Friday, December 30, 2011

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Oscar Wilde
published 1891
completed November 2011

The Picture of Dorian Gray centers around Dorian Gray. Shocking, right? Basil Howard, a talented artist paints a portrait of Dorian. Lord Henry happens to visit during one of these sittings and Dorian is fascinated by Lord Henry's hedonistic lifestyle. Upon completion of the painting Dorian expresses that he would trade his soul for the painting to take the signs of his aging so that he could forever remain in his current state of beauty. His wish is granted.

The hedonism espoused by Lord Henry inspires Dorian to a life of narcissism and debauchery. People find difficulty reconciling Dorian's outward appearance with the whispering they hear about his personal life. It's thought-provoking to consider the affect of that kind of lifestyle. It seemed to snowball for Dorian. His depravity started out simple until he got to the point where nothing was unthinkable. Once someone goes down that road, how easy is it to go back to respectability? Dorian tried, and it seemed like he could, but inside he hadn't changed. He couldn't seem to evoke any true concern for anyone outside of himself.

I can't pretend that I understand all or even a small amount of what Wilde meant by this book. I found it dark and intriguing. Despite this being a novella of less than two hundred pages, it's a dense read. It took much longer for me to read than expected, but I did really enjoyed it (with the exception of one chapter detailing tapestries and jewels). Wilde's writing is superb, and as such, there are no throw away lines. It was a slow read for me as it took time to digest almost nearly every sentence. I look forward to reading this one again to hopefully pick up more insight into its meaning.

Have you read The Picture of Dorian Gray? What did you think? Any insights you'd like to share?

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens
published 1850
completed December 2011

This book took me forever to read. I had good intentions of reading it with Adam of Roof Beam Reader when he hosted a readalong in July. I really did try. I got about 100 pages in then decided to shelve it for later. I read bits of it here and there over the next few months then finally finished it only a couple of weeks ago.

My choice to read it at such a slow and stretched out pace, detracted from the book for me. I really loved the second half, but I think my experience with the first half was lessened by my haphazard approach. I am my own worst enemy sometimes.

David Copperfield is narrated by Mr. Copperfield himself, and the story begins just before his birth. There is an enormous cast of characters, sometimes difficult to keep straight, taking part in numerous side stories. At first, I had difficulty making much sense of where the story seemed to be going and why all of these characters were being introduced. By the end, it all made sense. The conclusion of the story was perfect.

One of the many themes of David Copperfield was marriage. There are so many different examples of marriages, some of which work, and others that have devastating affects. Mothers also play an important role throughout the story, and again, we see many different types of mothers and the resulting consequences. Love in general was discussed towards the end, and David Copperfield ruminates on how it changes as we age. So true. Our first young love, all giggles and blushing, is much different than a more mature love of two people who are ready to share a life together.

The writing was wonderful, such a great mix of humor, and touching moments, both sweet and sad. By the end, I was underlining so many passages. As is typical in a Dickens novel, there are numerous memorable characters. Mr. Micawber was a favorite, with his passion for writing letters providing much of the comic relief. I also loved the descriptions of Traddles' hair. I loved Betsey Trotwood and her transformation throughout. Watching David Copperfield grow up and mature, was delightful. Earlier in the year I read Oliver Twist, and I had difficulty relating to Oliver because he seemed too perfect. David Copperfield is not perfect. He makes mistakes, gets taken advantage of, but learns from his experiences and becomes an amazing man and husband.

I completely understand why Dickens would consider David Copperfield his best. It was difficult to see where it was going, but by the end, I was amazed at how well all of the pieces of this well-crafted story fit together. It's a long one that requires a bit of attention during slower times, but I really enjoyed the journey of reading this one. Highly recommended for lovers of classics.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fall on Your Knees by Ann Marie-McDonald

Fall on Your Knees

by Ann-Marie McDonald
published 1996
completed November 2011

This had been on my TBR list forever, so I was extremely excited when I found a copy about a year ago at a charity shop. It's a thick one, so I kept putting it off, but I added to my list for Roof Beam Reader's 2011 TBR Pile Challenge in an effort to force myself to delve in. It was worth it.

Fall on Your Knees follows multiple generations of the Piper family. I don't really want to say much about the plot because I think there is more impact in reading it as it unfolds. This is my kind of book. It's character-driven, and the writing is beautiful. Dealing with abuse, you'd expect it to be depressing. At times it is, but not because MacDonald manipulates you into feeling that way. It only felt depressing because I loved these characters and empathized with the situations in which they found themselves. What is truly heart-breaking is that these characters don't even seem to recognize how difficult a life they have. About half-way in, I had to put it down for a few weeks because it was weighing heavily on me. You have to be in the right mood for this.

One of the interesting themes that runs throughout is that of secrets. The Piper family is full of them. Francis particularly has a secret that is kept from the age of four or five. How horrifying to carry that weight. Each secret was kept with the assumption that they were protecting someone, but it only served to further divide an already broken family. Some secrets the reader is privy to, but one in particular mystery is carried throughout the book. The last hundred pages or so allow the reader to finally see the entire picture. The story is so incredibly well-crafted that the ending left me completely satisfied. Not happy, because it's not that kind of book, but in awe of the story that MacDonald weaved.

Its subject is dark, but Ann-Marie MacDonald writes an incredibly moving tale. It's quite the roller coaster ride with many highs and lows, but in all honestly, many more lows. If your heart can handle reading about abuse (never really graphic), in many horrifying forms, I would highly recommend Fall on Your Knees.

Have you read Fall on Your Knees? What did you think? Particularly about the ending?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What's in a Name 4 Wrap-Up

This is my second time participating in Beth Fish Reads What's in a Name Challenge. It is one of my favorites. It's always fun trying to find book titles to fit in with the different categories. Here is my completed list, linked to my reviews.

  1. Number--The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  2. Gem--The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
  3. Size--Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  4. Travel or Movement--Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  5. Evil--Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  6. Life Stage--Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Four Mini-Reviews of Really Great Books

Brideshead Revisited

by Evelyn Waugh
published 1945
completed May 2011

Brideshead Revisited starts with Charles Ryder coming upon Brideshead, a huge estate, at a time when the British military has taken it over. Memories rush in of a time when he was young and was swept into the life of the upper-class family who owned Brideshead. It's is a tale of heartache for almost all involved. I ended up not knowing quite what to think of Charles Ryder--his motives are ambiguous. The theme of religion, specifically Catholicism, is thought-provoking throughout the book, as much is discussed of the pressure that religion places on families. Waugh's writing is brilliant, and the characters are memorable, particularly Sebastian and his mother. Highly recommended.

**I did watch the 2008 movie adaptation, and was surprised that they changed some major plot points. The movie by itself was great, but not a fair representation some of the pivotal relationships in the book.

Girl with a Pearl Earring

by Tracy Chevalier
published 1999
completed October 2011

Girl with a Pearl Earring is a fictionalized account of the story behind the famous painting by Vermeer as featured on the book's cover. Griet is sent to become at maid at Vermeer's home to help with her family's financial difficulties. Being Protestant, Griet finds it an adjustment to work in the home of Catholics. When cleaning Vermeer's studio, she displays to him her unique eye for art, which begins to unravel a dramatic set of events. The story was compelling. Griet was young and naive. Watching her mature as she was forced into the adult world, learning to navigate these new situations she found herself in, not always successfully, was fascinating and heart-breaking. I highly recommend this one.

The Thirteenth Tale

by Diane Setterfield
published 2006
completed April 2011

Although there are several side stories in The Thirteenth Tale, the book centers around the mysterious author Vida Winter. During each interview, when asked about her personal history, Ms. Winter always tells a different story. None are believed to be true. When she takes ill, she seeks out Margaret Lea, for a unique reason, to which to write her biography. Once the stories of the family began, I was captivated. So eerie, unique, and disturbing. There are several shocking moments throughout the book that come out of nowhere, in a good way. As a ghost story, The Thirteenth Tale delivers. The writing, the characters, and the story are all top-notch. Go read it. Now!

Something Wicked This Way Comes

by Ray Bradbury
completed November 2011
published 1962

A traveling carnival comes to town. Two young friends, Will and Jim, sneak out in the middle of the night to visit it, only to discover that it is not quite what it seems. A unique cast of terrifyingly evil characters are operating the carnival, and the young friends get sucked into a chilling battle of good and evil. It took me a little while to get in sync with the writing on this one, but once I did, I really enjoyed it. The writing is beautiful, and at times poetic. I read this around Halloween, and it was perfect. Very creepy story, exceptional characters, and an amazingly fast paced ending. Most definitely recommended.

**Trying to wrap-up a few challenges so there might be more than one post a day. Sorry! Thanks for understanding.

The TBR Double Dare

I decided to sign up for one more challenge this year. I'm doing The TBR Double Dare hosted by C. B. James of, Ready When You Are, C. B. I have soooo many books on my shelf that I really need to read. I've been acquiring books over the past couple of years at a ridiculous rate so I really need to crack down and read what I have.

The challenge details and sign-up can be found here. The basics are that you are to read books that are in your possession as of midnight January 1, 2012 either on your personal shelves, checked out library books, or on your library hold list. The challenge runs from January 1 to April 1. I can do this! Join us. It should be fun. Won't it feel so good to have read more of the books we own that call to us from the bookshelves in our homes, begging to be read? C'mon, you know you want to.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Villette by Charlotte Brontë


by Charlotte Brontë
published 1853
completed December 2011

Villette has been sitting on my shelf for several years as part of a collection of Brontë novels. I didn't feel an urgency to get to it until I saw a post on it by Allie, of A Literary Odyssey. She loved it, so it got placed a little closer to the top of the pile. I've read Jane Eyre twice, and while I enjoyed it, I can't really say that I loved it. I can honestly say that I loved Villette. I rated it a 5 out of 5 on goodreads, and I don't do that often.

Lucy Snowe, orphaned at a young age, travels to a foreign land as a young adult. With no family to speak of, she seeks a situation that will allow her independence and finds a position teaching English at a school.  Lucy Snowe narrates as she looks back on her young life, often breaking the fourth wall to add retrospective insight to particular moments.

Unlike Jane Eyre, I wouldn't really call this a love story, although there is much talk of love. The focus of Villette is more on the protagonist's inner conflict. The following quote gives insight into her mindset.
Some lives are thus blessed: it is God's will: it is the attesting trace and lingering evidence of Eden. Other lives run from the first another course. Other travellers encounter weather fitful and gusty, wild and variable--breast adverse winds, are belated and overtaken by the early closing winter night.
It's apparent that she feels that she is one of those travelers to whom constant storms will arrive.She is isolated and lonely. Her sorrow and loss as a child has made her close herself off from others, and she is unable admit her need for love and friendship. Lucy feigns indifference when often there is inner struggle about her desire to express her feelings in many situations.

Despite all of her efforts to hide her emotions, Lucy finally allows some through in the second to last chapter, which I found utterly satisfying. It's a bit of a spoilery quote so beware, but I found it beautiful.
In such in adequate language my feelings struggled for expression: they could not get it; speech, brittle and unmalleable, and cold as ice, dissolved or shivered in the effort. He watched me still; he gently raised his hand to stroke my hair; it touched my lips in passing; I pressed it close, I paid it tribute. He was my king; royal for me had been that hand's bounty; to offer homage was both a joy and a duty.

The ending is ambiguous,which may bother some readers, but it felt right. The writing in Villette is exquisite. I found it a slow, but luxurious read, though very dark. There is an underlying sadness to this book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would highly recommend Villette with one caveat--it probably isn't for everyone (some find it boring), but it is certainly worth a try for any Brontë fan.

**Advanced warning that there may multiple posts over the next few days. I have a few challenges to wrap up, so forgive me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

by Jonathan Safran Foer
published 2005
completed June 2011

I'm finally getting around to writing my review on Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. This one is for Trish, of Love Laughter and a Touch of Insanity. I read it on her recommendation and she requested that I review it soon, so here goes. Her review is much better than mine, so make sure to check it out.

As most know, this book centers around Oskar Schell, a nine year-old who lost his father on 9/11. It also winds an additional narrative of a married couple with a strangely dysfunctional relationship. As the story unfolds, the reader discovers how these stories intersect.

Let me start by saying that I adored Oskar, despite him being extremely precocious. I rarely laugh out loud when reading, and the first few pages had me roaring (which garnered me a few strange looks from my husband). I found Oskar's method of pseudo-swearing hilarious. Jonathan Safran Foer created an incredibly believable voice for Oskar. He walked the line often between funny and heartbreaking. Every time Oskar had heavy boots, my heart ached.

The second narrative is where I started to have reservations. Oskar and his story felt real to me, but it was a stretch for me to believe many of the occurrences in the couple's narrative. For those who have read it, I particularly had difficulty with the "nothing" and "something" spaces, and the tattooed hands. I understand what they represent, and I respect what he was trying to evoke, but for me, the story would have rang more true if their situations hadn't seemed as contrived.

Foer's writing is impressive when he's describing the emotional impact of real-life situations. This is where he shines. Ultimately, this is a story about grief, and his choice to juxtapose Oskar's grief with the grief surrounding the aftermath of the Dresden bombings was brilliant. Sometimes I focus on the lives lost in these devastating wars or acts of violence, but those left behind are central to the story. It's heartbreaking to reflect on how the lives of the survivors are destroyed, and they have to find a way to rebuild themselves around their grief and loss.

The bottom line is that I didn't love this book, but I unequivocally do not regret reading it. Foer is a brilliant writer. The gimmicks and experimental nature of the book were a slight distraction to me from what could have been a book that I loved. Do not let my thoughts detract you from reading it. Many people love Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, for the very reasons that were drawbacks for me. I would highly recommend it, despite the fact that it didn't 100% work for me.

Have you read Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close? If so, what you think about Foer's unconventional approach?

Friday, November 18, 2011

2012 TBR Pile Challenge

Adam at Roof Beam Reader is hosting another TBR Pile Challenge for 2012. I am participating in his 2011 and loving it (four books to go--three of which I'm more than half way through [what is wrong with me?!?]), so I thought I'd jump in again. It's nice to tackle those books that I've been meaning to read forever, but have yet to take the time to read. I love that the list can't change, so I can't talk myself out of it! Below are the books I'm committing to read. For full rules pertaining to the challenge, click here.

My TBR List to Conquer

01.  Dracula by Bram Stoker
02.  Lord of the Flies by William Golding
03.  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
04.  Night by Elie Weisel
05.  The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
06.  Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
07.  Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
08.  The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
09.  Coraline by Neil Gaiman
10.  Howards End by E. M. Forster
11.  The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
12.  Looking for Alaska by John Green

1.  North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
2.  The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Will you join us? It'll be fun!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind

by Margaret Mitchell
published 1936
completed September 2011

Before I start the review, I just want to mention that the cover image is the same one that was on the book that I read. It was a copy that I borrowed from my library, and let me just say that I'm not a fan of that cover. What is up with Scarlett's hair? It's all whispy and looks like half of it has been burned off. Hideous, I tell you! Maybe I'm the only one that thinks so.

So, on to the book. I don't know if there is anyone alive that doesn't at least know the premise of Gone with the Wind. I'll just sum it up by saying it is a story of Scarlett O'Hara of Georgia and begins before the Civil War and continues through the Reconstruction. The scope of the novel is about ten years. I read a post by Jill of Fizzy Thoughts that made me laugh. She said that she hated Scarlett from the beginning (as did I). Click on over because she says it so much better than I can. Scarlett is awful! I kept hoping through the ten years of the story, she would have grown out of her selfishness, but no, she just seems to get worse. Despite not liking Scarlett, I actually like the novel (didn't love it though). I'm curious if there is anyone out there that actually liked Scarlett.

Gumption is often mentioned in this book as a positive trait. It is, to some extent, but where it starts to break down for me, is when morality is lost because of gumption. For example, is it okay to steal food from other so that you can survive. I'm not talking about stealing from the rich even, I'm talking about stealing from other poor who will likely starve without it? Scarlett was full of gumption; she was constantly pushing to ensure security for her family. But at what price? I think it's interesting in the end that there is much discussion about happiness. Scarlett is constantly in pursuit of what she thinks will make her happy, but what happens when she has it? Is she really happy? I'm sure you can guess what the answer is.

I know there are many who think Melanie as a character who is too unrealistic. I disagree. I have met people like her who are strong, but refuse to be dragged down into the muck. They see the good in others and are principled, yet kind. Some call people like Melanie naive, but I think she knew much more than she let on.

Having finished this behemoth of a book, I'm glad to have said that I've read it. I certainly won't be doing it again. The first half was a major slog. Once I hit about 500 pages in, it picked up and I read the rest fairly quickly. I'm a bit lukewarm on this one. I didn't find the writing anything special, not poorly written, but a little repetitive. I found the historical parts kind of boring. Historical fiction isn't a genre I generally enjoy, so out of personal preference, I was wishing those parts were more succinct.

Lastly, I watched the iconic movie a couple of days after finishing the book, and I was surprised by how much was changed. I found it interesting that they chose to leave out her first two children. For simplicity, I can see why, but I think showing how poorly she treats her first two children is quite an insight into her character. I found the movie a little slow and it took me a few days to watch it because of the length.

Am I blaspheming by saying I didn't love this? If you've read it, what are your thoughts on Gone with the Wind (especially Scarlett and Melanie)?

P. S. I still remember all of your recommendations on what to review! Thanks to everyone who responded. Life has hit me hard in the past few months, but I'm going to try to catch up. I'll definitely try to post reviews on the ones you requested first. Thanks!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley


by Mary Shelley
published 1818
completed October 2011

The Classics Circuit is back this month with a Gothic Literature theme. I knew I wanted to participate, but I knew I would have limited time. Thank heavens for short books! I wish I could say there was a meaningful reason why I selected Frankenstein, but aside from it being on my TBR list, it was a great length.

So, on to my thoughts. I've never seen a Frankenstein movie or even read any kind of children's version of it. I didn't really know what to expect, but I was still surprised by what I found. First, I thought that Frankenstein was the giant monster that was created (tell me I'm not the only one who didn't know this), but that is actually the name of the creator. I also assumed that it was an old decrepit mad scientist creating this being and not a handsome young gentleman with a loving family back home. My last false assumption was that this strange creation's main method of communication was grunting. Not so! He's actually a quite intelligent and eloquent speaker.

My strange assumptions aside, I was really surprised that this wasn't only a horror story. There are frightening things that happen, yes, but to me it was really a moral story. I still am torn as to what is really the truth in the story. The book is not a first-hand account, and at times it's even a re-telling of a re-telling. Interestingly, I also found the creator, Viktor Frankenstein unsympathetic. Yes, he was terrorized by this fiend, or daemon, as he called the monster, but it was a consequence of his own actions. Didn't he have a responsibility to this being that he created? I certainly think so, and he abdicated it and left the wretch alone to navigate a strange new world. It isn't surprising what happens when the monster attempts to introduce himself into society.

I know this isn't what Mary Shelley meant, but it made me think about myself as a parent and my responsibility to my children. I have a friend that is a social worker and we've discussed how horrifying it is to see the consequences in the lives of children when a loving caretaker is absent either physically or emotionally. Viktor was unwilling to take responsibility and he ultimately put those he loved in danger by his embarrassment over the mess he created.

I found it interesting that the wretch wanted a companion. Don't we all? This brought on the moral dilemma of Frankenstein  to grant his creation's desires, or to protect the well-being of human society. I wouldn't have wanted to be him. He couldn't win in either situation. I do kind of feel bad for Frankenstein because I've made hasty decisions in my life and not thought through the consequences. It totally sucks and you feel like an idiot because you really screwed up. Frankenstein's was a doozy, and boy did he pay for it!

Enough of my rambling thoughts. I did enjoy Frankenstein, despite my misconceptions prior to reading it. Just beware that it takes a good quarter of the book for anything to really happen. It was a bit of a yawn until then. The last quarter of the book was very fast paced and even warranted a few gasps. Frankenstein didn't blow me away, but it is a book that left me satisfied and appreciative of its place in history.

Fun kind of aside. I happened to read it while in Milan last week and it's near enough to Switzerland to be able to view the beautiful Alps in the distance while I was traveling in the car and reading my copy of Frankenstein. I love when that happens!

Have you read Frankenstein? What did you think?

For more stops on the Classics Circuit Tour, click here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Naughty Blogger

I have been a major slacker when it comes to this blog. I have had some free time, but I have spent it reading instead of blogging. No excuses, just in a bit of a slump. After all of the great posts for Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I really am feeling the push to get back to posting.

I've finished some pretty amazing books this year that I haven't reviewed yet. I'm going to list a few that I'm planning to eventually post about. If I have any readers left after my several month absence, any suggestions as to which books to review first out of the list below?

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Hunger Games (all three) by Suzanne Collins
The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Bag of Bones by Stephen King
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

This week is kind of crazy, but I promise I will turn away from my slacker ways and post a review next week. Apologies also for not commenting as much as I would like lately. I still read and enjoy all of the blogs that I have in the past, but I just don't always have time to pop by and comment.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck is huge favorite of mine, so I was excited when I learned that he would be the focus of this round of the Classics Circuit Tour. My first experience with Steinbeck was The Grapes of Wrath at 15 years old. I wasn't too excited about it either because I was required to read that behemoth of a book over my summer break for my Honors English class. I was surprised to find that I actually loved it (and I wasn't a big reader back then). Since then, I've enjoyed several of his other works, and he has yet to let me down.

Cannery Row has been on my list to read for a very long time. I've been wanting to read it since I discovered that I have a bit of a family connection to that area and time period. My great-great uncle Knut Hovden was the owner of one of the largest canneries in Monterey which has since been turned into the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In honor of the book, Monterey has changed the name of that street to Cannery Row. A few years ago my family visited Monterey and spent time on Cannery Row as well as visited the tide pools and the aquarium. While reading Cannery Row, it was interesting to see how it was described by Steinbeck at an earlier period in time, knowing how much it has changed. 

After years of saying I was going to read it, I finally picked up my copy and read it on my train ride down to London last week. I read it in one day. Not surprising since it's short, but surprising in that I didn't want to put it down. Cannery Row doesn't have an overarching plot, but is more of a series of vignettes of the different characters in this town. Steinbeck characters are so well-drawn. Even the seemingly smallest of characters are given depth. Steinbeck's prose blows me away every time. The descriptions of the landscapes are so vivid and alive.

I love his focus on the community as a whole and their interactions with one another. The people in the town are an extremely diverse bunch. While the characters mean well, things don't always turn out as hoped for, but you can tell that they ultimately care about and look out for one another. Despite some of the awful things that happen in the book, there is a sense of optimism in the conclusion. Cannery Row is very different reading experience from Steinbeck's other novels, but equally as rewarding. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Literary Giveaway Blog Hop Winner

The winner of my giveaway is Adam of Roof Beam Reader!

Congratulations Adam! He selected the Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Thanks to leeswammes for organizing the giveaway.

Thanks also to everyone who visited my blog and entered. I had 175 entries! Wow!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Literary Giveaway Blog Hop!

Welcome to Kristi Loves Books! I'm an avid reader and have been blogging for almost a year now. I have diverse tastes, but I gravitate toward literary fiction, most often classics.

My giveaway is international, and you qualify if Book Depository has free shipping to your country. The winner will be shipped one book of their choice from the list of some of my favorites below.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

To enter, just leave a comment with the following information.

1. What is the literary fiction book that you most often recommend?
2. Name the book that you would like to win out of my above listed of favorites.
3. Leave an email address so that I can contact you if you win.

Easy, right? One entry per person, and no hoops to jump through for extra entries. Please no entries after June 29. I will select a winner at random and email the winner by July 1. The winner will have 72 hours to respond to the email, or a new winner will be chosen. Good luck, and enjoy the rest of the hop!

List with all the Participants:

  1. Leeswammes (Int)
  2. The Book Whisperer (Int)
  3. Kristi Loves Books (Int)
  4. Teadevotee (Int)
  5. Bookworm with a View (Int)
  6. Bibliosue (Int)
  7. Sarah Reads Too Much (Int)
  8. write meg! (USA)
  9. My Love Affair With Books (Int)
  10. Seaside Book Nook (Int)
  11. Uniflame Creates (Int)
  12. Always Cooking Up Something (Int)
  13. Book Journey (Int)
  14. ThirtyCreativeStudio (Int)
  15. Col Reads (Int)
  16. The Book Diva's Reads (Int)
  17. The Scarlet Letter (USA)
  18. The Parrish Lantern (Int)
  19. Lizzy's Literary Life (Int)
  20. Read, Write & Live (Int)
  21. Book'd Out (Int)
  22. The Readers' Suite (Int)
  23. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (USA)
  24. Ephemeral Digest (Int)
  25. Miel et lait (Int)
  26. Bibliophile By the Sea (Int)
  27. Polychrome Interest (Int)
  28. Book World In My Head (Int)
  29. In Spring it is the Dawn (Int)
  30. everybookhasasoul (Int)
  31. Nishita's Rants and Raves (Int)
  32. Fresh Ink Books (Int)
  33. Teach with Picture Books (USA)
  34. How to Teach a Novel (USA)
  35. The Blue Bookcase (Int)
  36. Gaskella (Int)
  37. Reflections from the Hinterland (USA)
  38. chasing bawa (Int)
  39. 51stories (Int)
  40. No Page Left Behind (USA)
  1. Silver's Reviews (USA)
  2. Nose in a book (Int)
  3. Lit in the Last Frontier (Int)
  4. The Book Club Blog (Int)
  5. Under My Apple Tree (Int)
  6. Caribousmom (USA)
  7. breienineking (Netherlands)
  8. Let's Go on a Picnic! (Int)
  9. Rikki's Teleidoscope (Int)
  10. De Boekblogger (Netherlands)
  11. Knitting and Sundries (Int)
  12. Elle Lit (USA)
  13. Indie Reader Houston (Int)
  14. The Book Stop (Int)
  15. Eliza Does Very Little (Int)
  16. Joy's Book Blog (Int)
  17. Lit Endeavors (USA)
  18. Roof Beam Reader (Int)
  19. The House of the Seven Tails (Int)
  20. Tony's Reading List (Int)
  21. Sabrina @ Thinking About Loud! (Int)
  22. Rebecca Reads (Int)
  23. Kinna Reads (Int)
  24. In One Eye, Out the Other (USA)
  25. Books in the City (Int)
  26. Lucybird's Book Blog (Europe)
  27. Book Clutter (USA)
  28. Exurbanis (Int)
  29. Lu's Raves and Rants (USA & Canada)
  30. Sam Still Reading (Int)
  31. Dolce Bellezza (Int)
  32. Lena Sledge's Blog...Books, Reviews and Interviews (Int)
  33. a Thousand Books with Quotes (Int)
Sorry for the wonky formatting! Not quite sure how to fix it, but at least the links are all there.

If you get lost along the way, visit Leeswammes where the hop begins.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Through the Looking-Glass

by Lewis Carroll

So, I finished these about a week apart, and I couldn't bring myself to write two separate posts since my thoughts are pretty similar on both. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland begins when Alice follow a white rabbit in a waistcoat through a hole. She finds herself in an unusual world which she deems Wonderland. In Through the Looking-Glass, while playing silly games with her cats, she ends up going through the mirror in the room to find a world that is completely backward.

One word that best describes both of these books is whimsical. There is a lightheartedness to both books as Alice makes her way through the different worlds. The writing is extremely witty, and there is a great deal of word play. I did love the characters that she encountered. My favorite of which was Humpty Dumpty. It was fun to read, but it didn't really blow me away. Fantasy really isn't my thing, so my reaction isn't surprising.

I did find that I enjoyed Alice's Adventures in Wonderland much more than Through the Looking-Glass. It's contradictory to say, but despite both stories being full of randomness, I found the first much easier to follow. There were times in Through the Looking-Glass that I felt a bit jolted and confused because Alice would suddenly appear elsewhere.

Overall, I was glad that I read both of these books. It seems to be my theme lately, but I think I would have enjoyed these much more had I first experienced them when I was younger. Sheesh, I feel like I'm turning into an old fuddy-duddy, and I'm only 30. If you enjoy fantasy, and whimsy, and don't mind a heavy dose of randomness, you just might enjoy these. As they're classics, they are at least worth a try. They're super short so if you don't love them, not too much time will be invested. 

After finishing my reading, I watched the Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland. I didn't know much about it and was interested to find that it is an older Alice about to get married who ends up back in Wonderland. It was fun seeing all of the different characters that she encountered in the books play a role in this new story. Johnny Depp was fantastic as usual.

Have you read either of these? Seen the new movie? What did you think?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott
published 1868
completed June 2011

I think most everyone knows the basic premise of Little Women. It follows the March family and their four daughters--Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy--as they grow into adulthood. I'm embarrassed to say that at thirty years old, this is my first reading of Little Women. I've never even seen the movie.

Funny little story before I get to my review. I found a copy of Little Women at a charity shop. It had the movie tie-in cover (I hate those!), but it was 20 pence so I went ahead and picked it up. I finished the book, then was super confused. The back of the book says that Jo finds love and Amy goes abroad. What? My book ended with the scene with Meg and Mr. Brooke. I guess there are two parts and my copy only had part one. The copy I have gives no indication that it is only part of the book. It says complete and unabridged. Ugh! So annoying! Luckily my husband had bought himself a toy the previous week, a shiny new iPad 2, so I downloaded the free kindle version so I could read part two. It was my first time reading a book on the iPad. I didn't love the experience, but maybe I'll get used to it at some point.

So, back to the actual talk about the book. I'm glad that there was a part two, because I wasn't that enamored with it after part one. The second part was much better than the first, I thought. I loved seeing the girls grow up and struggle to figure out who they were and what they wanted in their lives. This is, yet again, one of those books that I wish I had read as a child. I'm a teeny bit cynical and their family's happiness and innocence appeared unrealistic to me. It was also sort of preachy at times. There was always some moral lesson that the girls were learning. It's not that I disagree with Alcott's morals, it's just that it was too overt for my taste. I hate not loving a book that everyone else seems to love, but I have to be honest--it was just okay for me.

I loved the characters in Little Women, though. I appreciated that each character had their weaknesses that they needed to work through. Flaws make more realistic characters, so I appreciate that they were all a tad flawed. I really loved the section with Meg and her husband. Having been through the married with a new baby stage, it was spot on. Children are absolutely wonderful, but there is a huge adjustment period when they arrive. Trying to find time for your relationship with your spouse and still being there for your children is a delicate balance. I loved seeing Meg and her husband work through that.

In all, I would recommend it with some hesitation. I don't think it's for everyone. Christian morals play heavily into the themes and plot. I think young girls would appreciate it more than adults. I'm glad that I read it, and I'm looking forward to passing it along to my daughter when she's old enough to read it.

Have you read Little Women? What did you think? I'd love to see a movie adaptation of it. Do you have an adaptation you would recommend?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle

by Dodie Smith
published 1948
completed May 2011

At the end of 2010 when everyone was creating their "best of" posts, it seemed like I Capture the Castle was on so many of them. I had never even heard of the book prior to seeing so many bloggers saying it was a favorite. I am so glad that I got myself a copy. Cassandra is the narrator of this charming tale of her impoverished life living in the ruins of a castle. Her family's life is transformed when their landlord passes away and the new heir comes to take his place.

I wish I knew how to adequately describe how much I loved this book. I can't really explain why. I'll just share some random thoughts on what I loved. First, I have to say that I loved Cassandra. The narration was done in the form of her diary and I loved her writing style. She seemed to love life and I loved her humor and wit. Despite being naive, she was really endearing.

Stephen just melted my heart. Doesn't everyone wish they could have someone like Stephen fall in love with them? He was so sweet to Cassandra and never pressured her. He made so many sacrifices for her and her family.

As an American living in Scotland, I loved all of the references to the differences between the two cultures. Just a couple of days ago someone was laughing that I said herbs without the "h" sound. The commentary on how we use our knife and fork definitely made me chuckle.

I would have really loved a fairy tale ending, but I really respect where Dodie Smith took the story. It was really the right way to end it. It was real. Without giving away any spoilers, the decision that Cassandra had to make in the end really showed how much she had grown up. It's really a story about Cassandra coming to understand love. It raises some interesting questions. Should you try to love someone just because they love you? Do you want a relationship with someone who doesn't love you as much as you love them? I highly recommend I Capture the Castle. It took a little while to get into it, and at times it was a little slow, but the ending was worth the little bit of work it took to get through it.

Have you read I Capture the Castle? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Have you read any books that you've loved, but can't really explain why?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Two Mini-Reviews-- Room and The Help (because I am lazy)

My goal is to do at least one review a week, so here I am. I've read quite a bit lately, but I don't really feel the urge to write about many of them in detail. So here goes two mini-reviews.

Room by Emma Donoghue

I'm sure you're really sick of hearing about this book. Perfect for mini-review status. The basic premise is that a mother and son are held captive in a single room. I had difficulty getting into this book at first. While I like the idea of Jack as a kid, I didn't really dig him as the narrator. It made me really uncomfortable. Maybe that was the point. For those who have read it, the creamy left (or right, I don't remember), seriously grossed me out. It took me a while to even feel comfortable with her nursing her then five-year old, but I can see how under the circumstances, maybe I would too if it increased his chances of survival.

Sorry for that random thought. I was really surprised with where the author went halfway through the book, but surprised in a good way. The effects on both captives in a situation like this span much farther than I had expected. I guess what shocked me the most, was to find that this actually has happened in real life. Several times. That made me a little queasy just typing that. What is wrong with some people!?! I would recommend Room, but with a few caveats. This is not light fare, and much of it is pretty disturbing.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I had zero idea what this was about when I started reading this. I was in for a bit of a shock when I started reading the narrative by Aibileen, an African-American maid working for a white family. I was really bothered at first that a white woman from a privileged background had the audacity to write a character with that dialect. Once I got to Minny's section, and realized that she had a unique voice, I settled down a bit.  Once it got going, it was a real page-turner (although Aibileen's sections were a little slower to get through because of the dialect). My husband was out of town when I started it and because I didn't have him to tell me to turn off the light, I stayed up way too late reading it. It was worth the lost sleep.

I loved that it took on race relations from a different point of view than anything I'd read before. Racism is most definitely learned. People aren't born that way. Parents (and even teachers as shown in the book) teach children to hate. Although, I have learned this through my own experience, I loved how Stockett showed this through Aibileen's experience raising white children. It was interesting also that this book also focuses on the effect of indifference. There were plenty that may not have agreed with what was going on, but their indifference or fear of others made them an ally to the racists. Overall, I would highly recommend The Help. It was a great story of courage in the face of losing everything. My only complaint was that I wished the story hadn't ended. I want to know what happened to Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny. I really came to love them.

After finishing typing these, they aren't as mini as I was hoping. Whoops! 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dark Chocolate Cake--Whip Up Something New

I know I already posted today, but I have to do another (which should have really been posted yesterday). As host for the month of Whip Up Something New, I didn't even post my own recipe. I did make a delicious cake earlier in the month, but never got around to posting it. Even though I'm a day late, I'll post it any way. I'm the host, I can do that, right? I hope so.

I needed cupcakes for a birthday party. I didn't have a cake mix so I decided to try a cake from scratch. I found this Dark Chocolate Cake recipe on

  • Dark Chocolate Cake I

  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease 3 - 9 inch round cake pans. In medium bowl, pour boiling water over cocoa, and whisk until smooth. Let mixture cool. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at time, then stir in vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the cocoa mixture. Spread batter evenly between the 3 prepared pans.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool.

It was delicious! The kids that I'd made it for devoured them. I had extras and sent them to work with my husband and received many compliments. One co-worker asked where my husband had bought them because he liked them so much. He told him that I'd make them from scratch and it was my first try. His co-worker said that if that was my first try, he'd love to try the second. I didn't do anything special. They're just that good. It was really light, but had a great flavor. I didn't have beaters and did it by hand, and it still turned out great. If you need a good chocolate cake, this is a good one to go for.

I made the frosting from scratch as well with the recipe listed below also from In the photo, you'll see vanilla cupcakes as well. Those didn't turn out as well, so I won't share that recipe. I think it was my fault because I was in a hurry and didn't beat it as long as I should have. They were a little dense.

Vanilla - Chocolate Powdered Sugar Frosting


  • 2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (optional)


  1. Cream sugar, butter and vanilla. Add a small amount of milk (1 to 2 tablespoons). Add cocoa if desired and beat until fluffy. If frosting is too sweet add a little more milk.