Sunday, September 30, 2007

Review: The Amateur Marriage

The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler
4 stars

Summary (adapted from Publishers Weekly): In December 1941 in St. Cassians, a mainly Eastern European conclave in Baltimore, 20-year-old Michael Anton meets Pauline and is immediately smitten. They marry after Michael is discharged from the army, but their temperaments don't mix. For Michael, self-control is the greatest of virtues; for Pauline, expression is what makes us human (whether that expression is a good idea or not). At Pauline's urging, the two move to the suburbs, where they raise three children, George, Karen and Lindy. Too much more would be giving away the plot, but it won't come as a surprise to hear that they eventually divorce, after 30 years of mostly downs with very few ups. The rest of the novel follows their separate, yet still connected, lives.

My thoughts: I'm finding that I really enjoy Anne Tyler. My book club read Digging to America earlier this year and I really liked it, particularly the parts about the little girls (it was worth it for the "binky party" - where her mother tried to get rid of her daughter's soother addiction - alone). I'd also read The Accidental Tourist back in library school for a project on popular fiction, but had put her from my mind after that. I'm glad I've found her again!

The jacket copy says "Anne Tyler captures the evocative nuances of everyday life during these decades with such telling precision..." and this is true - Tyler is excellent at capturing the sounds, smells, sights - the whole atmosphere - of a situation. I was particularly struck by the going-away-to-war party scene in the community hall - you can smell the pergoies, see the whole neighbourhood gathered together, from babies to seniors, and hear the women gossiping while they "finickily [readjust] the sprigs of parsley garnish after one or another of the men had passed through loading his plate."

Publishers Weekly pointed out that "A lesser novelist would take moral sides, using this story to make a didactic point" and this is really true - I kept wanting to root for either Michael or Pauline, but Tyler wouldn't let me. Even the characters themselves sometimes acknowledg (in non-heated moments) their joint responsibility for their problems. I think this was very well done, as many "women's novels" have the wife as a long-suffering victim and the husband as a cad, period. Here they were both long-suffering but neither was a terrible person (though they could be very unkind) - they just didn't fit together.

The title is really interesting, too. It made me wonder if I have an amateur marriage and if everyone thinks they do, at some point. I don't think mine is amateur, but after only 4 years, it's still evolving. It made me think about marriage as a process - even after 30 years, this couple didn't have a "professional" one

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Arty kid

I actually was a drama "freak" - the backstage variety, but I was definitely involved in all of the plays.

Arty Kid

Whether you were a drama freak or an emo poet, you definitely were expressive and unique.

You're probably a little less weird these days - but even more talented!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Review: Number the Stars

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Summary: In Denmark in 1943, 10 year-old Annemarie Johansen, her little sister Kirsti, and Annemarie's best friend, Ellen Rosen are used to seeing the German soldiers on every corner. But they don't truly understand the horror of the Nazis until they start coming for the Jews, including Ellen. Now Annemarie must be very brave and help her family save the Rosens.

My thoughts: I've always meant to read this book, and I'm really glad I did. It's a simple story, but very moving. It has a lot to stay about bravery, duty, and friendship. It would make a good introduction for kids not quite ready for Anne Frank's Diary or they could be taught together.

I admired Annemarie's bravery, especially since the need for it was thrust upon her suddenly. My favourite character was cute, fiesty 5 year-old Kirsti - she told off Nazi soliders and wanted to do everything her big sister did. Despite the terrible circumstances and the historical setting, she was just like any 5-year-old that I know.

I was glad that Lowry included a "what's true" afterword and let us know that many parts of her story, including Denmark's Jews escaping to Sweden and the invention of a cocaine-laced substance to confuse sniffer dogs, were true.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Every Month is a Holiday Challenge 2008

This one was sounded like too much fun to resist! Who wouldn't want something to celebrate each month? And I can combine it with the Triple 8 Challenge, yay!

Kim is hosting it here. The goal is to read a book each month in 2008 that relates in some way to any type of special day - an author's birthday, an actual recognized holiday, or some kind of National Whatever Day/Month.

Here's what I have so far (subject to change):

January- Diet Month
Food and Loathing by Betsy Lerner

February - Library Lovers' Month
Witch Way to Murder by Shirley Damsgaard

March - Caffeine Awareness Month
Uncommon Grounds by Sandra Balzo

April- Shakespeare's birthday, April 23
Shakespeare's Landlord by Charlaine Harris

May - Strawberry Month
Strawberry Shortcake Murder by Joanne Fluke

June - Dairy Month
Till the Cows Come Home by Judy Clemens

July - Canada Day
Mistik Lake by Martha Brooks

August - Julia Child's birthday, August 15th
Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

September - Bourbon Heritage Month:
The Perfect Manhattan by Leanne Shears & Tracey Toomey

October - Adopt-a-Shelter Dog Month
The New Yorkers by Cathleen Schine

November - Remembrance Day
Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

December - Christmas
The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore

Kim has lots of great links for holidays and I found some in Wikipedia, too -

(Button courtesy of Lynne.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Review: Cheaper by the Dozen

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

I appear to have merged the movies Cheaper by the Dozen (which I don't think I've seen) and Yours, Mine, and Ours in my brain - I thought the Gilbreths were the ones with 6 kids from each marriage. But nope, they had their very own dozen together.

Summary: Most people probably know the story - Frank and Lillian Gilbreth were motion study experts and they decided, early in their marriage, that they wanted a large family - an even dozen, if possible. The Gilbreths, especially Frank, used their family as a testing ground for their efficiency theories. This book covers the birth of all dozen, up until their father's death in 1924.

My thoughts: Huge families seem to be viewed as freak shows these days, things that get you your own show on TLC or Discovery Channel. And even at the turn of the last century, a dozen was a pretty big number. But the Gilbreths managed it, and without a lot of the modern conveniences we have today and seem to have managed quite happily.

I had a few mixed feelings about Mr. Gilbreth - he clearly loved his family and was very intelligent and fun-loving. But he also seemed to really enjoy embarrassing his wife and kids, a habit I always find really irritating. But his methods for making learning fun (teaching all the kids morse code by writing out clues with rewards, making room-sized diagrams of the solar system) were excellent and it's clear he placed a great value on education. The contributions he made to industry and the military are very impressive - he consulted for many large companies such as Remington typewriters and Lever Brothers.

The book is made up of great stories - everyone getting their tonsils out at once, summers spent at "The Shoe" their place in Nantucket (2 old lighthouses and a cottage), thinking any time mother was sick in bed it meant a baby was on the way. I think my favourite is the one about a woman from the national birth control society being sent as a joke by a neighbor (who had 8 kids of her own) to see Mrs. Gilbreth as a possible local chapter president.

It was an interesting read for an only child like me. I can barely imagine one sibling, let alone 11.

I thought it would be dated, taking place as it does in the early part of the 20th century, but it's really not, it feels very fresh. The only things that really date it are the actual current events of the day. And in fact, it gives a great example of the more things changing, the more they stay the same. Mr. Gilbreth rails against the older girls wanting to be popular at the start of the Jazz Age:

Popular. That's all I hear. That's the magic word, isn't it? That's what the matter with this generation. Nobody thinks about being smart, or clever, or sweet or even attractive. No, sir. They want to be skinny and flat-chested and popular. They'd sell their soul and body to be popular, and if you ask me a lot of them do.

Apart from the flat-chested part, isn't that pretty much what we hear about today's teenagers, who in polls often indicate they'd rather be famous rather than smart?

When I have a break in between challenges, I plan to read the sequel, Belles on their Toes, which is about how the family coped after Mr. Gilbreth's death. And I've got the 1950's version of the movie on my to-see list.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Review: New Moon

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

5 stars

Okay, I'm a bad YA librarian, I'm totally behind. I should've read Eclipse by now and I only just finished New Moon. Bad, bad.

You don't need me to tell you about this one - if you know about the glory that was Twilight, you know about New Moon. If you don't, run out and get Twilight immediately and get started!

But quickly, just in case, New Moon continues the saga of Pacific Northwest girl Bella and her vampire love, Edward. For her own good, Edward leaves her, and she plunges into despair and self-destructive behaviour. With the help of Jacob Black, from the nearby First Nations reservation, she starts to come out of it, just in time for Jacob to start going through some weird changes and for Edward to return (come on, you knew he would, I'm not spoiling it). And, of course, danger of both the mortal and immortal kind follows.

The intense, brooding, divinely beautiful Edward is still total literary crush material. I still find accident-prone vampire-lover Bella interesting and I was only tempted to yell at her to snap out of it a couple of times, after months of depression. And actually, Meyer uses a simple but effective and rather cool device to show Bella's months of despair, rather than making us go through them all. As some other bloggers have pointed out, I didn't enjoy it quite as much as Twilight, but I think that's natural - your first exposure to a wonderful story is always the most powerful.

In one way, my postponing of reading this was smart - I wasn't waiting in agony for Eclipse to come out, like everyone else. Of course now I have to wait for the 50-odd people ahead of me in the holds list, but it's still not as bad as a whole year. :-)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Bibliography challenge

My stars, another one! Historia brings us the Bibliography Challenge. Read 3 books about books between Oct 1 - December 31. Since cross-overs are allowed and the Something About Me ladies have chosen so many bookish books, I can do that!

Here are my three:
1. Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby
2. So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson

3. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Here are some extras/alternates:
1. Sixpence House: lost in a town of books by Paul Collins
2. Literacy and Longing in LA by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Song Meme

I saw this meme on Mother Reader and thought I'd give it a try.

Google the top 100 songs from the year you graduated from high school
Rate them as either:
Loved it
Liked It
Hated it
Don't Remember It/Never Heard of It

1. End Of The Road, Boyz II Men
2. Baby Got Back, Sir Mix A-lot
3. Jump, Kris Kross
4. Save The Best For Last, Vanessa Williams
5. Baby-Baby-Baby, TLC
6. Tears In Heaven, Eric Clapton
7. My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It), En Vogue
8. Under The Bridge, Red Hot Chili Peppers
9. All 4 Love, Color Me Badd
10. Just Another Day, Jon Secada
11. I Love Your Smile, Shanice
12. To Be With You, Mr. Big
13. I'm Too Sexy, Right Said Fred
14. Black Or White, Michael Jackson
15. Achy Breaky Heart, Billy Ray Cyrus
16. I'll Be There, Mariah Carey
17. November Rain, Guns N' Roses
18. Life Is A Highway, Tom Cochrane (this was our unofficial graduation song!)
19. Remember The Time, Michael Jackson
20. Finally, CeCe Peniston
21. This Used To Be My Playground, Madonna
22. Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough, Patty Smyth
23. Can't Let Go, Mariah Carey
24. Jump Around, House Of Pain
25. Diamonds and Pearls, Prince and The N.P.G.
26. Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, George Michael and Elton John
27. Masterpiece, Atlantic Starr
28. If You Asked Me To, Celine Dion
29. Giving Him Something He Can Feel, En Vogue
30. Live and Learn, Joe Public
31. Come and Talk To Me, Jodeci
32. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana
33. Humpin' Around, Bobby Brown
34. Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover, Sophie B. Hawkins
35. Tell Me What You Want Me To Do, Teven Campbell
36. Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg, TLC
37. It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday, Boyz II Men
38. Move This, Technotronic
39. Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen
40. Tennessee, Arrested Development
41. The Best Things In Life Are Free, Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson
42. Make It Happen, Mariah Carey
43. The One, Elton John
44. Set Adrift On Memory Bliss, P.M. Dawn
45. Stay, Shakespear's Sister
46. 2 Legit 2 Quit, Hammer
47. Please Don't Go, K.W.S.
48. Breakin' My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes), Mint Condition
49. Wishing On A Star, Cover Girls
50. She's Playing Hard To Get, Hi-Five
51. I'd Die Without You, P.M. Dawn
52. Good For Me, Amy Grant
53. All I Want, Toad The Wet Sprocket
54. When A Man Loves A Woman, Michael Bolton
55. I Can't Dance, Genesis
56. Hazard, Richard Marx
57. Mysterious Ways, U2
58. Too Funky, George Michael
59. How Do You Talk To An Angel, Heights
60. One, U2
61. Keep On Walkin', CeCe Peniston
62. Hold On My Heart, Genesis
63. The Way I Feel About You, Karyn White
64. Beauty and The Beast, Calms Dion and Peabo Bryson
65. Warm It Up, Kris Kross
66. In The Closet, Michael Jackson
67. People Everyday, Arrested Development
68. No Son Of Nine, Genesis
69. Wildside, Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch
70. Do I Have To Say The Words?, Bryan Adams
71. Friday I'm In Love, Cure
72. Everything About You, Ugly Kid Joe
73. Blowing Kisses In The Wind, Paula Abdul
74. Thought I'd Died and Gone To Heaven, Bryan Adams
75. Rhythm Is A Dancer, Snap
76. Addams Groove, Hammer
77. Missing You Now, Michael Bolton
78. Back To The Hotel, N2Deep
79. Everything Changes, Kathy Troccoli
80. Have You Ever Needed Somone So Bad, Def Leppard
81. Take This Heart, Richard Marx
82. When I Look Into Your Eyes, Firehouse
83. I Wanna Love You, Jade
84. Uhh Ahh, Boyz II Men
85. Real Love, Mary J. Blige
86. Justified and Ancient, The KLF
87. Slow Motion, Color Me Badd
88. What About Your Friends, TLC
89. Thinkin' Back, Color Me Badd
90. Would I Lie To You?, Charles and Eddie
91. That's What Love Is For, Amy Grant
92. Keep Coming Back, Richard Marx
93. Free Your Mind, En Vogue
94. Keep It Comin', Keith Sweat
95. Just Take My Heart, Mr. Big
96. I Will Remember You, Amy Grant
97. We Got A Love Thang, CeCe Peniston
98. Let's Get Rocked, Def Leppard
99. They Want EFX, Das EFX
100. I Can't Make You Love Me, Bonnie Raitt

Clearly I wasn't paying much attention to popular music that year. I was in my Leonard Cohen phase then. I remember November Rain and Life is a Highway Fondly, as well as I'm Too Sexy and Friday I'm in Love. And Bohemian Rhapsody is good no matter what year, but for me it did take Wayne and Garth to make me aware of it. I never got the whole grunge thing at all.

If you'd like to play, consider yourself tagged! Then leave me a link in the comments so I can see if your musical memory is better than mine. :) (Feel free to use your own colours!)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - Comfort Food

Okay, I see BTT everywhere, I'm finally going to try it out!

Okay . . . picture this (really) worst-case scenario: It’s cold and raining, your boyfriend/girlfriend has just dumped you, you’ve just been fired, the pile of unpaid bills is sky-high, your beloved pet has recently died, and you think you’re coming down with a cold. All you want to do (other than hiding under the covers) is to curl up with a good book, something warm and comforting that will make you feel better.
What do you read?

Well, if and when I stopped crying so hard I couldn't see to read, I think it would have to be one of Jilly Cooper's Rutshire novels (minus the most recent, it was unfortunate), probably Rivals. These bonkbusters aren't high literature, but I love them. I love the Cotswolds setting as well as the glam trips to London and abroad. The characters really do feel like old friends (I actually think her characterization skills are some of the best I've ever come across). The books are funny, sexy, fun, and have happy endings. There are sweet heroines, nice guys, an eventually-reformed, totally gorgeous rake, charismatic villains, and horses and dogs galore. I've read them so many times I've had to get new copies. And, in this situation, it's a definite plus that I know them so well I'd barely need to pay attention at all.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Review: Uglies

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
4 stars

Summary: Tally Youngblood can't wait to turn 16. That's when she'll stop being an "ugly" (basically a teen) and get turned into a "pretty" via the operation everyone gets at 16. Then she'll get to live in New Pretty Town (rather than Uglyville) where you don't have to do anything but party and be gorgeous. As the youngest in her dorm, Tally's all alone until she turns 16 at the end of the summer, until she meets Shay while out hover-boarding and playing pranks at night. Shay, shockingly, doesn't want to be pretty and she tells Tally about the Smoke, a settlement in the wilderness where conscientious objectors defect to escape the operation. When Shay runs away, she leaves cryptic directions to the Smoke, in case Tally wants to follow. Unfortunately, just before her operation, Tally is brought in by Special Circumstances (also known as "cruel pretties") because they think she knows where the Smoke is. When the evil Dr. Cable threatens Tally with being ugly forever, Tally sets off to the Smoke with a tracking device to activate when she arrives. At first Tally thinks she's saving Shay (and herself) from a terrible, ugly life but when she meets David, a young rebel leader who grew up in the Smoke and learns about the dark side of the pretty operation, she changes her mind. But will it be too late for the Smoke?

My thoughts: I'd been wanting to read this for ages! I'm so glad I did. I'm not usually a dystopian fan, but this was such a page-turner, I can't wait to read the sequels.

I did think that it had a pretty heavy-handed environmental message (clear-cutting, pollution, etc. have all been eradicated and the "Rusties" - basically us - are seen as idiots), which was a bit irritating in spots. And it had that thing about dystopian fiction that I find jarring - the ancestors of the people are always stupid - look at what they did to the planet, they were so racist, we're so clever, etc. Oh, yeah, those drugs in the water supply? That chip in your head? It's all for the Greater Good, it's why we're so happy. I guess that's the point, really, that no society is perfect. But I'd still rather have the problems of today that we're working on solving than a chip in my head. (Note: there's not a chip in the book, that's just an example. I don't want to spoil it.)

The notion of everyone being beautiful was quite something. At one point the girls are looking at a 300-year-old magazine photo of an anorexic model and they can't believe anyone ever had the not-eating disease or that people were discriminated against based on skin colour. When everyone's equally beautiful, those problems seem to vanish. (Although it would probably eventually turn into the hair-colour or eye-colour wars.) On the surface, it really seems quite logical. And as someone who could use liposuction, a height extension, and better hair, I found the idea a very tempting one at the beginning of the book. Til I found out the flip side of the operation, that is.

But as I finished the book this morning, I was thinking that all the Pretties basically become Paris Hilton - constant partying, drinking, having whatever you want on demand, adoration, only having to worry about what to wear and where the next party is. There's even a (male) character called Peris, although I think the book was written before the height of Paris-mania. And the sad thought occurs to me with Paris being such a huge idol, so many young women aspire to this exact lifestyle - no need to use one's brain or to work hard. With the increase of plastic surgery in young women, maybe a future pretty operation to celebrate "growing up" isn't so far in the scary future.

Alphabet Challenge Wrap Up

Challenge summary: I found this via a blog in BookCrossing, though I think it has quite a few incarnations. The goal was to read a book for each letter of the alphabet, times 2. New-to-you authors from A-Z and also titles from A-Z. I started in January 2006 and finished in September 2007. I'd hoped to complete it in a year, but I'm still pretty pleased with finishing it in under 2, given all the other things I was also reading.

My books: All 52 of them can be seen

The best book: Oh, there were some great ones... Off the top of my head, I'd say these are my top 12 (in no particular order; some have much literary merit, some are just very fun, some are both):

My Saucy Stuffed Ravioli by Cherry Whytock
Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman
Love, Cajun Style by Diane Les Becquets
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
Fleshmarket Close by Ian Rankin
A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke
Rococo by Adriana Trigiani

Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella
The Wives of Bath by Wendy Holden

Any new authors?: So many! All 26 of the A-Z Authors, of course, and quite a few in the Titles, too.

New-to-me authors that I hope to read more of include:
Joanna Trollope
Polly Shulman
Diane Les Becquets
Adriana Trigiani
Debra Galant

Authors that I've read more of already (and I thank them for writing second books so quickly!) are Catherine Gilbert Murdock and Brad Barkely/Heather Hepler.

Book I could have done without:
Screen Legends - Had some interesting parts, but I probably would've stopped reading if not for the fact that I was desperate for a Y author. I'd already tried 2 manga Y-authors and just couldn't get into the manga mindset. (Sorry, manga fans, I just don't get it.)

Home Sense
- Nothing wrong with it, I just don't normally read decorating books and I picked it just because his name started with X.

The Xenocide Mission
- I'd actually had this on my TBR list for a few years because I wanted to read some boy-centred YA sci fi. But I didn't enjoy it much - I just couldn't keep track of the planets, the different creatures, the history. Probably not a bad book, but not my style at all.

The Year of Magical Thinking - This was for my book club, so I had to read it, challenge or not. As well-written as it was and legendary as Joan Didion is, it was much too sad for me. I am not a reader of sad things, if I can help it.

Books not finished: I did get to the end of Screen Legends, but I did eventually resort to skipping sections on people I had never, ever even heard of and didn't care to learn about. Everything else I read from cover to cover.

What I learned from this challenge: To stretch my reading horizons. Even if I didn't enjoy all the books, it was a fun way to experience a lot of variety. I actually had lots of fun slotting them into the challenge and finding contenders for the tricky letters - as my husband will tell you, I love to make lists! And, best of all, it got me interested enough in challenges to sign up for so many this year!

(Thanks to Book Haven and Eva for the questions!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Review: Screen Legends

Screen Legends by Bruce Yaccato

Summary: A collection of brief biographical essays on Canadian "legends" of the silver screen (and also stage and television). Seems to be based on a series of "Historica Minutes" produced for Canadian TV, but I've never seen one about film stars, so maybe I live in the wrong part of the country.

Now, I hesitate to write anything negative about books because more than likely it'll show up on the author's Google Alert. This is awesome when an author drops by to say thank you for liking a book (so please feel free, authors!), but not so much fun the other way. But this book just kind of bugged me. Here's why:

- It's hard to tell who the audience is meant to be. At first I thought maybe high school/college students, because the author feels the need to define, for example, Prohibition and Jim Morrison. And it probably would make a good book for a Canadian high school drama class. It would be good for assignments, too. But then he also, for example, devotes a large part of the Mike Myers entry to quoting the funny parts of the Austin Powers movies, which any young person is going to know.

- There's no introduction and no table of contents. There's also no order (that I could find) to the entries - not alphabetical, chronological or geopgraphical. There's also no mention of what "qualified" people for inclusion.

- There are a few proofreading mistakes, the largest being that Raymond Burr's death date is listed as 1933. Kind of hard to be Perry Mason if he died just as TV was being invented.

- I'm actually biased and find this a rather endearing Canadian quirk, but the author follows it to a T - you don't have to have been born in Canada, spent much time here, or retain your Canadian citizenship for us to claim you as our own.

- A not so endearing Canadian quirk, a mention of hockey is squeezed into about every other entry, whether it fits or not.

- The space given to different "legends" varies greatly. People you've never heard of from the Silent Era get detailed descriptions, Christopher Plummer's 60-year career gets less space than Jim Carrey. (And a chunk of Plummer's entry is devoted to describing the Sound of Music itself, another example of needing to define weird things - who hasn't heard of the Sound of Music?)

- "Legend" seems a bit of a stretch for some of the people featured. As talented as Sandra Oh may be, can she really be considered a legend at 36?

I did learn some interesting factoids, like that Norma Shearer's brother won 14 Oscars in technical categories and basically revolutionized motion picture sound. I enjoyed the entries on Colleen Dewhurst and Catherine O'Hara, in particular. It's not a bad book, but all of the above things just irked me throughout it. But if you are or you know a Canadian film buff, this could be worth a look.

Alphabet Challenge Completed!

It's amazing, it's finally done! It only took me a year and 8 1/2 months! :)

The list is in the original A.C. post, but here it is again, because I'm so proud of it!

Part 1 - Author (all new-to-me) A-Z
A Armstong, Lisa - Bad Manors
B Barker, Bradley (& Hepler, Heather) - Scrambled Eggs at Midnight
C Cox, Jennifer - Around the World in 80 Dates
D Didion, Joan - The Year of Magical Thinking
E Evanovich, Janet - One For The Money
F Fforde, Jasper - The Big Over Easy
G Galant, Debra - Rattled
H Harper, Karen - The Queene's Christmas
I Ireland, Liz - Three Bedrooms in Chelsea
J Jaffe, Rona - The Room-Mating Season
K King, Cassandra - The Same Sweet Girls
L Lowe, Steve (& MacArthur, Alan) - Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit?
M Murdock, Catherine Gilbert - Dairy Queen
N Noble, Elizabeth - Alphabet Weekends
O Olson, Shannon - Welcome to my Planet
P Palmer, Liza - Conversations With The Fat Girl
Q Quick, Amanda - Wicked Widow
R Rankin, Ian - Fleshmarket Close
S Shulman, Polly - Enthusiasm
T Trollope, Joanna - The Girl From The South
U Urquhart, Jane - A Map of Glass
V Vail, Rachel - If We Kiss
W Wolitzer, Hilma - Summer Reading
X Xol, Eduardo - Home Sense
Y Yaccato, Bruce - Screen Legends
Z Zadoorian, Michael - Second Hand

Part 2 - Titles A-Z
A The Anglophile by Laurie Gwen Shapiro
B Bombshell by Lynda Curnyn
C Chloe Does Yale by Natalie Krinsky
D Digging to America by Anne Tyler
E Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith
F Faking 19 by Alyson Noel
G Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner
H Hazing Meri Sugarman by M. Apostolina
I It's a Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod Murder by Rosemary Martin
J Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
K Kiss Me Quick by Julie Highmore
L Love, Cajun Style by Diane Les Becquets
M My Saucy Stuffed Ravioli by Cherry Whytock
N Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
O The Other Woman by Jane Green
P Playing James by Sara Mason
Q The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory
R Rococo by Adriana Trigiani
S The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith
T Tongue in Cheek by Fiona Walker
U Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella
V Valiant by Holly Black
W The Wives of Bath by Wendy Holden
X The Xenocide Mission by Benjamin Jeapes
Y A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke
Z Zara by Mary Hooper

(I haven't done reviews for them all, because I started this blog long after the challenge, but ones I have done can be found under the Alphabet Challenge label on the right-hand side. And if you're curious about a book for whatever reason, feel free to ask!)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Review: Garden Spells

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
5 stars

Summary (from Publishers Weekly): Two gifted sisters draw on their talents to belatedly forge a bond and find their ways in life. . . Thirty-four-year-old Claire Waverley manifests her talent in cooking; using edible flowers, Claire creates dishes that affect the eater in curious ways. But not all Waverley women embrace their gifts; some, including Claire's mother, escape the family's eccentric reputation by running away. She abandoned Claire and her sister when they were young. Consequently, Claire has remained close to home, unwilling to open up to new people or experiences. Claire's younger sister, Sydney, however, followed in their mother's footsteps 10 years ago and left for New York, and after a string of abusive, roustabout boyfriends, returns to Bascom, N.C., with her five-year-old daughter, Bay. As Sydney reacquaints herself with old friends and rivals, she discovers her own Waverley magic.

Who would like this one? Anyone in the mood for a light, sweet story and some magic! And particularly Southern lit fans who are in the mood for magic. (You really do need to be in the mood to totally suspend your disbelief and give in to it, though.)

Favourite line: I found this description of joy to be really lovely: "Yellow joy was radiating from her. When you're happy for yourself, it fills you. When you're happy for someone else, it pours over."

Overall: I was enchanted by these Spells! I was definitely happy to give in to the magic of Bascom and its inhabitants. Even the non-magical folks all have family legacies they grow into - this family's women are all great at sex, this family's men always marry older women, this family is full of gossips. It really gives Bascom its own flavour and heritage.

I loved how the Waverley women's talents manifested themselves in different ways - Claire with her cooking, Sydney has a gift for giving the perfect haircut, even little Bay always knows where things belong, which stands her in very good stead. Their distant relative, Evanelle, has perhaps the most interesting yet frustrating skill - she gets feelings that she must give people things. All kinds of things - gadgets, spare change, clothing - she can't rest until she's given them the item and they always end up needing it, though sometimes for strange or unwelcome reasons.

Plus, there's a magical apple tree! The apples show the eater either the very best or very worst moment of their life. The Waverley women know not to eat them, but the tree keeps trying (and the townspeople are very curious about the fruit). The tree likes and dislikes certain people, it likes to throw apples, and sometimes it tries to be helpful and other times it's very stubborn.

Romance, the healing of a family rift, and a magic apple tree - what more could you want?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Triple 8 Challenge

Reader extraordinaire 3M brings us the Triple 8 Challenge - with the goal to read 8 books in 8 categories in 2008.

Vampires (with the Themed Reading Challenge)
1. Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore
2. Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz

3. Real Vampires Have Curves by Gerry Bartlett
4. Tantalize by C
ynthia Leitich Smith
5. Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper
6. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
7. Marked by PC Cast
8. The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: 8th Grade Bites by Heather Brewer

Titles With Numbers (with the
Numbers Challenge)
1. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
2. Cocktails for Three by Madeleine Wickham
3. The Three Miss Margarets by Louise Shaffer

4. The Perfectly True Tales of a Perfect Size 12 by Robin Gold
5. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
6. One of those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones
7. Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress by Tina Ferraro
8. One Dangerous Lady by Jane Stanton Hitchcock

1. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
2. Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell
3. Rat Pack Confidential by Shawn Levy
4. Down the Nile by Rosemary Mahoney
5. Food and Loathing: a life measured out in calories by Betsy Lerner
6. Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank by Celia Rivenbank
7. Dear Sad Goat: A Roundup of Truly Canadian Tales and Letters compiled by Bill Richardson
8. Gastroanomalies by James Lileks

1. The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square by Rosina Lippi
2. Deep Dish by Mary Kay Andrews
3. Miss Julia Throws a Wedding by Ann B. Ross
4. The Sweet Potato Queens' First Big-Ass Novel by Jill Conner Browne
5. Revenge of the Kudzu Debutantes by Cathy Holton
6. Miss Julia Takes Over by Ann B. Ross
7. Bobbie Faye's (kinda, sorta, not really) Family Jewels by Toni McGee Causey
8. My Summer of Southern Discomfort by Stephanie Gayle

Historical Fiction
1. Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen
2. The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
3. The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
4. The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell by Loraine Despres

5. Star-Crossed by Linda Collison
6. Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo
7. Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime by Diane Leslie
8. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Set in New York
1. The Perfect Manhattan by Leanne Shear and Tracey Toomey
2. The New Yorkers by Cathleen Schine
3. Breakfast at Bloomingdale's by Kristen Kemp
4. Enchanted, Inc. by Shanna Swendson
5.Ten Things to Do Before I Die by Daniel Ehrenhaft

6. The Art of Undressing by Stephanie Lehmann
7. Elements of Style by Wendy Wasserstein
9. Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

1. Piece of my Heart by Peter Robinson
2. Shakespeare's Landlord by Charlaine Harris
3. Monsieur Pamplemousse and the Militant Midwives by Michael Bond
4. Murder With Peacocks by Donna Andrews
5. Over Her Dead Body by Kate White
6. Uncommon Grounds by Sandra Balzo
7. Strawberry Shortcake Murder by Joanne Fluke
8. Till the Cows Come Home by Judy Clemens

New-to-me Authors
1. Cease to Blush by Billie Livingston

2. Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips
3. Love Walked in by Maria De Los Santos
4. The Marriage of True Minds by Stephen Evans

5. Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking by Aoibheann Sweeney
6. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
7. Carpe Demon by Julie Kenner
8. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

Friday, September 7, 2007

Review: Austenland

Austenland: a novel by Shannon Hale
4 stars

Summary (from Publishers Weekly): "In 32-year-old singleton Jane Hayes's mind, no man in the world can measure up to Fitzwilliam Darcy—specifically the Fitzwilliam played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Jane is forced to confront her Austen obsession when her wealthy great-aunt Carolyn dies and leaves her an all-expenses-paid vacation to Pembrook Park, a British resort where guests live like the characters in Jane's beloved Austen novels. Jane sees the trip as an opportunity for one last indulgence of her obsession before she puts it "all behind her—Austen, men, fantasies, period," but the lines between reality and fiction become pleasantly blurred as Jane acclimates to the world of Spencer jackets and stringent etiquette rules, and finds herself torn between the Darcyesque Mr. Nobley and a forbidden tryst with Pembrook Park's gardener."

Who would enjoy it: I definitely think you have to be an Austen fan for this one. I am one, but even I lost some of the references, having not read them in at least 10 years. For someone who hasn't read her books, especially Pride and Prejudice, this wouldn't do much. But then, that person wouldn't know of the joys of Mr. Darcy and pick this one up, probably.

Favourite parts:
- I loved the Colin Firth references. Hale even dedicates the book to him: "You're a really great guy, but I'm married, so I think we should just be friends." And at one point Jane says something about how she can't explain her obsession to a man with something like "if you were a woman, I'd just have to say "Colin Firth in a dripping shirt" and you'd understand." (And believe me, I do!)
- The blurbs about Jane's horrible luck with her former boyfriends are a hoot, if rather sad in some cases.
- Jane manages a bit of clever Austen-esque banter and impresses Nobley with "Together we must be Impertience and Inflexibility" - that could've been a good Austen novel, I'm sure. :)

Overall: This was a fun book. It's not the deepest book in the world and as PW points out, the supporting characters aren't the strongest. But then, they're not really meant to be - they're supposed to be actors, caricatures. I didn't always know what to think about Jane - sometimes I felt sorry for her, sometimes I admired her wit, sometimes I wanted her to stop whining about her Darcy obsession and get on with her life. But overall, I liked her and the happy ending is really nice, with a bit of misdirection - you know there's going to be a happy ending, but you're not quite sure what it will be - bachelor #1, bachelor #2, or just Jane being happy with herself.

Part of me thought it would be great fun to go to Austenland, but Jane's experience reveals it to be rather boring and false. Maybe I could find a really well-done Austenland that threw in the Colin Firth-in-a-wet-shirt experience. :)

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Numbers Challenge

Callista at SMS Book Reviews bring us the Numbers Challenge!

The challenge is to read 5 books with numbers in the titles between January and August, 2008.

My picks are:

1. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

2. Cocktails for Three by Madeleine Wickham (aka Sophie Kinsella)

3. 21 Proms edited by David Levithan and Daniel Ehrenhaft

4. Second Chance by Jane Green

5. One of those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones

Southern Challenge wrap-up

Many thanks to Maggie for hosting the Southern Challenge! It was great fun (and only 3 books, for which I thank her!)

The challenge was to read 3 books by Southern authors and I picked:
1. Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson
2. Miss Julia Speaks her Mind by Ann B. Ross
3. Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

The best book? They were all really good, but I just loved Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind - it was truly delightful.

Any new authors? All of them. I'll definitely be reading more of Joshilyn Jackson and the Miss Julia series.

Book I could have done without? None of them. Hannah Coulter probably isn't a book I'd have picked up without the challenge, but I was glad I did. And that's what challenges are for, right? Broadening one's reading horizons! :)

What I learned from this challenge: Well, I already knew I enjoyed Southern literature, but I'd stayed mostly in the chick lit/romance vein, so this helped me discover that there's much more to the genre. And I also came across so many new and interesting bloggers from keeping track of the challenge at Maggie Reads.

(Thanks to Book Haven and Eva for the questions!)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Review: Evening Class

Evening Class by Maeve Binchy
5 stars

Summary (from Amazon): Maeve Binchy can always be counted on to spin an involving tale about ordinary people that brings out the extraordinary in everyone. In Evening Class, Binchy zooms in on the working-class of Dublin. Schoolteacher Aidan Dunne organizes an evening class in Italian with the help of Nora O'Donoghue, an Irishwoman returning home after 26 years in Sicily. When the somewhat squashed-by-life denizens of the surrounding neighborhood take the unexpected step of enrolling in the class, they find their lives transformed. Binchy tells her story from the viewpoints of eight different characters and rewards both them and her readers with happy endings after the requisite rocky road.

My thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I'll definitely be checking out more Maeve Binchy, whom I'd also thought I'd like to read. I like books where all of the characters are connected in the end and this had that in spades. I didn't realize it would focus on 8 characters, though, when I started, I thought it would be all about Signora, but then each section was named for a new person and people from previous sections started appearing and I was really interested to see how they would all come together. Each section could almost be a short story in itself and still be enjoyable, but it was much better to have them all connected. The device for the coming together was a trip to Rome for the class - it was so lovely that everyone enjoyed the class so much and made it a success when the school officials thought it would be a waste of time.

I'd love to have a Signora (what Nora was called in Italy) in my life - she had a wonderfully gentle way of making things right without people even really noticing that's what she was doing. It really is a "tale about ordinary people that brings out the extraordinary in everyone" - some of the characters are only mentioned in the background of the evening class at first and then when their chapter comes, you discover all kinds of secrets and sacrifices and loves and hates and hidden depths.

Of course, I knew everything would end happily (or unhappily for those that deserved it), but hooray for that, say I. I'm a big happy ending fan.

What I learned about Raidergirl: From her post about this one I learned that she visited Italy last year, and I'm envious! I already knew we had some similar reading tastes (I've picked 3 of her books!) and this proved it again. Thanks for sharing this lovely story!