In fact, she’s scared to death when she does. This story could happen to any woman, in any time. It is you. It is me. It is private … but must be told.

Afraid of men, afraid for her sins, afraid for her sanity, and right now afraid for her life, Meggie McMurphy flees Boston once the fiendish terror–so long stalking in her nightmares–surfaces in the light of day. She escapes west to Denver in the wild Colorado Territory, hoping to lose herself among the multitude of townsfolk. The year is 1874.

Twenty-five years old, alone, and near penniless, Meggie struggles to find honest work and to keep the dark secrets of her past just that: a secret. Not so easily done when the handsome, foreboding westerner Ethan Rourke, stumbles upon her on a snowy Denver street. Why it’s as if he’d stepped right out of the pages of her beloved romance, Jane Eyre! Safe to encounter such a man on the romance page, it is certainly unsafe, even deadly, for her to encounter such a man in the flesh. Men belong … six feet under, six feet away … where to stay safe, the devil must stay!

Hired as a teacher, not in Denver, but in an isolated mountain town in rugged Ute country, Meggie is determined to make a home for herself in Hot Sulphur Springs. There she keeps up her masquerade as Rose Rochester, yearning for a normal life–for companionship and even love–all the while knowing it’s only a matter of time until the monstrous changeling from her nightmares will find her, killing any possibility of a life at all.


I am excited to be able to giveaway two signed copies of this book. If you would like to receive a copy of this book, please leave a comment to this question:

Joanne Sundell mentions those amazing romantic literary moments that hooked her on the genre...when Elizabeth Bennett meets Mr. Darcy, or when Jane Eyre meets Edward Rochester. What is your favorite heart-stopping romantic moment in literature?

If you are a follower, you will be entered a second time in the drawing. I will use to draw a number and announce the winner on October 3rd. Good luck!

Monday, September 21, 2009

War Through the Generations Winners!

I happy to announce the following three winners from the BBAW War Through the Generations giveaway, selected via

J.T. Oldfield



Each of you will receive a copy of "War Through the Margins" by Libby Cone. In addition, you will have the fun of participating in one of the greatest challenges out there!

Anna will be contacting you shortly for your mailing addresses! Congrats to all!

Monday Movie Meme - The Good Old Days

We're taking a trip down memory lane today with the Bumbles. After spending a weekend with nieces and nephews, Molly started to reminisce about the days when she was young and carefree, without a care in the world. She was remembering when a movie wasn't just something to do on a rainy day, but was a one-way ticket to an alternate universe, and provided months of entertainment in acting out the scenes with her friends. Which brings us to the question to ponder for this Monday. Which movies rocked your world as a child?

Typical for me, I can't come up with just one. I am way too indecisive for that. Generally, I was raised on campy Disney movies...That Darned Cat, Herbie the Love Bug, The Parent Trap. But there were a few that blew my mind:

Star Wars: Not to copy from the Bumbles, but I must. Back in the day, my grandparents owned a little lake cottage on Lake Freeman in Indiana, and my cousins, sister and I spent a great deal of time there in the summer. One summer night, my grandma grabbed all of us kids (most likely we were driving the other adults mad) and took us to the drive-in to see this movie. We were clueless...innocent lambs unknowingly stumbling down the path of no return. We had never seen anything like this in our lives. My cousin Jodi and I, of an age where we could piece together the plot and appreciate the finer points of love triangles and cute heroes, sat there agape. Our cenematic lives would never be the same. After that, a stick was never a stick, it was a light saber.

Charlotte's Web: As youths, we all read the book. And what an excellent book it was, not only about a sweet little pig and a smart spider, but a coming of age novel as well. When the movie came out, however, I believe this may have been the first one I'd watched that was based on something I'd read. The magic came to life. I cried for hours after it was over. My mom assured me that is wasn't real - spiders aren't really that smart and don't really have those human emotions. Didn't matter, my day was shot. I got a kitten later that week, and I named it Charlotte. I got a 4-H pig and named it Wilbur (along with about twenty other kids). It was many years before I ever killed a spider.

The Wizard of Oz: I don't believe I ever saw this movie in the theater, but it would be randomly aired on the Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday evenings. You never knew when they would show it, but when they did, man, it was THE BOMB. It really had everything to capture my imagination. Living in the Midwest, I was terrified of tornadoes, so that grabbed my attention right off the bat. Then there were the shoes! At that time, Target didn't sell the red ruby slippers for $7.99, and all the girls dreamed of having a pair. And that nasty-attitude witch. She was just like a knat that wouldn't go away. I always felt she needed to take up a hobby or something, and get a life. We loved to hate her! Then there was always that tense moment, peeking between my fingers when the flying monkeys would de-stuff the scarecrow. It was like watching someone being disemboweled, and it terrified me. As the credits rolled, I always sat there with my mouth open in wonderment. Was it just a dream? No! I believed!

What movies made an impact on you as a child?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Best of...Kevin Demetroff's Top 10 Books (Part 3)

We are closing in on the last four of Kevin's favorite books. Are you enjoying them? When I read this thoughts, I am in awe of his spanse of literary knowledge and his ability to express himself. It makes my daily posts seem like drivel! Now, for the last four:

7. À la recherche du temps perdu / In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past), Marcel Proust (1913-1927)

I had dabbled in and out of an old English Remembrance of Things Past in high school, found it absorbing, but never got very far. In the spring of 1971, however, I took the original text with me each weekend on a suburban train from Gare Saint-Lazare to the Norman town of Gisors. After wandering through the ruined castle and the church of St-Gervais-St-Protais, I would find a reading spot under a tree along the river Epte and sink languorously into my Proust. I not only improved my French and my appreciation of things French, I learned patience, slowing down, taking time to savor, and the importance of memory. Copious draughts of good Norman cider and slatherings of farm cheeses on French country bread were effective tools in my struggle to tame Proust.

8. Avtobiografija / Autobiography, Branislav Nušić (Macedonian translation, 1965)

In 1979, this little volume was given to me by a friend in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, as a going-away gift to read on the train to Thessaloniki. Until I opened the first hilarious page by Nušić, humor was the farthest thing from my experience of Balkan literature. The use of idiomatic Macedonian, translated from an equally idiomatic Serbian (which I later saw echoed in the idiomatic Bulgarian of Elin Pelin), gave me a new joy in reading these recently developed literatures with linguistic roots in the ancient Balkans. It encouraged me to find the humor in all these cultures and to recognize their similarities, their unity in the Ottoman and immediately post-Ottoman past. This is a major theme in my reading, my music, my thinking and my conversation.

9. The Alexiad, Anna Comnena (c. 1148)

I was interested in Byzantine history before reading E. R. A. Sewter’s translation of the The Alexiad, but that reading, in 1969, sold me on Byzantium and made it a major strand in my understanding of my own family heritage and the world it came from. Anna’s first sentences enthralled me: “The stream of Time, irresistible, ever moving, carries off and bears away all things that come to birth and plunges them into utter darkness, both deeds of no account and deeds which are mighty and worthy of commemoration; as the playwright says, it ‘brings to light that which was unseen and shrouds from us that which was manifest’ [Sophocles, Ajax 646]. Nevertheless, the science of History is a great bulwark against this stream of Time; in a way in checks this irresistible flood, it holds in a tight grasp whatever it can seize floating on the surface and will not allow it to slip away into the depths of Oblivion.”

10. Cavafy

My tenth entry, like my sixth, is a multi-volume one. It includes:
--The Complete Poems of Cavafy, translated by Rae Dalven, Introduction by W. H. Auden, Expanded Edition (1976)
--C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems, translated by Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard (1975)--Konstandinos Kawafis: Wiersze zebrane, Polish translation by Zygmunt Kubiak (1981)
--Homage to Cavafy, Ten Poems by Cavafy (Keeley/Sherrard translation), Ten Photographs by Duane Michals (1978)
--Cavafy’s Alexandria: Study of a Myth in Progress, Edmund Keeley (1976)

Cavafy’s poetry began to sink into my heart on first reading in the early 1970s. After Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, I was ready for anything Alexandrian and found, to my delight, Cavafy. I have read copies of his poems in Greek beside the Dalven and the Keeley-Sherrard translations and sunk deeply into the magic of Alexandria. This gave a lyric component to my fascination for the Levant, the Ottoman and post-Ottoman Eastern Mediterranean and Balkans, the detritus of Hellenism, and what it all means for the peoples of the region today. It has a lot to do with my inner Ottoman, too. Cavafy has helped me see the historic unity embedded in the midst of the various warring states of the Balkans and the Levant. This is glorious poetry in its own right, even without all the other layers that accompany it in my particular world.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

For Bumbles, for Bumbles...

I am so pleased to have just recently received this award from Carolyn at Book Chick City. Now before we go any further, we must give some love to Carolyn. The girl started her blog in July, people, and she has already put me to shame. Dozens of ARCs every week, author interviews, nominations for BBAW...I could go on. I'll just shut up and encourage you all to go on over and check her out.

I have many many wonderful commenters on my blog. If it weren't for them, I'd think I was talking to myself, give up and go home. But today, I want to honor one of those commenters...the Bumbles. This duo consists of Molly and Andy, two very cool people who always have very humorous and interesting things to say here at You've GOTTA Read This. They have got it all going on over there at their place. Avid photographers, readers of fine literature, a weekly feature about their lives and the Red Sox, and of course, the hosts of the ever-popular Monday Movie Meme. So in honor of Molly and Andy, I leave you with a rather frenetic but beloved song by the Dropkick Murphys, a favorite up there on the eastern seaboard, singing "For Boston". (I have this ring tone in my phone for some other friends of mine that are Bostonians.) Enjoy!

Friday, September 18, 2009

A BBAW Giveaway!

What better excuse for a giveaway than BBAW? I must confess, I borrowed the idea from Beth @ Beth Fish Reads but I'm sure she won't mind. The giveaway will run through Saturday September 26, and is open to everyone. Here are the three gently used books I am offering:

Spies of Warsaw - Alan Furst

Back of the book blurb: War is coming to Europe. French and German intelligence operatives are locked in a life-and-death struggle on the espionage battlefield. At the French embassy in Warsaw, the new military attache, Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier, a decorated hero of the 1914 war, is drawn into a world of abduction, betrayal, and intrigue in the diplomatic salons and back alleys of the city. At he same time, the handsome aristocrat finds himself in a passionate love affair with a Parisian woman of Polish heritage, a lawyer for the League of Nations. Risking his life, Colonel Mercier must work in the shadows amid an extraordinary cast of venal characters, some known to Mercier as spies, some never to be revealed.

Here is my review.

Resistance - Owen Sheers

Back of the book blurb: In a remote and rugged Welsh valley in 1944, in the wake of a German invasion, all the men have disappeared overnight, apparently to join the underground resistance. Their abandoned wives, a tiny group of farm women, are soon trapped in the valley by an unusually harsh winter - along with a handful of war-weary German soldiers on a secret mission. The need to survive drives the soldiers and the women into uneasy relationships that test both their personal and national loyalties. But when the snow finally melts, bringing them back into contact with the war that has been raging beyond their mountains, they must face the dramatic consequences of their choices.

Here is my review.

Away - Amy Bloom

Back of the book blurb: An unforgettable, passionate, funny, and moving story of a remarkable young woman's quest across America. Panoramic in sweep, epic in scope, and dazzlingly written, Away moves from the gaudy, harsh world of New York's Lower East Side in 1925 to the adventures and pleasures of the jazz underworld and the Alaskan frontier - as the unexpected heroine, Lillian Leyb, pursues her daughter, and enduring life, and love.

Here is my review.

Just leave a comment letting me know which book you are interested in, and your e-mail address, and you will be entered. If you are a follower, let me know and you will entered twice!

Good luck and happy BBAW!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

BBAW: Thanks to blogging...

Today's writing assignment for BBAW is to discuss a book we recently discovered that we would have never read had it not been for the wonderful world of blogging.

This was an easy assignment for me. I have long been a follower of Beth from Beth Fish Reads. Her blog and her writing is the standard for excellence, in my humble opinion. Early this year, she posted on one of the numerous awards she had received, and listed a group of fellow bloggers to pass the awards along to, all of the blogs being outside the US. Like an eager little newbie that I was, I looked up all of the award recipients, and found Jackie at Farm Lane Books. Since then, I have been so fortunate to develop an online friendship with Jackie. We even interviewed each other in February (see Jackie's interview here and mine here) and I found a very fascinating person behind an amazing blog. She has a beautiful family, makes homemade sausages for fun, and used to breed chinchillas!

For my birthday, Jackie sent me one of her favorite reads for 2008, entitled "Random Acts of Heroic Love". I'd never heard of the book, never heard of the author, but if it got a thumbs up from Jackie, I knew it had to be a keeper. And it was. 5 out of 5 stars to be exact. See my review here. It took my breath away, and was thankful that through the world of blogging, my life was made just a little richer for having read it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BBAW Reading Meme

The assignment for today's BBAW post is this fun reading meme. The challenge, should you accept it? Pick one or two questions from a long list here, then answer them as briefly (five words or less) as possible. Five words? Are you kidding me? I can't answer a yes/no question in five words! But I'm never one to turn down a challenge, so here is my brevity at its best (FYI, names don't count as words!):

Are you the type of person that reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one at a time?

At least four simultaneously!

Is there a specific book or author that that you find yourself recommending over and over?

Connie May Fowler - search my blog and see!

Wordless Wednesday - Marlbork #4

This vine didn't really care that the window was in the way...part of the Teutonic Knights Castle in Marlbork, Poland.

For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Interview with Nymeth of Things Mean Alot

For those of you not involved in the Book Bloggers Appreciation Week, part of the festivities included an opportunity to put your name in a hat to be matched up with another blogger with whom you trade interviews. You can imagine my excitement when I was assigned the task of interviewing Nymeth of Things Mean Alot. Is there any place you don't see this girl? I consider her to be one of the leaders in the book blogging community, and felt like I'd won a little lottery by getting her name. Head on over to her blog to see her interview of me!

Nymeth's real name is Ana, she is in her mid-twenties and lives in Portugal. She just recently finished her degree in English – she is a few years late, however in getting this degree. Her first major was psychology, but due to the organization of higher education in Portugal, she was forced to start from scratch when she changed majors. She currently works as a research assistant in linguistics, but only until the end of September – after that, the joyful world of unemployment awaits her. She's hoping to find work and save for a year, and then start library school. Wish her luck! Ana has three dogs, four cats and one boyfriend. Here were some thought-provoking questions I asked her, and her responses:

Sandy: To me, the most obvious question to ask first is about your blog title and name. I am sure you were thinking of something specific when you came up with “Things Mean A Lot” and “Nymeth”. Where did you get your inspiration?

Ana: My blog’s name comes from a song by the Red House Painters, who have been one of my favourite bands since I was fifteen. But more than the song itself, what inspired me was a line from a book. The band’s frontman and main songwriter, Mark Kozelek, published a poetry book called "Nights of Passed Over", and in the introduction he wrote:

“While checking back through the lyrics for a final look, a few lines in particular caught my attention, both from the song "Things Mean a Lot". One is, "things mean a lot at the time, don't mean nothing later," and the other, "scares me how you get older, how we forget about each other." I was feeling bitter when I wrote the song, but it's clear that everything has its place and meaning, and that no one is forgotten.”

I should probably add that I originally gave this title to my LJ (livejournal) blog, which I started when I was 19. When I first moved to blogger I didn’t know I was going to start a book blog, but I’ll save that story for question number two. I always worried that “things mean a lot” was a silly title for a book blog, but I got a BBAW nomination for Best Name, so apparently someone doesn’t think so! Whoever you are, thank you for reassuring me.

As for “Nymeth”, it was the name of a character in a sad attempt at a fantasy novel I wrote when I was in my late teens, and it kind of stuck as an online nickname. I shall once again shield myself behind my tender age :P Seriously though, it has the advantage of being very easy to google, unlike my real name. I have both the most common female Portuguese name and the most common last name there is.

Sandy: I knew that answer would be interesting! I am going to have to look up that song! I noticed you’ve been blogging since 2004, which is a lifetime in blogland. You were out there paving the way for the rest of us
before we saw an explosion of bloggers come onto the scene in full force a few years ago. What caused you to start your own blog?

Ana: Actually, I started my book blog in early 2007, but the archives go back longer because I backdated all my “housekeeping” posts – yearly reading lists, indexes, my contact page, etc. In 2004, I was blogging in livejournal and I did write about books, but I never got involved in any of the communities and as a result I never made any friends.

But back to this blog – in March 2007 I came across the Once Upon a Time Challenge, hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings, and I decided to use my blogger account to participate. Until then, I had used it only to comment on friends’ blogs. I didn’t know I was going to start blogging long term, but everyone was so friendly and welcoming that I felt right at home. All of a sudden I had a large group of people to discuss books with – it was a geek’s dream come true.

Sandy: Can you share with us your morning routine?

Ana: For the past few months I’ve been working from home, which has changed my routine considerably. I wake up at around 8 and immediately put the kettle on – I absolutely can’t function without my morning cup of coffee. I have breakfast, and then I check my e-mail, twitter and google reader for half an hour (which, if I’m not careful, can easily turn into a full hour). Then I unplug my Internet cable so I can get some work done. This is a very important step, without which not very much of anything is actually achieved.

Sandy: You've got much more discipline that I do! Besides reading and blogging, what are some of your other passions?

Ana: My biggest passion besides reading and blogging is music. I love music as much as I love books, though in a different way. I love discovering new bands, listening to old favourites, making mixed CDs to inflict on friends, and going to shows. What else…even though I’ve been neglecting them lately, I also love movies. And video games – they get a bad rap, but there are some real masterpieces out there. I find that whatever the medium I’m dealing with, I’m always very narrative-oriented. More than anything else, I pay attention to the story, and I love a good story no matter how it’s being told. Another thing I love is animals and nature. I love hiking and spotting wildlife. My boyfriend and I consider walking for miles in the middle of nowhere a perfect holiday – it’s a good thing we agree on that regard!

Sandy: My son would whole-heartedly agree that video games are masterpieces! He should be at a Van Gogh level by now! I’ve only just started following your blog, but was immediately blown away by the number of comments you receive. On a slow day, you probably see 20 comments, whereas I would consider this a very successful post! I saw one of your posts the other day that had nearly 60 comments! How many followers do you have? Any advice on how to grow blog readership to these phenomenal levels?

Ana: I actually don’t have as many followers (I had 46 when I last checked) or as much traffic as some other blogs, but the ones I do have are very chatty, I guess! And I love them for it, of course. This is a difficult question for me to answer because it all happened slowly. I don’t mean to say it’s bad to deliberately try to grow your readership or anything silly like that, but for me it all happened without me giving it too much thought.

Although I’ve been told this doesn’t really show on my blog, but I’m actually pretty shy and insecure. I’ve been known to read a blog for months without daring to comment because I get into my head that I’ll horrify the blogger with my stupidity (I know, I know, I sound like I’m in high school or something). I become convinced that they’re much too smart or sophisticated to waste their time with me. What I do, though, is push myself: I force myself out of my shell, even if it’s hard for me. So this is my advice: reach out, leave comments, make friends. Do it even if you’re scared. Remember that other people probably have the same insecurities as you do, and that there’s more to lose by never trying than by trying and being rejected.

Sandy: You are right, this does not translate through to your blog. You are outgoing and friendly, and the ultimate professional. That is excellent advice! OK, I like to always ask this never know what the answer is going to be! Give us one tidbit about yourself that would surprise us!

Ana: This is by far the most difficult question! I’ve been staring at the screen for like five minutes, you know! But alright, I have something: I was a dog-earer for years. And in my teens, an underliner-of-favourite-passages-in-pen. I know, I know – I cringe to think of it now, but there’s no erasing the past.

Sandy: Ooooh! That is a good one! But you are forgiven! Now another tough one. What are your top five books? I’ll make it a little easier…give us the top five books you’ve read this year.

Ana: Thank you for making it easier! But it’s still hard, because this has been an excellent reading year so far. But I guess I’d choose "Tender Morsels" by Margo Lanagan, "Fingersmith" by Sarah Waters, "The Fox Woman" by Kij Johnson, "The Children’s Book" by A.S. Byatt, and "The Love We Share Without Knowing" by Christopher Barzak.

Sandy: I've not read any of those, but have had my eyeball on Fingersmith ever since I read The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Everyone seems to love it! Ana, thank you so much for being my interview has been alot of fun! I will look forward to spending more time on your blog!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Two Visions of Blindness: The Movie (A Transcontinental Conversation)

A while back, C.B. James of Ready When You Are C.B. and I decided it would be fun to collaborate on a special project for BBAW. There was much discussion, but finally agreed that we would both read Blindness by Jose Saramago, watch the corresponding movie, and review both via a transcontinental "discussion".

James and Dakota in California

Me in Florida

James has featured our lively book chat over at his blog, and we are over here talking about how the movie measured up. Here is what we had to say:

Sandy: Even though I had just finished the novel and was blown away by it all, I admit I was not all that eager to watch the movie version. I liked the sound of the casting…Julianne Moore, Danny Glover, Mark Ruffalo, and the yummy Gael Garcia Bernal. But the movie was ripped apart and digested by the critics. Before I pressed “Play”, I mused…with the exception of the doctor’s wife, everyone in the story is blind. How on earth are they going to pull it off? How will they accurately portray the horror, the chaos, the deplorable overwhelming filth? I knew I needed to evaluate the film on two levels. First, did the film accurately translate from page to silver screen? Second, does the movie stand on its own if you didn’t read the book?

James: I just finished watching the movie ten minutes ago. After we spent so much time discussing the book, I was eager to see the movie. I liked how the movie depicted being blind - the way the actors and the setting kept coming in and out of focus, in and out of whiteness. It made the viewer one of the blind. Many cheesy horror movies in the 1970's used "killer cam," filming a scene as though the camera was the killer. Blindness used a similar "blind cam" by using visual images that made the camera, and by extension the viewer, blind.

Sandy: I loved the “blind cam”. It made me feel almost claustrophobic, which I think was the point. A movie critic I am not, but I thought the director, Fernando Meirelles, did a respectable job of literally translating a dense, disturbing book to an audio visual experience. Most of the significant scenes in the book weren’t missed. Like you said, we saw what the blind saw (a milky whiteness), tension and filth and naked bodies abound, it was truly horrific to see it come to life. Which is exactly the way it should be.

James: Just to give everyone an example, there is one scene where a blind boy walks towards the camera along what should be a clear path. We don't see anything in his way. Suddenly there is a loud crash and we see a table materialize, and the boy runs into it. As for portraying how horrible the blind world becomes, the movie did a very good job of this, too. I was worried about the scene where the women in ward #1 are summoned to the thugs’ ward. This was not something I wanted to watch. If I were an actress, I could imagine refusing to do that scene, but it was well-handled. If the movie went to the extremes that the book did, showing the day-to-day horror of life in the hospital, it would have been unwatchable. Reading these images is one thing, but seeing them is another matter. All of this said, the answer to your first question would be “yes”. My only quibble with the book-to-movie translation was that the movie implied that circumstances greatly improved once they left the hospital. But I guess one cannot include an entire book in a single movie.

Sandy: To answer my second question (does the movie stand on its own?), I’m pretty sure the movie would not carry its weight, had I not the insight from the novel. There were plenty of unanswered questions in the novel, but even more so in the film. Film can only communicate so much in a 2 hour time span. The director kept the action moving along, and spent less time on the cerebral intensity and ambiguity. Cerebral ponderings don’t fill seats in the theater, after all.

James: I had no problem answering your first question (did the film accurately translate from film to screen?), but I'm not so sure about your second question. When a woman (I'd lost track of who she was by the time she did it) sets fire to the thugs’ ward, I asked myself where the lighter came from, then recalled the answer from the book. There were a few too many moments like that. Reading the book first helped, which is not a good sign for a movie.

Sandy: No it isn’t. If I hadn’t read the book, I definitely would have been confused. Did you notice that in the book, about half of the pages were dedicated to the hospital quarantine, and the other half dedicated to surviving in the “free” world. The movie, on the other hand, invested all but a half hour to the hospital scenes. I suppose a studio would visualize more Hollywood moments in the hospital, PLUS it is a contained set. I was a little disappointed with this choice of pacing. I think they took the easy way out personally.

James: I agree with you. There was so little of the second half of the book that I wondered “why bother at all?” In the book, the "free" world is just as horrible as the hospital was, parts of it are worse. The movie's free world was like a very bad vacation. My bigger complaint with the movie is that it was not enough of a thriller. The book is not a thriller. I wouldn't argue that. But pretty early on, it was hard to put down. There was tension in reading it - much more than I expected. The movie treats the book too much like a sacred text, afraid to offend it. I was horrified by what happened, but never frightened for the characters survival. If you read and watch P.D. James' The Children of Men, which has a wonderful, thrilling movie adaptation, you'll see what I mean. I recommend both very highly, by the way.

Sandy: I never read Children of Men, but the movie was one of the better ones released in 2006! I had a couple of other quibbles too, besides the pacing. In the book, the doctor’s wife was the hero, understandably. But the black man with the eye patch was a very strong character, a voice of wisdom, and a spiritual guide. Julianne Moore did an excellent job of carrying the movie, but Danny Glover got the shaft. I’m not sure he would have been the best to portray the voice of wisdom (more of a Morgan Freeman role I think) but he never even got the chance. He was just another blind person in the group. I was also disappointed that the movie created, from scratch, marital discord between the doctor’s wife and the doctor. Now don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of reason for discord, but it simply was not there in the book. I was annoyed at the obvious need to insert more drama.

James: The lack of marital discord in the book is one thing that makes the doctor's wife such an admiral person. Not only did she willingly accompany her blind husband into quarantine, but she also encourages the woman with dark glasses to sleep with him because they both needed a kind of deeper comfort she could not provide. Not many people would do that. The movie reduced that sequence to one of more typical marital discord. I thought it was cliched when it could have been original.

I did watch some of the DVD extras on the making of the film. The actors and the extras did work with an acting coach to learn what it was like to be blind. During many of the scenes they also wore special contact lenses that made them practically blind in reality. But it didn't see any blind people working with them at all, which surprised me. Also, there were 45 minutes of computer generated effects in the movie. They filmed the exterior city scenes in Montevideo, Uruguay and added background building images from Toronto and Sao Paulo to come up with an unidentifiable city. The milky whiteness effects were made with actual milk. They filmed scenes by playing them on a laptop screen and filming the reflection in a tub of milk. This is the only time Saramago has sold film rights to any of his books. The director talked about how afraid he was that Saramago wouldn't like it. When they did screen it for him in Lisbon, he was moved to tears he liked it so much. As for me, because I fully embrace the use of whole numbers, I'm going to give it a 4 out of 5 stars. Be warned that if you haven't read the book first, you're sure to give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Sandy: I would have loved to have seen the extras, but I watched Blindness on my “Instant Queue” on Netflix! Overall, I was entertained by the movie and didn’t feel it was as bad as all that. No, I don’t think it deserves any awards, but neither did I feel I was robbed of two hours either. My bottom line? Out of five stars, I'll give it a 3.5. I like fractions! I will leave you all with a little taste...the Blindness trailer.