Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 TBR Pile Challenge

I finally decided to join a challenge for 2011.  I might jump on another few after the first of the year, but this one is perfect for me.  The 2011 TBR Pile Challenge is hosted by Roof Beam Reader.  Here are the details.

The Goal:
To finally read 12 books from your "to be read" pile, within 12 months. 


1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or "To Be Read" list forAT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2010 or later (any book published in the year 2009 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile - I WILL be checking publication dates). Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the "can't get through" pile.

2. To be eligible, you must sign-up with Mr. Linky below - link to your list (so create it ahead of time!) and add updated links to each book's review.  Every listed book must be completed and must be reviewed in order to count as completed.

3. Your list must be posted by Friday, December 31st, 2010.

4. Leave comments on this post as you go along, to update us on your status. Come back here if/when you complete this challenge and leave a comment indicating that you CONQUERED YOUR 2011 TBR LIST!  Every person who successfully reads his/her 12 books and/or alternates (and who provides a working link to their list, which has links to the review locations) will be entered to win a $50 gift card from either or The Book Depository!

5.  There may be mini-challenge "check-ins" throughout 2011, to award and recognize those participants who are progressing through the challenge, such as a "Spring Break Check-In!" or a "6 Month Pit Stop!" Participants who are making equal progress to-date (6 books at the 6 month check-in, for example) could win a prize! 

6. Crossovers from other challenges are totally acceptable, as long as you have never read the book before and it was published pre-2010!

My TBR List to Conquer
01.  Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (completed 8/11)
02.  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (completed 6/11)
03.  Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll (completed 6/11)
04.  Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
05.  Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (completed 2/11)
06.  David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (completed 12/11)
07.  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (completed 6/11)
08.  Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (completed 3/11)
09.  Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald (completed 11/11)
10.  The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (completed 11/11)
11.  War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (completed 2/11)
12.  Villette by Charlotte Bronte (completed 12/11)

1.  Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (completed 9/11)
2.  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain


Thursday, December 30, 2010

End of 2010 Survey

I've seen this survey by The Perpetual Page-Turner everywhere so I thought I'd join in the fun.  I've been naughty and haven't posted about any books lately.  I was hit with the flu and was in bed for a week.  I'm on week two, and this lingering cold/cough just won't go away!  I have finished several books, but I can't get my thoughts organized enough to put together a decent post.  On to the survey!

1. Best book of 2010?  East of Eden by John Steinbeck blew me away!  The prose is beautiful, and the characters are incredible.  It is now in my top 5 favorite books of all-time. 

2. Worst book of 2010? I read Many Bloody Returns, a short story anthology edited by Charlaine Harris.  If it hadn't been for the fact that I read it for a challenge, I would never have finished it.  It was so boring.  It was about vampires, and I guess I discovered that genre just isn't my thing.

3. Most Disappointing Book of 2010?  I feel so blasphemous saying this, but I was so disappointed in The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  I really expected to love it, but I couldn't stand Clare.  I just couldn't connect emotionally with the book when I had no sympathy for one of the main characters.  

4. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2010? The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins really surprised me.  I didn't expect to get sucked into it as much as I did.  So much drama and suspense.  The book was much more sensational than I expected.

5. Book you recommended to people most in 2010? I don't really have anyone in my life that asks for book recommendations.  Sad, right?  If I did, I would recommend Daddy-Long Legs by Jean Webster.  It is so cute and sweet.  I just loved it.  It would be a good book to recommend to someone who may not love reading.  It's short so there isn't too much of a time commitment.

6. Best series you discovered in 2010? I read Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.  I haven't reviewed it, but it was a fun read.  I have Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters on my shelf.  Hopefully I'll get to it in January.

7. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2010? Nick Hornby, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Wilkie Collins.  I'm looking forward to reading more from each of these authors during 2011. 

8. Most hilarious read of 2010? I didn't read very many funny books this year but The Guinea Pig Diaries by A. J. Jacobs was pretty funny.  It wasn't the best book I've ever read, but there were definitely times when I was laughing out loud.

9. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2010?  I wouldn't say it was thrilling, but I didn't want to put down Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro.  It was horrifying watching it unfold, but I was really invested in reading it.

10. Book you most anticipated in 2010? I don't think I really anticipated anything in 2010.  I don't usually read books when they first come out.  I'm always late to the party, reading everything two to three years after everyone else.

11. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2010? I have to cheat on this one because I didn't read anything this year with a really great cover.  I just bought these two books for myself and I'm reading them next year.  The Vintage Classics covers are very cool!


12. Most memorable character in 2010?  Cathy from East of Eden.  Hello sociopath!  She is by far the most evil character I have ever read about.

13. Most beautifully written book in 2010? I hate to bring this book up again, but East of Eden had the most beautiful prose of any book I read this year.  Can you tell it's my favorite?

14. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2010? This is a tough one.  I really think A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was the most moving.  I've known the story forever, but this year was the first that I actually read Dickens' words.  I thought the message so powerful when reading it.  Next year, I hope to read it to my children throughout December.

15. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2010 to finally read? Here I go again--East of Eden.  I wouldn't bring this up again if it weren't completely true.  I checked this book out from the library so many times over the years and kept returning it unread.  I'm so glad I finally read it.  Now I can't wait to re-read it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What's in a Name? 3 Challenge Wrap-Up

I have so many books that I've read lately, but I'm in a bit of a slump.  I'm not in the mood to post my thoughts on any of the books so I keep procrastinating and finding other things to post.  I do have to do a wrap-up post for the "What's in a Name? 3 Challenge" hosted by Beth Fish Reads, so at least I feel like I'm doing something productive.

This challenge had six different categories.  Book selections had to have in the title a word that qualified in one of the categories.  This challenge ran January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2010.

Here were my entries for each of the categories.

Music Term:  Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Plant:  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Place Name:  Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
Title:  The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman
Body of Water:  The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Food:  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

There were a few books that I wouldn't have picked up on my own had it not been for this challenge.  The book that surprised me the most was The Old Man and the Sea.  My only experience with the book was hearing how boring it was so I went into it with low expectations.  I really loved it.  Amsterdam was a Man Booker Prize winner so I thought I was in good hands.  I was let down by that book.  I still think McEwan is a brilliant writer, but the wretched characters made an emotional connection to the book difficult.  Plainsong was my shot in the dark.  I had no ideas about the book before picking it up.  I had never seen a review of it.  For all I knew, it could have been terrible.  I found it at the library and gave it a shot and was not disappointed.  I was glad to have discovered Alice Hoffman through this challenge.  I love her style and look forward to reading more from her in the future.

Monday, December 13, 2010

War and Peace Readalong

I'm only about halfway through Anna Karenina, and I'm ready to punish myself with more Tolstoy.  I'm joking about the punishing part.  It's just the length that makes his books so daunting.  I have really enjoyed Anna Karenina so when Allie at A Literary Odyssey posted about her War and Peace Readalong, I knew I couldn't pass it up.  This will take place between January and February and will have four check-in dates.

The following is the schedule that Allie posted on her blog:

January 15, 2011: The first check-in will focus on volume 1. In my edition it is about 295 pages.
January 31, 2011: The second check-in will focus on volume 2. In my edition it is about 306 pages.
February 12, 2011: The third check-in will focus on volume 3. In my edition it is about 332 pages (the longest section).
February 28, 2011: The fourth check-in will cover volume 4 and the 2-part epilogue. These sections are about 282 pages in my edition.

Am I crazy for doing this?  Probably.  If you're not interested in War and Peace, you might find another of Allie's readalongs in which to participate.  She will be hosting six two-month readalongs and twelve one-month readalongs.  I've only participated in one readalong, but I found it to be a great way to tackle intimidating books.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by Betty Smith
published 1943
completed October 2010

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn centers around the family of Francie Nolan.  She grows up in poverty with her mother Katie, as the primary bread-winner; an alcoholic father, Johnny; and a brother Neeley, a year younger than her.

I have sat down several times and tried to create a post that would share my thoughts on this books, but it has been so difficult.  I finished it two months ago and I just don't know what to say.  Not much happens in this novel, but the characters are what make it beautiful.  Francie is the center of the novel, and I love her.  She begins as the fragile little baby who barely survives and transforms into this confident, independent woman who is in a position to succeed.  Her life is exceedingly difficult.  I can't even imagine dealing with some of her challenges, but she remains optimistic.  She avoids the bitterness that so often envelops people who have suffered.

It would be so easy to hate Johnny, a drunkard father who can't provide for his family.  I couldn't hate him.  He was trapped by his alcoholism and sorrow.  Besides not providing for his family, he was the best father he could be, considering his circumstances.  The relationship he had with Francie was precious.  She needed that extra attention because her mother didn't love her enough.  The scene at her graduation with the roses was one of the most poignant in the book.

My only complaint, which is tiny, is that the back-story of Francie's extended family slowed down the pace.   I understand the importance that the information played in creating understanding and empathy for the characters, but they seemed a little more drawn out than necessary.

The fact that I related so much to Francie made this book so memorable to me.  I know how she felt.  I grew up poor, not to the extent of Francie, but we were barely able to meet our needs let alone wants.  I too was driven to obtain an education so that I could avoid the same fate for my future family.  My parents never had to worry about me because I was self-motivated.  I feel like my parents focused on the other children in my family because they needed it more than I did.  I wasn't noticed for consistently perfect marks while my brother was lavished with praise for simply graduating high school.  My parents were unable to help me financially so I paid my own way through college by scholarships, working part-time during school, and working full-time during the summer.  It was tough, but there was a happy ending for me.

If you've read the book, you can see why my heart went out to Francie, and I had mild contempt for Katie (as a mother, I can't understand how one child can be favored above another).  Although the reader doesn't see the end result for Francie, I knew when I finished that she would have a happy ending too.  Francie has to succeed because she wouldn't settle for failure.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is beautifully written.  I don't know how Betty Smith managed to write a book that involves such difficult subject matters and not have it turn out to be depressing, but rather thought-provoking and hopeful.  I wish I hadn't waited so long to read it.  If you haven't read it already, you really should.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter Reading List

I was reading Padfoot and Prongs and they posted a photo of their Winter Reading Lists and encouraged their readers to do the same.  I thought it would be fun.  I've been trying to stock up on library books because my local library is going to be closed from December 24th through January 7th.  Two whole weeks!  What am I to do?  As these are all library books that have a plastic cover over them, it might be difficult to read the titles.

*Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
*Castle Dor by Daphne Du Maurier with Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
*The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
*The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman
*Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
*Beloved by Toni Morrison
*Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
*The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
*Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

I'm currently about one-third of the way through Anna Karenina, but I'm trying to read other books while making my way through it.  I'm really enjoying it, but I can only take Levin's farming chapters in small doses.  Have you read any of these?  Any recommendations on which to pick up first?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis

The Last Battle

by C. S. Lewis
published 1956
completed December 2010

The Last Battle opens with the introduction of two new characters--a donkey named Puzzle, and an ape named Shift.  Shift and Puzzle are friends, or so it seems.  Shift is a manipulator and takes advantage of the less intelligent Puzzle.  Shift finds a lion pelt and convinces the donkey to wear it as a part of his plan to deceive the people of Narnia.  With Puzzle acting as Aslan, Shift convinces the Narnians that things are changing in the land and they need to follow him as the mouthpiece of Aslan.  King Tirian, the current King of Narnia, discovers this and fights to save his land from the Calormenes--people of a neighboring land--and Shift.  Jill and Eustace again come to help save Narnia.

I have mixed feelings about this book.  There is a very different tone to this one; it is decidedly darker.  The earlier books of the series had characters and situations that were comedic to lighten the feel.  Not in The Last Battle.  The dark clouds dissipate in the final few chapters, but the ending is bittersweet.  *spoiler*  The Narnian world has ended, and all of the "friends of Narnia" have died.  The only one left behind is Susan, who has forgetten about her time in Narnia, and now she's alone in the world with no family.

I know there are many who are angered with the situation with Susan.  It doesn't bother me as much as my perception of what happened is slightly different than some.  I don't take the train crash to mean that Aslan/Jesus wanted that to happen. Tragedies happen in life and they aren't meant to be intentional or punishments.  Susan isn't with her family in Narnia, but I don't think that she is forever excluded.  I think it is left open that should she remember her past, she would be accepted.  I'm not trying to make any general assumptions about religion.  I'm simply giving my opinion on what possibilities there are within the world that C. S. Lewis created.

The scenes with Emeth were some of my favorites.  Emeth was a Calormene who sought to do what was right.  He was angry that his people were trying to overtake the Narnians by deceit rather than an open battle.  I love the exchange between Emeth and Aslan.  Although he worshiped Tash, he was not excluded. What mattered was what was in his heart.  Whether he believed in Aslan or not, because of the courageous and honorable person that he was inside, he was allowed in.

This book was an interesting end to the series.  I haven't read The Magician's Nephew nor The Horse and His Boy yet.  I think I missed some things in this book by not reading them first.  I don't agree with everything that C. S. Lewis portrays here about Christianity, but I have respect for him and his desire to share his belief of a loving God through this series.  He created a wonderful world that I'm looking forward to sharing with my children.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis

The Silver Chair

by C. S. Lewis
published 1953
completed December 2010

My feverish pace through The Chronicles of Narnia continues with The Silver Chair. Eustace Stubbs, the cousin of the Pevensie children, is at the Experiment House, a school overwhelmed by bullies.  Eustace approaches Jill, another victim, and he tells her of Narnia and together they ask for Aslan's help.  The find a door and enter in an attempt to hide from the bullies and find themselves on a cliff.  Jill is given a quest by Aslan to find Prince Rilian.

I love the new Eustace.  He is brave and compassionate.  His transformation is incredibly from the grouchy, selfish little boy at the beginning of The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader".  The dynamic between he and Jill keeps things interesting as they bicker, but Eustace also is very protective of her.  Along their journey they meet a Marsh-Wiggle named Puddleglum.  The glum part of his name is appropriate as his is a rather pessimistic fellow, and as such, surprisingly entertaining.

The traveling on the quest was a bit of a slog, but once they reached the city of giants, the pace picked up. Jill's interaction with Aslan was my favorite part.  I love how he had so much patience with her.  She continue to forget the signs, which made it more difficult for her, but there was always another way provided.  He never gave up on her and continually gave her the chance to prove herself, and she ultimately did.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" by C. S. Lewis

The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader"

by C. S. Lewis
published 1952
completed December 2010

Three down, four to go.  The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" was quite different than the two previous books.  True to Aslan's word, Peter and Susan did not return the world of Narnia.  Edmund and Lucy were staying at their cousin Eustace Stubbs home, when they and their cousin were transported in dramatic fashion to the magical world. They ended up in the sea near a Narnian boat and were happy to find King Caspian aboard on a mission.  Their mission was to find the seven lords that were sent off by his wicked Uncle Miraz.  Their journey takes them to many different lands as they search for the lords and experience unique adventures along the way.

I loved that The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" left Narnia and explored more of the magical world.  We were able to learn of the lands surrounding Narnia as they travel about in the Dawn Treader.  Their seemed to be a physical voyage as well as personal voyages.  Many of the characters had experiences that helped them overcome a particular weakness as they were guided by Aslan.

One of my favorite parts was transformation of Eustace throughout the story.  As the cousin of the Pevensie children, he starts off as a brute--constantly teasing them when he over hears them talk of Narnia.  When he is first taken to Narnia, he is angry and selfish.  His diary entries made me laugh.  It was interesting to see things through his eyes.  When they were rationing water and Lucy gave him some of her share, she told him it was because girls didn't need as much water.  His reply was that he knew they didn't and someone should make King Caspian aware of that fact.  There was never a thank you.  Once he had the misfortune to be turned into a dragon, his experience changed him.  He realized that he needed the others.  Aslans assistance in transforming back in to a boy was magical and very moving.  Eustace matured and began to show courage and consideration for others throughout the remainder of the journey.

One of my favorite characters, Reepicheep the valiant mouse, plays an important role in this installment.  His courage is heartwarming as well as his ability to inspire those around him.  I loved his ending!  I will miss him in the books that follow.

The movie adaptation will be out next week (I think?) and I held off watching the trailer until after finishing the book.  It looks fantastic!  It looks like they amped up the action quite a bit! I'm sure there are things that were changed, as with most book to movie adaptations, but I'm excited to see it nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis

Prince Caspian

by C. S. Lewis
published 1951
completed November 2010

I'm a little behind on my reading schedule for Narnia Week, but I finally finished Prince Caspian tonight.  It begins with the Pevensie children waiting at a train station in England on their way back to boarding school.  They are suddenly transported to a strange land.  They later discover that it is Narnia in ruins, hundreds or maybe thousands of year after they left, while it has only been a year's time in England.  Narnia is barely recognizable and they have found that they have returned to help restore Narnia to how it once was, and place Prince Caspian as the rightful king.

I was a tad underwhelmed by this one, I'm sad to say.  It read quickly, but while reading the middle section of them travelling through the woods, my eyes started to glaze over.  Not much really happens, but the magical world is still wonderful.  I love the quirky characters.  I think Reepicheep was my favorite of the new characters--the incredibly courageous mouse.  I love how Peter evolved in this book.  He seemed to mature into a brave leader.  I love Lucy and her interactions with Aslan.  It took great strength for her to stand up to the others to do what she knew was right.

As a mom, I'm glad that I'm reading The Chronicles of Narnia so that I can share it with my children.  I wish I had read it as a child because I think I would have appreciated it more.  It is written to a younger audience.  It is still a worthwhile read.  Now that I've read it I can watch the movie!  I imagined Prince Caspian a little younger, but I won't complain about having to look at Ben Barnes for two hours.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
by C. S. Lewis
published 1950
completed November 2010

Literary Omnivore is hosting Narnia Week.  I have only read two of the seven books, so I thought it would be fun to participate.  I knew I would just be finishing The Odyssey and would need something a little lighter.  Per recommendation, I am starting with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  The Magician's Nephew and The Horse and His Boy will be read after the other five.

I read most of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in one sitting and I really enjoyed it.  The writing is simple and straight forward, but the story is fantastic.  I love the dynamic between the children, and I love how the narrator speaks directly to the reader.  Even the minor characters are wonderful.  I can see how children love being pulled into this magical world.

I know some are bothered by the parallels of Christian theology, but they aren't overpowering.  If you aren't a Christian, I don't think it is distracting at all.  It's simply a story of good versus evil as well as a story of love and forgiveness in a magical world.

I'm trying to get my eight-year old to read it.  I think he would love it if he gave it a try.  Maybe I'll just have to read it aloud until he gets hooked.  That worked for Harry Potter!  Off to read Prince Caspian.

The Odyssey Readalong Part IV

I finished!  I'm really surprised that I kept up with all of the reading each week.  This week starts off with Penelope meeting Odysseus, disguised as a beggar.  She treats him kindly and asks him about himself and of her husband.  Odysseus makes up another long-winded lie about his back story and himself, as the beggar, meeting Odysseus.  He is then bathed by his old nurse Eurycleia, and she recognizes him because of the scar on his leg.

Sorta random tangent, I got a bit behind this week and didn't start my reading until Friday.  I had to laugh when I got to the part about the bath with Eurycleia mixing the hot water with the cold to bathe him.  Thanksgiving morning our hot water heater went out and we had to boil water to take showers.  I also had to handwash all of my china for dinner by boiling water and mixing it with cold.  It took forever.  No wonder people rarely bathed back then.  It is huge pain!

Back to the summary.  So Odysseus doesn't want Penelope to know that he has returned so he makes Eurycleia promise to keep his secret.  Penelope sets up a test of skill for the next day saying that whichever suitor can string Odysseus' bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axes, she would marry.  They all attempt, and none can even string the bow.  Odysseus strings the bow with ease and shoots through the twelve axes, and the blood bath begins.  All of the suitors are killed--some more gorily than others.  Anyone else grossed out by what they did to Melanthius?  They cut of his ears, nose, hands, feet, and genitals--they kindly gave the dogs the genitals to eat (eww!)  They then have the maids who were traitors, clean up the mess and then proceed to kill the maids.  Odysseus reveals himself to Penelope and she tests him to make sure that it is truly Odysseus.  

The last book has a scene from the Underworld.  Agamemnon meets the suitors as they are complaining that Penelope is a wench and tricked them and Odysseus unfairly killed them.  He doesn't seem to be the one to complain to considering his wife Clymenestra was unfaithful and killed him upon his return from the war in Troy.  Lets just say they don't get much sympathy from Agamemnon.  He praises the fortitude of Penelope and the revenge of Odysseus.  Odysseus travels to meet his father.  He tests him first, then reveals himself and they rejoice together.  We then switch to the family members of the suitors weeping for their sons, and they decide to avenge their deaths by killing Odysseus.  Another fight ensues, Zeus puts end to it, and everyone lives happily ever after.

So...kind of weird ending.  It really should have ended with Book 23.  Besides the reunion with the father, the rest kind of Book 24 seemed pointless.  I didn't really get why Odysseus had to test his father.  Did he think he would have turned against him?  That really didn't make sense to me.

I don't have much else to say about it besides the fact that I'm very glad that I joined the read-along.  I wouldn't have picked this up on my own.  I was incredibly intimidated by The Odyssey, but discovered very quickly that there was no reason to be.  A big thanks to Trish at Love, Laughter and Touch of Insanity for hosting it.  I even asked for The Iliad for Christmas.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Odyssey Readalong Part III

This week was books 13 through 18.  I'm surprised that I have kept up with the schedule.  Only six more books to go!  Odysseus finally sets sail from Phaeacia and makes it to Ithaca laden with treasure.  He arrives while asleep and the Phaeacians somehow remove him from the boat without waking him.  Wow, he must be a deep sleeper!  Athena plays a trick on him and makes the land seem different to Odysseus' sight when he finally awakens and he thinks that he has been left on a foreign land.  I'm not quite sure what the point of that was, but she tells him he's in Ithaca and lays out her plan for him.  She wants to disguise him so that he can seek his revenge on the suitors before they know that he has arrived home.  She clothes him like a beggar and sends him to the swineherd, Eumaeus to seek shelter.

Athena sends Telemachus home and helps him to avoid the ambush of the suitors.  Telemachus goes to the swineherd and meets Odysseus, disguised as a stranger.  When Odysseus is alone with his son, Athen removes the disguise and Odysseus reveals himself.  Father and Son have a sweet reunion and together plan their revenge.  They eventually make it to the palace and Odysseus, disguised as a beggar again, verbally spars with the suitor.  He is taunted by another beggar, Irus, and the suitors challenge them to fight one another, and Irus is decimated.  The suitors have all gone home and Odysseus is soon to meet with Penelope, still disguised as a beggar.

What surprised me most about these six books is that Odysseus is an incredible liar.  He can come up with the most intricate stories on the spot.  Athena even complimented him on his lying skills when he first arrived in Ithaca.
Any man--any god who met you--would have to be some champion lying cheat to get past you for all-round craft and guile!  You terrible man, foxy, ingenious, never tired of twists and tricks--so, not even here, on native soil, would you give up those wily tales that warm the cockles of your heart.  Come, enough of this now.  We're both old hands at the arts of intrigue.  Here among mortal men you're far the best at tactics, spinning yarns...
I really do wonder how much of the tale he shared in Phaeacia is true if Athena accuses him of "wily tales."  He seems to enjoy painting himself as a hero.  It seems to me that Athena is implying that he likes to embellish a bit.

I'm excited to read the next six books.  The time for Odysseus and Telemachus' revenge on the suitors is fast approaching, and I'm curious to see how it all plays out.

For more readalong posts, visit Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Odyssey Readalong Part II

It's that time again to check in with The Odyssey Readalong.  This week was books seven through twelve.   Action and stupidity abound!  In book seven, Odysseus finally makes it to the palace of Alcinous.  The following day, the Phaeacians organize contests so they can demonstrate to Odysseus their excellence in sports.  Odysseus was exhausted and declined to participate and Broadsea began to taunt him.  He accused him saying that not being "skilled in games" was the reason that he wouldn't join in.  Of course Odysseus is fired up by this comment and comes back at him with this retort.
Indecent talk my friend.  You, you're a reckless fool--I see that.  So, the gods don't hand out all their gifts at once, not build and brains and flowing speech to all.  One man may fail to impress us with his looks but a god can crown his words with beauty, charm, and men look on with delight when he speaks out.  never faltering, filled with winning self-control, he shines forth at assembly grounds and people gaze at him like a god when he walks through the streets.  Another man may look like a deathless one on high but there's not a bit of grace to crown his words.  Just like you, my fine, handsome friend.  Not even a god could improve those lovely looks of yours but the mind inside is worthless.
I love it!  Men!  They are so ridiculous sometimes.  Odysseus now can't pass up a chance to show off a bit.  He chucks the discus much farther than any one else in Phaeacia.

After the sport, they gather again to listen to the bard.  Odysseus finally reveals himself and they beg him to share the tales of his adventures after leaving Troy.  The first is his encounter with the lotus-eaters.  Those who ate the lotus lost all thoughts of home.  Odysseus had to drag them back to the ship against their will.  Next they met Cyclops who was not inclined to visitors and decided to make a meal of Odysseus' crew.  After a few were eaten, a plan was formulated to stab the Cyclops' eye.  I love Oysseus' cleverness in telling Polyphemus his name was Nobody.  When his fellow Cyclops told hear him scream and asked him who was with him and he kept answering, "Nobody's killing me."

He next reaches the home of Aeolus who gave a sack of winds so that he could make safe passage home.  The jealousy of his men, assuming the sack was treasure, led them to unleash the winds that sent them back to Aeolus.  Aeolus would not assist them again for fear that Odysseus was cursed.  They then met Circe, "the nymph with the lovely braids" who turned some of his men to swine.  Odysseus outsmarted Circe with the aid of Hermes and she return his men to him.

Next they traveled to the House of Death to question the great seer Tiresias.  He met many of the dead.  The interaction between Odysseus and his mother was touching as she said that she died because of her longing for him to return home.  The exchange between he and Agamemon's ghost was interesting as we learn more about the circumstances of his death when he returned home to Clytemnestra.

They pass by the sirens safely, with wax in their ears and Odysseus strapped to the mast.  They pass Scylla, a monster with six heads guaranteed to eat six men on their journey by her crag.  They next reach on an island with the sun god's cattle.  They are warned to not kill the cattle, but do they listen?  No, of course they don't.  His men are so hard-headed sometimes!  Zeus then destroys their ship and only Odysseus survives, as prophesied by Tiresias.  Big surprise!

I loved these six books.  The pace was quick and the only time it slowed was in book eleven while Odysseus was visiting with the dead.  So many names are mentioned and I'm not familiar enough with other Greek literature to make much sense of how their stories connect.  It did spark an interest within me to learn more.

I mentioned in my last post my eight-year-old son's interest in The Odyssey.  I had forgotten how violent it was.  Yikes!  Fine for a teenager or adult, but not so much for a boy of eight.  I checked out the first three books of the Percy Jackson series from the library, but he doesn't want to read them because it's not The Odyssey.  Shelley (Book Clutter) mentioned in the comments last week that Mary Pope Osborne has written a children's version of The Odyssey.  I offered to order them for him, but he wants to read the real thing.  So stubborn!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road

by Cormac McCarthy
published 2006
completed October 2010

I've been wanting to read this book for a while.  I've seen it everywhere.  I finally found it at my teeny tiny library.  I happened to be there when someone returned it.  I gladly snapped it up and took it home.  As a bit of background, as a reader, I like to know as little as possible about a book before I read it.  I don't read the book jackets or summaries on Amazon.  I read blog posts on books, but always skip the summaries if it is a book that I know I want to read.  I like to be surprised.  And surprised I was when I started reading The Road.  I was already in bed and had just finished another book.  I picked The Road up with the intention of only reading for a few minutes.  I think I got through the first page before turning to my husband and saying, "This book is not about what I expected."  I know it's strange, but I love being caught off-guard like that.

The Road is about a post-apocalyptic world.  It's been many years since a disaster destroyed the earth and the narrator and his son are traveling south on the road during the winter.  Not much actually happens during the book, but there is a built-in suspense based on the fear of what could happen.  Will they find food?  Will they run into others?  Will they find shelter from the snow?

I have mixed feelings about this book.  It was a compelling read, but I don't know how satisfied I felt at the end. I'm sure there are some that say that the ending is bittersweet, but I see it as utterly hopeless.  They are still facing the same challenges as at the beginning.

Throughout the book there are no quotation marks.  I understand that this is a stylistic choice by the author, but that combined with two unnamed male main characters (and many other minor male characters), resulted in confusion.  You get "he said..." and "he said..." for an entire page and it starts to get confusing as to which "he" the author is referring.  I found myself breaking the flow of my reading to go back and re-read passages because I couldn't tell who was doing or saying what.

Part of my hesitation with recommending this book is the content.  There are deeply disturbing things happening in this book.  At one particularly disturbing passage about two-thirds through the book, I had to literally put the book down and walk away from it for a while.  The Road portrays a disconcerting view of human nature.  I'm more optimistic in my own views of humanity so it didn't seem as realistic.

The Road won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007.  I can understand how people are moved by this book.  I was more disturbed by it than anything.  It's not one of my favorites, but I don't regret reading it.  I don't think it is for everyone because of the disturbing subject matter, but it is a worthwhile read.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Odyssey Readalong Part I

My first post for my first readalong!  I have always been intimidated by The Odyssey, but I am glad that I decided to join.  It is so much more accessible than I expected.  I am reading the Fagles translation, and I find the story fascinating and the writing beautiful.

Odysseus has not yet returned home to Ithaca from the war in Troy.  Suitors are vying for the affection of his wife Penelope, and his son Telemachus is concerned at the financial cost of them all staying in their palace.  Athena comes disguised and convinces Telemachus to confront the suitors and to take action to find whether his father is dead.  Telemachus takes to the seas with a crew and Athena aboard and visits Nestor, then Menelaus seeking news of his father.  The Gods convene at Mount Olympus to discuss the fate of Odysseus and at the persuasion of Athena, Hermes is sent to free him from the island of Calypso, the nymph holding him captive.  He makes a raft to sail from the island and is met with a raging storm sent by Poseidon still angry with Odysseus for blinding his Cyclops son.  With the aid of Athena, Odysseus makes it to shore and meets the Phaeacian princess Nausicaa.

I was surprised at how involved the Gods were in the lives of the mortals.  Athena has been involved in helping Telemachus, Penelope, and Odysseus in the first six books.  It's hard to say whether in the end her interference will ultimately help Odysseus and his family.  I think there is something strange about her sending Telemachus to find out about his father when she already knew where he was and that he was alive.  I'm afraid Athena has an agenda of her own.

As I was reading this week, my 8-year-old son asked me about the book.  I thought it was strange because he usually doesn't take interest in what I'm reading.  I started to tell him the story and he was fascinated.  He was in bed already and he told me to go read some more and tell him what happened in the morning.  It's fun sharing this experience with him.  It is quite the adventurous story and I can see why he is interested.  He has continued to ask me questions about it and even had me start to read it to him one night.  It was a unique experience reading it out loud.  It made me realize how important it is to pay attention to not just the story, but the beauty of the writing.  I'm excitedly looking forward to the next six books.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

More Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl

More Tales of the Unexpected

by Roald Dahl
published 1980
completed October 2010

I picked this up to fulfill the "All in the Family" part of the Take Another Chance Challenge hosted by Jenners of Life With Books.  I read a book by Roald Dahl's granddaughter Sophie Dahl then I picked up one of his.  This was my first experience with his short stories for adults.

I was slightly disappointed in this collection.  It was fun to see Roald Dahl write for adults.  These stories are full of quirky characters.  There is no doubt that he is a great, imaginative writer, but there wasn't anything particularly memorable about these short stories.  They were fun to read, but they didn't live up to my expectations of Roald Dahl that were formed as a child.

A bit of a tangent here, but his children's books are magical.  I still vividly remember all of the books of his that I read.  They made such an impression on me.  Over the past years I've been reading them with my children and I have loved revisiting those stories.  They have held up to my adult scrutiny, and I can say that I probably love them more now than I did as a child.

More Tales of the Unexpected was fun to read, but I don't know if you need to rush out and get it.  It wouldn't be a book to purchase, but maybe to borrow or check out from the library.  Now his children's books--go buy them all!  They are fabulous!  You will love them and if you have children, they will love them as well.  

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones's Diary

by Helen Fielding
published 1996
completed September 2010

I picked this book up for part of the Take Another Chance Challenge hosted by Jenners.  This particular entry requires reading two books, one of which is inspired by the other.  I chose to read Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones's Diary.

Bridget Jones is a single woman in her 30's.  The new year has begun and she is using her diary to keep track of her progress on the requisite New Year's resolutions.  She wants to lose weight, drink less, stop smoking, and find a decent boyfriend.

It's difficult to review this book without comparing it to it's inspiration, Pride and Prejudice.  Although the story lines are similar, these books are very different.  While there is humor in both, Austen tends to be more witty, while Fielding's book has a more a slapstick feel.  I did laugh out loud a few times reading Bridget Jones's Diary, but the book as a whole felt superficial.  There is much more depth to Jane Austen's novel and it is a book that has been memorable to me.

Bridget is a quirky girl, afraid of dying alone--drastically different than Elizabeth Bennet, who is fiercely independent.   Bridget also seemed shallow.  Bridget was always embarrassing herself which made for a good laugh but I didn't emotionally connect with her as I did Elizabeth.  I also didn't feel like Bridget did anything to deserve Mark Darcy's affections, while I can completely understand how Mr. Darcy fell in love with Elizabeth.

It's really unfair to compare a contemporary novel to an adored classic, especially since the classic is my favorite book.  On it's own, Bridget Jones's Diary is entertaining.  It's not a book that I was really sucked into.  The humor that caught me off guard with laughs at the beginning, was tiring by the end.  It would be a fun vacation or beach read, but I wouldn't recommend it on any other level.

Classics Challenge Wrap-Up

I completed my very first book blog challenge!  I participated in the Classics Challenge hosted by Trish.  I read six classics and a bonus.  When first signing up for the Challenge, Trish asked us to share a book that we thought would become a future classic.  She listed these recommendations on the sidebar and we could choose to read one of these for a bonus.  Below is a list of the books that I read for the Challenge.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (as future classic bonus)

Besides Pride and Prejudice, these books were all first-time reads for me.  I think my favorite out of the new books would have to be The Woman in White.  I loved the mystery and the twists and turns that the novel took.  It also had an incredible cast of characters.  My least favorite was The Turn of the Screw.  I think my expectations let me down on this one.  Every review I had read mentioned how scary it was, and I just didn't find it frightening.  It was slightly haunting and has an ambiguous ending, but I didn't feel any emotional connection to the story.

I love reading classics, so I wasn't surprised by how much I enjoyed this challenge.  If Trish decides to host again, I will be sure to join in the fun.

Monday, October 25, 2010

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

East of Eden

by John Steinbeck
published 1952
completed October 2010

I had forgotten how much I love Steinbeck!  Reading East of Eden brought back fond memories of when I was required to read The Grapes of Wrath over the summer before my junior year in high school.  We had a paper due the first week of school.  I remember all of my friends griping and groaning about having to read it, but I loved it.  I checked East of Eden out from the library two other times over the past few years but failed to read it before it needed to be returned.  I think I was intimidated by the length, but now I wish I had read it years ago.

East of Eden covers three generations of the Trask Family, the Hamilton Family, and the Ames Family.  Their stories are individual until Adam meets Cathy, and subsequently moves to the Salinas Valley in Northern California.  As you can imagine from the title, the stories parallel the stories of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, as told in the Bible.

The characterization is so rich and deep.  I adored Lee, the Chinese servant of Adam Trask.  He was so wise yet humble and was wonderful father figure to the Trask boys, Aron and Cal.  Samuel Hamilton was another favorite character with his compassion for everyone.  He was an incredible friend to Adam when Adam most needed one.  Cathy is also a memorable character as she is probably the most cold-hearted and calculating character I have ever read on page.  I came to know these characters so deeply that I could anticipate their reactions to different situations.  I knew how the story would end, but it didn’t bother me.  It was not predictable because the plot was driving the story, but because the characters were.

Steinbeck’s writing is subtle but powerful.  Although there are parallels to Bible stories, don’t fear reading it if you are not religious.  It merely uses the Bible to outline a story of the struggle between good and evil.  It's a tale of morality and poses the question of whether our actions are a result of our nature or if we have a choice.  It also explores family relationships, especially between fathers and sons, and between siblings.  There are examples of love and hate, acceptance and rejection, as well as compassion and apathy and we see the affects of such interactions play out over the generations.   The ending made my heartache, but it was touching.

East of Eden is over 600 pages, but it did not feel that way.  It read so quickly and I didn’t want to put it down.   It has characters that come alive and is thought-provoking.  Even two weeks after its completion, I often find my thoughts wandering to this story and its characters.  It is now in my top ten of the best books I have ever read.  I would highly recommend this to anyone.