Monday, December 21, 2009

It's Monday 12/21! What Are You Reading?

Whew, what an exhausting, busy week I had last week! We spent this past weekend celebrating Christmas with my family in Connecticut, so last week was a flurry of preparations - buying and wrapping gifts, packing, and making my annual year-end DVD of family photos. Miraculously, I finished everything by Friday, and we spent an enjoyable weekend with my mom and her husband, my sister, brother-in-law, and my adorable niece and nephew.

Meanwhile, Delaware got a record-setting December snowfall (13 inches in our town). We're back home now and trying to dig out. I still need to finish my shopping today!

So, not a lot of time for reading last week (and no time at all for writing reviews!), but I did manage some enjoyable books:
  • I finished The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal by Lily Koppel and really enjoyed its fascinating look into a young woman's life in NYC in the 1920's and 30's.
  • I had trouble starting a new book because I was so distracted with so many things to do, so I chose a teen science fiction story that my son really loved: Spacer and Rat by Margaret Bechard. It's great so far and engaging enough to hold my attention during this busy season.
  • On audio, I finished The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. It's a fictional story set during the time of the Salem witch trials. It was good, though I couldn't help comparing it to The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent (recently reviewed here) which was GREAT.
  • In the spirit of the season, I started listening to The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans on audio, but I probably won't have time to finish it! I'm only a couple of chapters into it, but it's an interesting premise, about a greedy, selfish man who wakes up one morning and reads his own obituary in the newspaper (I suspect there's some redemption ahead).
  • In the car on the way to and from CT, our family listened to Prism, a wonderful teen/YA science fiction audio that I listened to and reviewed earlier this year at Great Books for Kids and Teens. My husband and sons are enjoying it as much as I did!
Otherwise, we continued to read our favorite Christmas books at bedtime, and I really enjoyed reading them to my niece and nephew this weekend, too! I hope all of you enjoy the holidays with your families!

So, what are YOU reading this week?

(What are you reading Mondays are sponsored by J. Kaye's Book Blog)

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's Monday 12/14! What Are You Reading?

It's a bit late for my Monday posting. I'm not going to have much time for blogging for awhile - we have holiday celebrations in Connecticut, Delaware, and Oklahoma coming up. Plus, my sons and I were all sick all last week with a bad flare-up of our chronic illness, so I have so much to get done now! The boys went back to school today, but I'm still feeling pretty crummy.

Anyway, last week was a good reading week, though we also watched a LOT of movies!
  • I finally finished Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey, with no further interruptions! This dark, compelling teen fantasy in The Resurrection of Magic trilogy (book 2) was just as good as the first one, and I can't wait for the third and final installment!
  • I started The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal by Lily Koppel. My mother read it for a book group and recommended it. I've had this copy from the library sitting on my kitchen counter for over a month, so I'm glad I finally got to it. It's a fascinating real-life look into the life of a young woman in New York from 1929 - 1934.
I did manage to post a review last week of The Help by Kathryn Stockett, one of the best books I've read in the past five years - a great gift idea for any reader on your holiday list!

And on Great Books for Kids and Teens, I posted my family's Top Ten List of Christmas Picture Books. Check out our favorites and tell me about yours!

So, what are YOU reading this week?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Quote It Saturday 12/12

Time again for my favorite weekly feature, Quote It Saturday, started by That Chick That Reads. I've chosen a short quote for today, just because we've had a difficult week. My two sons and I all experienced a severe flare-up of our chronic illness this week. My younger son and I are doing better, but my older son is still flat on his back.

Today's quote is from Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, a novel based on facts about the life of a woman who was a long-time lover (and, some say, the soul mate) of Frank Lloyd Wright. As the novel begins, she is a young mother and wife who is frustrated and feeling smothered by her dull life:

I have been standing on the side of life, watching it float by. I want to swim in the river. I want to feel the current.
- Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

While I didn't necessarily agree with her actions in the novel, I could certainly relate to this particular sentiment.

Hope you are all enjoying your weekend!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Fiction Review: The Help

With The Help by Kathryn Stockett on so many Best of 2009 lists, I couldn’t wait to read it myself, so I was thrilled when my neighbor lent me her copy. I have to agree that The Help is one of the best books I’ve read this year; not only that, but it easily made it onto my own personal list of top ten novels of all-time. I loved this book and never wanted it to end.

The Help takes place in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962 and is narrated by three different women.

Skeeter, a young white woman, has just returned home with a diploma from Ole Miss. She has dreams of becoming a writer, but all her mother wants is for her to meet a nice man and get married:

I drive my mama’s Cadillac fast on the gravel road, headed home. Patsy Cline can’t even be heard on the radio anymore, for all the rocks banging the side of the car. Mother would be furious, but I just drive faster. I can’t stop thinking about what Hilly said to me today at bridge club.

Hilly and Elizabeth and I have been best friends since Power Elementary. My favorite photograph is of the three of us sitting in the football stands in junior high, all jammed together, shoulder to shoulder to shoulder. What makes the picture, though, is that the stands are completely empty around us. We sat close because we were close.

Aibileen is an older black woman, working as a maid for Skeeter’s best friend, Elizabeth:

Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960. A church baby we like to call it. Taking care a white babies, that’s what I do, along with all the cooking and cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning.

But I ain’t never seen a baby yell like Mae Mobley Leefolt. First day I walk in the door, there she be, red-hot and hollering with the colic, fighting that bottle like it’s a rotten turnip. Miss Leefolt, she look terrified a her own child. “What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I stop it?”

It? That was my first hint: something is wrong with this situation.

And Minny is a friend of Aibileen’s. known for her amazing cooking skills and for her sassy mouth which often gets her in trouble:

Standing on that white lady’s back porch, I tell myself, Tuck it in, Minny. Tuck in whatever might fly out my mouth and tuck in my behind, too. Look like a maid who does what she is told. Truth is, I’m so nervous right now, I’d never backtalk again if it meant I’d get this job.

I yank my hose up from sagging around my feet – the trouble of all fat, short women around the world. Then I rehearse what to say, what to keep to myself. I go ahead and punch the bell.

Each of these three women is fascinating on her own, but their paths are destined to cross in ways that will change all of their lives forever. Things are changing in the world, even though Mississippi seems to be lagging behind. These three women come together to do something unbelievably brave, and perhaps foolish.

The stories of these women – and of the rest of the women in town, black and white – are all entwined together, creating a mosaic of a time when there were social lines that were not crossed. This novel is about those lines and about what happens when people dare to step outside of them. There are the hateful emotions between races that you might expect for the time – prejudice, fear, anger – but this book is also about the loving relationships between the black maids and the white children they cared for and raised. Stockett writes, in part, from her own experiences, growing up in Mississippi with a close relationship with her family’s own maid.

Stockett’s writing is vivid and real, pulling you into this captivating and volatile period of time and place. You come to care about the main characters, to hate others, and to feel as if you are living more within the story than within your own life for a short time. And it will be a short time because you will be unable to put this book down. I found myself carrying it around with me, stealing five minutes of reading time whenever I could. That, to me, is the mark of an extraordinary novel. The Help will stay with me for a long time.

For more information about the book and the author, check out Elizabeth Stockett’s website.

451 pages, Amy Einhorn Books (Putnam)

Monday, December 07, 2009

It's Monday 12/7! What Are You Reading?

Not a lot of reading time last week - too much other stuff to do this time of year! But what I did read I enjoyed...
  • I finished Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and posted my review. I also posted a couple of extra quotes I liked from the book for my Quote It Saturday feature.
  • With my book group reads behind me, I finally went back to the novel I've had to put down twice for book group books: Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey, Book 2 in The Resurrection of Magic series, a dark but engaging teen fantasy. Once again, it's excellent, and I think I'll actually get all the way through it this time!
My Top Ten List last week was a list of the top ten books I'd like to receive for Christmas. What's on your list this year?

So, what are YOU reading this week?

(What are you reading Mondays is sponsored by J. Kaye's Book Blog).

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Quote It Saturday 12/5

Welcome to my favorite feature of the week, Quote It Saturday. Thanks to That Chick That Reads for starting it!

Since I just finished and reviewed Olive Kitteridge this week, it's fresh in my mind, so I thought I'd share a couple of other quotes from the book that I really liked. I mentioned in my review that parts of the book were a bit depressing, but these quotes feature a couple of the sections I referred to that emphasize joy and optimism instead. Both of these quotes really spoke to me and reflect my own feelings.

The first is about small moments of joy in life, as Olive recalls watching her son's soccer games when he was younger:

There was beauty to that autumn air, and the sweaty young bodies that had mud on their legs, strong young men who would throw themselves forward to have the ball smack against their foreheads; the cheering when a goal was scored, the goalie sinking to his knees. There were days - she could remember this - when Henry would hold her hand as they walked home, middle-aged people, in their prime. Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful? Most likely not. People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it. But she had that memory now, of something healthy and pure.

Having spent many, many similar hours on soccer fields watching my own two sons play, I know just what she means.

Here, in another chapter, Jane and Bob Houlton, an older married couple, drive through town looking at Christmas lights on all the houses:

And she was happy right now, it was true. Jane Houlton, shifting slightly inside her nice black coat, was thinking that, after all, life was a gift - that one of those things about getting older was knowing that so many moments weren't just moments, they were gifts. And how nice, really, that people should celebrate with such earnestness this time of year. No matter what people's lives might hold (some of these houses they were passing would have to hold some woeful tribulations, Janie knew), still and all, people were compelled to celebrate because they knew somehow, in their different ways, that life was a thing to celebrate.

That one is particularly relevant at this time of year, don't you think?

Hope you're enjoying your weekend!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Fiction Review: Olive Kitteridge

For the past year, I’ve been hearing wonderful things about Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and I finally had the chance to read it this week for my neighborhood book group. Strout won the Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge, and the book was at the top of many “best of” lists last year. Most of the women in my book group enjoyed this unique novel-like book. It is very well written, with a clever approach to telling Olive’s story.

The book – not exactly a novel – is written as a series of thirteen separate but interrelated short stories set in the small coastal town of Crosby, Maine. Each story focuses on a different character or family in Crosby but somehow relates to the title character, Olive. In some of the stories, Olive is a major presence, as in the stories focusing on her husband and son. In other stories, Olive is barely there, perhaps just passing the main character at a restaurant. Through the eyes of the various townspeople, we learn more and more about Olive, as in this scene, where Bob and Jane Houlton have come to church for a holiday concert:

The church was slowly beginning to fill up. Olive Kitteridge walked in, tall and broad-shouldered in a navy-blue coat, her husband behind her. Henry Kitteridge touched his wife’s arm, indicating they take a seat in a pew nearby, but Olive shook her head and they sat instead two pews closer to the front of the church. “I don’t know how he can stand her,” Bob murmured to Jane.

They watched the Kitteridges settle into their pew, Olive shaking off her coat, than placing it back on her shoulders, Henry helping her. Olive Kitteridge had taught math at the school Jane had worked at; very seldom had the two women spoken at length. Olive had a way about her that was absolutely without apology, and Jane kept her distance. In response to Bob’s remark now, Jane merely shrugged.

Through each short story, we learn about its characters, about the community, and a bit more about Olive. The stories are roughly chronological, moving from when Olive and Henry are raising their teen son to the inevitable challenges of old age. Through it all, we see Olive (and the other characters) learn more about herself and about life. I enjoyed these insights, like this one:

Sometimes, like now, Olive had a sense of just how desperately hard every person was working to get what they needed. For most, it was a sense of safety, in the sea of terror that life increasingly became. People thought love would do it, and maybe it did.

Generally, I enjoyed this unique book, although it was a bit depressing at times. I understand first-hand that bad things happen in every life and part of life is dealing with these challenges, but I would have preferred a more upbeat view of life. The stories had moments of hope and optimism – and a nice ending – but there were also an awful lot of suicidal thoughts, infidelity, and yearnings for something different in this small community. All in all, though, Olive Kitteridge provides an interesting and well-written study of a small town and of human life, with all of its joys and despairs.

If you've already read Olive Kitteridge, you may enjoy this interview with both Elizabeth Strout and with the fictional Olive (but it does contain spoilers so best to save it until after you've read the book).

270 pages, Random House

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Top Ten Books I Want For Christmas


Although all of my Top Ten lists are very subjective, today's is even more random than usual. I have a running list in an Excel spreadsheet of 200 books that I want to read, added to whenever I hear about something that sounds good. I love to receive books - any books! - as gifts, so it's impossible to really choose only ten from this never-ending list. But, these are books that I had starred, books that really struck a chord with me for one reason or another. I'd be happy to find any of these under the tree on Christmas morning!

  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher (amazon’s best of 2008)
  • Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (Time Traveler's Wife is one of my top ten books of all time)
  • Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (I keep trying to convince my book group to read this one)
  • Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch (because it sounds similar to my favorite book, Replay)
  • Trail of Crumbs by Kim Sunee (memoir of girl raised in New Orleans, looking for birth parents - I love to read anything about New Orleans)
  • Roastbeef’s Promise by David Jerome (a road trip novel, recommended by Mary at Bookfan, because I love road trips)
  • Traveling with Pomengranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor (traveling plus mother-daughter memoir - what a combination!)
  • Limbo by A. Manette Ansay (memoir by author with a mystery illness)
What books would you like to receive this holiday season?