Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saturday Snapshot 9/29

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.

Well, I had almost no time for either reading or writing blogs this week (apologies to those I didn't get to!) because my son had knee surgery on Monday.  His recovery has been slower and more difficult than we expected, so I have been entirely focused on taking care of him.  We were both getting a bit stir-crazy, though, by the end of the week, so I took him the pet store to pick out a new hamster.  We had one several years ago - our beloved Teddy - and he's been asking for another, so now he has a little buddy to keep him company while he recuperates.

After an awful week, a visit to the pet store put a smile on Craig's face!

Meet Lola, our newest family member!

I hope you are enjoying your weekend!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

DNF Review: The Death of Artemio Cruz

--> It is very rare for me to not enjoy a book (because I choose what I read carefully) and even more rare for me to not finish a book, but I gave up on The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes about halfway through, after a week-long struggle to read it.  About half of my neighborhood book group also did not finish (DNF) the novel; the other half managed to finish it but agreed it was a difficult read (though some were glad they’d endured).

It is the story of the life of Artemio Cruz, as told by him on his deathbed. More accurately, it is as thought by him on his deathbed, and that is part of what makes it so difficult to follow: Artemio’s thoughts and memories jump from one point in time to another.  So, you might be reading about him as an older businessman on one page, then suddenly reading about when he first met his wife, and then the story jumps again to when he served in the army. In addition, characters’ identities and dialogue are not always clearly identified. All in all, even its fans admit that it is often confusing and difficult to follow.

To add to the challenge (for me) was the fact that Artemio is not a very sympathetic character.  True, he’d been through some difficult times in his life and endured some losses that could partly explain how he ended up, but he was the sort of man who did whatever it took to get what he wanted.  His story is also the story of Mexico’s recent history, through civil wars and various corrupt leaders.

During our book group discussion, we wondered whether the translation made a difference, and I think it probably does.  There are comments on various reviews about particular translations being better than others (I can only guess mine was the one described as “unclear”).  During our meeting, one of my neighbors borrowed my copy (from the library) to compare it to her copy that had a different cover, to compare the two different translations.  She started laughing and asked me if I’d noticed that there were 23 pages missing in the middle of my book!  I had read that section and, no, I didn’t notice the missing pages, even though they were in the middle of a sentence!  But that did explain why I had no idea who “the fat man” was.  That should give you some idea of how confusing and complicated this book’s writing is – I skipped 23 pages and never noticed!

So, though I was only halfway through when my book group met, I gave up on it at that point and did not finish it.  When I got home from my meeting, I set it aside with relief and moved onto a book I was far more interested in.

320 pages, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (this is the English translation that was most recommended)


Monday, September 24, 2012

It’s Monday 9/24! What Are You Reading?

I am sitting in the Surgi-Center waiting room while my 14-year old son has knee surgery.  We are hoping this arthroscopic surgery will do the trick and he won’t need another surgery, but we won’t know for a few weeks.   Hopefully, today won’t be too tough on him – it’s hard to see your baby go into surgery!

So, I will distract myself by telling you about the books we are reading this week:
  • I finished Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (not quite in time for my book group discussion!), and I absolutely loved it!  No surprise there – I have loved all of Brooks’ novels, including March, The People of the Book, and The Year of Wonders.  This one was just as good, about a young woman in the 1660’s who becomes friends with a native American who ends up being the first of his people to graduate from Harvard (did you know Harvard was around in the 1600’s?).  It was fascinating and compelling.
  • I wasn’t feeling well last week, so my next book was a fast-paced thriller I have been looking forward to, 1NF1N1TY by Rachel Ward, the conclusion to her Numb8ers trilogy.  I have loved this whole trilogy, and the third book was just as good, providing a satisfying conclusion to the series.
  • Next, I decided to read a book from the list of frequently banned classics, in honor of next week’s Banned Book Week, so I am reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  It was assigned for my son’s World Lit class last year, and I have always wanted to read it.  I am loving it so far – it is incredibly clever and somewhat prophetic, especially given the fact that it was written in 1931!
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Full Black by Brad Thor, a thriller I gave him for Father’s Day this year.
  • Jamie, 18, and Craig, 14, have been too busy with school work for any reading on their own – they are both really enjoying their new schools (college for Jamie and high school for Craig).

Because of my poor health week, I wasn’t able to write any reviews for my blogs, but I did write a fun post about the 25thAnniversary of Where’s Waldo?.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

P.S. We are back home now (no WiFi in the medical building!), and Craig came through his surgery just fine.  We will have to wait to see how effective it was - he is on crutches for the next two weeks. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday Snapshot 9/22

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.

Happy First Day of Fall!!

Here in Delaware, most of our neighborhood is still very green, with plenty of summer flowers still blooming, but there are a few subtle signs that fall is truly here, like these trees in a neighbor's yard, beginning to turn red, and a few yellow leaves scattered in the grass.  I am loving this cooler weather!

Subtle signs of fall mingle with lingering summer flowers in our neighborhood
 Enjoy this first day of fall and your weekend!  I think reading on the deck sounds like a good plan for me...

Monday, September 17, 2012

It's Monday 9/17! What Are You Reading?

Monday morning - ready to start a new week!  We had a pretty low-key weekend, with everyone at home and not a lot going on.  I really enjoyed having my college-aged son home for the day, and I cooked a lot this weekend.  And we read:
  • I tried - I really did! - to read this month's selection for my neighborhood book group, The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes, but I only got about halfway through the book by our meeting Wednesday night, and I just gave up on it after that!  A very difficult read.
  • With relief, I turned to my other book group's selection for this month, Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.  I have wanted to read this novel for ages, since Brooks is one of my all-time favorite authors, and I am loving it so far.
  • I am still listening to Young Fredle by Cynthia Voight, an award-winning middle-grade audio book.  It is very good, but slow going for me since my son took the car with the CD player to school with him!
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  He said it started slowly, with main characters that weren't very likable, but last night he said he'd gotten to the point where he didn't want to put it down!
  • Jamie, 18, has still barely started The Maze Runner by James Dashner.  He says he hasn't had much time to read during these first weeks of college!
I didn't post any reviews last week, but I did have some fun with my blog.  I posted links to my four favorite book blogs for Book Blogger Appreciation Week, a link and discussion of 15 book-inspired movies coming out this fall (15!), and - better late than never - my August reading summary.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted at Teach Mentor Texts.)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday Snapshot 9/15

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.

After months of hot and humid weather that kept me indoors, this week was lovely here in Delaware, with comfortable temperatures, sunshine, cool nights, and brilliant blue skies:

I so enjoyed being able to get outside a bit this week and look up at that gorgeous sky!  (And that is my beloved VW in the photo - its 20th birthday is this month!)

Hope you are enjoying the lovely weather this weekend - take your book outside!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Books Read in August

Yikes.  Here it is, already September 14, and I just realized I hadn't written my August summary yet - that gives you a glimpse into how September is shaping up!

I read a lot in August, but didn't finish many books because I devoted my reading time mainly to one really big book (that I didn't finish until September).  Here's what I finished in August:
I also read about a quarter of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, a classic nonfiction book from the 60's that was so powerful, it was partly responsible for the creation of the EPA.  I was reading it for a library book discussion, and it was very interesting, but I just didn't have time to finish it.

I enjoyed all three of those books, but the best was Okay for Now, an absolutely stunning novel and an excellent audio production.

I didn't add much to my 2012 Reading Challenges this month, except for one very important item:  The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls was set in Delaware, our tiny state, so I added that to my Where Are You Reading Challenge.

What was your favorite book read in August?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Book-Inspired Fall Movies

It looks like Hollywood's obsession with adapting popular books into movies is continuing into this fall and winter!  This article on BookPage lists 15 - count 'em! - movies based on books that will be released between now and the end of the year - wow!

Take a look at the list - there is quite a variety there.  The one I am most excited about is Life of Pi - I loved that book and think it will be amazing on the big screen (though I'm not too thrilled about the 3D part).  I would also love to see the movie adaptation of Wuthering Heights, an old favorite of mine.

My husband's favorite series is the Jack Reacher thrillers by Lee Child, but, like most fans of the book, he is outraged that they have cast Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher.  I haven't read the books, but apparently, Reacher is supposed to be about 6'3" and blond.  We both really hate it when Hollywood goes for a big name star instead of casting someone who actually fits the character described in the book.  Two that have done it right recently in our opinion are The Hunger Games and Water for Elephants (granted, Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattison are both big-name stars, but they were perfect for the roles and did a fabulous job).

So, what are thoughts?  Which of these 15 book adaptations are you most excited about?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Blogger Appreciation

This week is Book Blogger Appreciation Week!  I'm just about out of energy for the day but wanted to write a quick post because I like today's topic so much (check out the BBAW website for this week's blog topics).  We're supposed to show appreciation for some of our favorite book bloggers.

As many of you probably know, I have a lot of trouble keeping up with blogging - both writing my own posts and reading other blogs.  I officially follow hundreds of blogs but can't actually keep up with all of them consistently.

But there are a select few book blogs that I try to read at least once a week because I have gotten to know these bloggers and enjoy their posts so much.  Despite my overloaded schedule, reading these special blogs is like visiting friends to talk books - one of my favorite things to do!

It really is late, and I really am tired, so without further ado, please visit these wonderful book blogs to find out why they are so special:
  • Julie at My Book Retreat, a mom like me who reads a wide variety of books, reports on what her kids are reading, and writes clear, well-thought-out reviews.
  • Anne at My Head is Full of Books, a high school librarian (my dream job!) who reads and reviews both kids/teen/YA books and grown-up books.
  • Sheila at Book Journey, who inspires me with her boundless energy and dedication to blogging!  I participate in her Monday meme each week and enjoy reading her enthusiastic posts.
  • Tanya at Girlxoxo, another enthusiastic blogger and fellow mom who writes about books and food.
There are lots more blogs I like to visit when I can find the time, but these are my go-tos when time is short (as it usually is!)

What are your favorite book blogs?

It's Monday 9/10! What Are You Reading?

Another hot & humid, very busy week.  My husband was out of town all week, so I had my hands full on my own (though it is amazing how much easier it is to keep the house clean with just 2 people here instead of 4!)  So, things were still hectic, but I am beginning to get into the new routine, with my oldest off at college and my youngest in high school now.

Last week:
  • I finished 11/22/63 by Stephen King and wrote a review.  I loved this unique time-travel historical novel!
  • Next, I moved onto this month's selection for my neighborhood book group, The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes.  I am really looking forward to seeing everyone in my group this week after our summer hiatus, but I am struggling to get through this book.  It has very dense prose and switches often between perspectives and time.  The slow pace is a real drag after finishing a Stephen King book!  It has gotten slightly more interesting (though I am still only a quarter of the way through) but is still very confusing.  Not sure if I will finish it in time.
  • Though my car has no CD player (my son took the newer car to college), I have found a little time to listen to my audio book in the kitchen.  I am really enjoying Young Fredle, a middle-grade novel by Cynthia Voight.
  • My husband, Ken, left his hardcover, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, at home last week and took his Kindle on his week-long trip with him, loaded with a couple of suspense novels.
  • Jamie, 18, who read several 1000-page novels on our vacation this summer, has slowed down his reading considerably now that he is away at college with so many other things vying for his attention!  He started The Maze Runner by James Dashner this week.
I finally had a little time to catch up on posts last week.  I wrote two reviews:  11/22/63 by Stephen King and Drama by Raina Telgemeier, a middle-grade graphic novel.  I also posted a Wrap-Up of the Big Book Summer Challenge, so if you participated, be sure to add a link to your own wrap-up post!

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kids/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Big Book Summer Challenge Wrap-Up

Well, Labor Day has passed and summer is officially over (as far as schools are concerned anyway, even though it's not officially fall yet), so I guess it is time to wrap-up my first-ever challenge, the Big Book Summer Challenge.  I enjoyed it, and I hope all the other participants did, too!  If you click on that link to the original challenge page, you can also see lots of links to reviews of Big Books posted by participants.

Back in May, I posted my own selection of 5 big books I hoped to read during My Big Book Summer:

I got through 4 of the 5 books - everything except Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, which will have to wait until I have another big chunk of reading time.  This summer I read and reviewed these big books:
 Although this is the first time I've hosted a challenge, it is the second summer that I committed to myself to read some big books during my book groups' summer breaks.  I really enjoy doing this.  It gives me a chance to read some of the giant novels that have been sitting on my shelf for a while.  The rest of the year, with two different book groups, an occasional third book group at my library, and reviewing obligations, I find it hard to squeeze in a book that might take me two or three weeks  to finish.

So, that was MY Big Book was yours?  Add your link below for your own Big Book Summer Wrap-Up, and thanks for playing along!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Fiction Review: 11/22/63

The last big book I read for the Big Book Summer Challenge was 11/22/63 by Stephen King.  I saved the best for last.  It has been years since I’ve read a King novel, and I had forgotten what an amazing writer he is.  11/22/63 defies categorization and crosses genres with elements of suspense, romance, science fiction, and a hefty dose of historical fiction all mixed together into a compelling story that I never wanted to end, in spite of its 850-page length.

Jake Epping is a pretty ordinary guy living an ordinary life – 35 years old, recently divorced, and working as a high school English teacher – until his friend, Al, shows him a portal to the past and convinces him to take over Al’s mission: to go back in time and prevent John F. Kennedy’s assassination.  Jake agrees, with his own motivation to tinker with the past so that he can stop the gruesome murders of another friend’s family that resulted in the friend’s permanent disability.  The portal opens up into a summer day in 1958.

Once Jake travels back to 1958, he becomes George Amberson and immerses himself in that past world, first in Derry, Maine (yes that Derry, recognizable to anyone who read King’s horror novels in the 80’s!) and then in the small town of Jodie, Texas, where he waits for a young loner named Lee Harvey Oswald to make his appearance in nearby Dallas.  But Jake’s single-minded goal to change history for the better is complicated by his new life in Jodie, where he gets a teaching job, changes students’ lives, and even falls in love.

George leads a double life, living and loving in Jodie while making trips up to Fort Worth and Dallas to keep an eye on Oswald and try to determine whether he did, in fact, act alone.  However, as George often reminds us, the past is obdurate and doesn’t want to be changed.  The novel is filled with action and suspense, as George fights against each setback and spies on Oswald and his family and friends to gather the information he needs, but it is also a historical novel, with details of George’s new life in the past.

I happen to be a huge fan of time travel stories, and this is one of the best, for exactly the reason I like all time travel plots: it is incredibly thought-provoking, pulling the reader into complex considerations of cause and effect, consequences and reasoning.  Does the end justify the means?  What will happen 50 years from now if a minor change occurs in the past?  Lots of minor changes? What about a major change, like saving the President of the United States from a gruesome murder that devastated the nation?  George struggles with all of these issues, bringing the reader along on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and decisions.  This would be an excellent book for a book group to discuss - you could be there for days debating the pros and cons of George's choices!

This novel works on so many levels.  One of King’s most spectacular talents has always been his in-depth, realistic characters, even back in the days when he wrote mostly horror novels.  When I read It in 1986, I was blown away by the way King was able to write from the perspective of children.  How could an adult so accurately recreate what it was like to be a kid?  He brings that same talent for creating real-life characters to 11/22/63, so you come to care about the novel’s characters and feel as if they are your friends.  The historical aspects of this novel also add to its powerful appeal.  King not only recreates the events of 11/22/63 (thanks to painstaking and thorough research), but he recreates an entire era.  Much of the novel is about the details of George’s daily life in the late 50’s and early 60’s; the reader is immersed in that time period, just as George is.

I found it interesting that, while I was reading this book, several people remarked to me, “Oh, I don’t read Stephen King” or “I don’t like Stephen King.” I don’t know how anyone could make that kind of statement because his novels of the past 25 years or so are all so incredibly diverse.  If you think King writes only horror novels, then you’ve missed out on a lot.  Remember these fabulous movies:  The Shawshank Redemption, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman and nominated for 7 Academy Awards; The Green Mile, starring Tom Hanks and nominated for 4 Academy Awards; and Stand By Me, featuring four young boys?  All were based on King novels or short stories and none of them was about horror or supernatural events.  King is an incredibly talented writer whose novels cover a broad range of genres and topics but are always so compelling that you can’t stand to set them down.  And 11/22/63 is one of his best.

842 pages, Scribner

P.S. If you are into cool book covers, this one is great: the front, as shown, is the front page from a Dallas newspaper from 11/23/63; the back cover shows what that front page would have looked like if JFK's assassination attempt was unsuccessful.


Monday, September 03, 2012

It's Monday 9/3! What Are you Reading?

Ah, September....fall is my favorite season!  Of course, it was in the mid-90's here this weekend and horribly humid, but the calendar tells me that fall is coming.  I'm ready!

We had a busy week - first week of college for our oldest son, first week of high school for our younger son, and house guests for the weekend.  So, none of us had much time for reading, but we continued making our way through some good books:
  • I am almost finished with 11/22/63 by Stephen King.  It is soooo good that all I want to do is read all day!  Hopefully, I will finish today, just under the wire for the Big Book Summer Challenge!
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, the hot book of the summer, though he isn't loving it yet.
  • Jamie, 18, finished A Feast of Crows by George R.R. Martin (book 4 in the Game of Thrones series).  He can't wait to read book 5!  He hasn't decided what book to read next yet.
And that's about it - I told you it was a busy week!  I didn't even get in any audio book time because my son took the car with the CD player to college with him.

I did manage a bit of blogging last week.  I wrote a review of Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, an amazing middle-grade audio book, and I posted a list of my favorite book podcasts - I hope you'll give some of them a try and let me know about your favorites! 

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kids/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)