Monday, February 28, 2011

Latest Read: Still Alice

This lovely book came highly recommended to me by both a friend and my mom.

Summary from Goodreads:
"This may be one of the most frightening novels you'll ever read. It's certainly one of the most unforgettable. Genova's debut revolves around Alice Howland - Harvard professor, gifted researcher and lecturer, wife, and mother of three grown children. One day, Alice sets out for a run and soon realizes she has no idea how to find her way home. It's a route she has taken for years, but nothing looks familiar. She is utterly lost. Is her forgetfulness the result of menopausal symptoms? A ministroke? A neurological cancer? After a few doctors' appointments and medical tests, Alice has her diagnosis, and it's a shocker -- she has early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

What follows is the story of Alice's slow but inevitable loss of memory and connection with reality, told from her perspective. She gradually loses the ability to follow a conversational thread, the story line of a book, or to recall information she heard just moments before. To Genova's great credit, readers learn of the progression of Alice's disease through the reactions of others, as Alice does, so they feel what she feels -- a slowly building terror"

What a compelling and heartbreaking book!  The last several chapters of the novel I spent with steady tears on my face.  Despite the crying, I really did find that Still Alice had some wonderful uplifting moments and is filled with hope even when faced with the tragedy of this terrible disease robbing Alice of her mind.

In a few reviews there was some talk of the inadequacies of Genova's writing.  I would have to disagree with this criticism.  While I would agree that Genova is no Leif Enger, I think her plain, sparse prose was perfect for this book because it allowed the focus to solely shine on Alice, her family, and her disease.  This novel would be a great choice for a book club as there are a myriad of scenes and themes that warrant discussion.  I read this in the span of a few hours and cannot recommend this book enough!

5/5 stars.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

More Fun With Pinterest

It's been awhile since I've posted anything about Pinterest (since November...yeesh).  What a lovely site!  I'm constantly finding the most wonderful bits and bobbles and inspiration.   This time, instead of sharing my Etsy finds pinboard, I thought I'd show y'all the cute outfits I've discovered thanks to Pinterest:

Reminiscent of Amelie, no?

This outfit is the entire reason I felt the need to go get a cute little black blazer at Target :)

Source: via Kat on Pinterest

This one is reminiscent of the 70s no? I guess 80s are now passe and the 70s are back...again. I have the urge to go shopping ;)

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Little Music for the Weekend...

Great video from the recent Grammy winners Arcade Fire!  Directed by Spike Jonze, the video conveys a compelling story that is composed of snippets from Jonze's short film entitled "Scenes from the Suburbs."  After watching this I'd really like to check out the film in its entirety.  Growing up in a suburb myself...I most definitely identify with the beginning scenes of the video.  Enjoy!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Recommended YA Reads

Here's a list of highly praised YA reads for the teen in your life (or for the YA-loving adult):

 I haven't read any of these novels yet, but I've heard great things about each of them and all are on my never-ending TBR list :)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Latest Read: The Help

Yes, I've waited far too long to read this one and I'm not sure why.  I think it probably had something to do with the ridiculously long waitlist at the library.  Luckily, on my recent trip to Chicago, my mother lent me her copy and I sped through this book and was finished in two days!

As evidenced by my speedy reading of this book, The Help is quite compelling.  The story is told through the perspective of three different women (two black maids and one young white woman) and offers a rich understanding of the relationship between blacks and whites in the South during the '50s and '60s.  I can't decide whether Aibileen or Minny is my favorite character...both are clearly defined and their personalities leap off the pages.  While I do like Skeeter too, for some reason she seems more two-dimensional and flat compared to the black maids.  The only criticism I have of the book is that the ending left much to be desired.  It was somewhat abrupt and made me yearn for further knowledge of what became of these characters since I'd become so attached to their fates over the course of the story.  Overall, it was a absorbing novel and I would heartily recommend to most readers as the book has a very wide appeal.

4/5 stars.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Latest Read: A Discovery of Witches

I loved this book!  Such a fun read and so addictive you won't be able to put it down!

As always, my summary will be short for fear of giving too much plot away.  The book is about a witch named Dr. Diana Bishop, a vampire named Matthew Clairmont and a magical text.  Despite Dr. Bishop's attempts at avoiding magic at all costs, an enchanted manuscript comes into her possession attracting the attention of Mr. Clairmont as well as a host of other supernatural beings.  It is soon discovered that Diana is the only one who can unlock the secrets held within the valuable text.

Great, crisp writing...transports you easily into the world Harkness has created.  The historical and oenophile aspects are enlightening and adeptly showcase the author's extensive knowledge of wine and history (she is a history professor and writes a well-received wine blog).

I love the main characters as well as the supporting cast of witches, daemons and vampires.  Despite being about 600 pages I flew through this book...such a fun read!  There are elements that are somewhat Twighlight-esque - i.e. forbidden love, vampires and other supernatural creatures; yet, the comparison stops there.  The author has a distinct and intelligent voice and it is nice to finally see a non-YA book cover the paranormal (I'm sure there's more out there...this is just the first in my reading experience).

I recommend this to readers who gravitate towards paranormal/fantasy fiction and to those who enjoy books with a historical element.  This novel is the first in a series and I can't wait to find out what lies ahead for Diana and Matthew!

5/5 stars.

Monday, February 21, 2011

TV-Free and Loving It!

Last week the hubs and I finally did-away with cable and it's lovely!  We don't really watch very much TV and couldn't justify spending $$ on something that gets so little use.  The few shows we do watch we can still view via the interwebs and we saved ourselves about 70 bucks/month...woot!  Now I can't simply plop down on the couch and zone-out in front of the tube (c'mon, we all do it)...I'm forced to formulate activities and I can get my entertainment from books and Netflix.

While TV has its merits, I am glad that I'm putting it on a (perhaps indefinite) hiatus.  Why?  Well...for starters, no ads!  With the advent of DVR we've convinced ourselves that we aren't still bombarded with attempts to propagate consumerism.  However, even if you are a strict DVR-only viewer with amazing remote dexterity, product placement has become more prevalent in today's shows (mayhaps in response to the DVR??).

Also, I'm glad that I'll have more opportunities to read.  While I'm not sure if I believe the whole "TV turns your brains to mush" theory, I do think that increased reading can only enhance complex reasoning and vocabulary.  Mostly, I'm just happy the hubs and I are saving $.  We're hoping to eventually own our very own little house and since Ben is back in school...penny-pinching is the way to go!  All this being said, TV has its merits and I just love some of the genius shows out there (hellooo Community and Top Chef)!  Yet, I think the hubs and I will do just fine without it :)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Life Update

So, I've been averaging about 2 books per week this year...whoa!!  Now, is it likely I'll keep up this pace?  No, probably not.  I've been flying through books lately due largely in part to picking cozy, easy, fun reads so that I can put a larger dent in my ridiculously long TBR list.  But, now it's time to get down to business and read some chunksters on my shelf (hellooo Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and the Fire and Ice series) and some other reads I've been avoiding.  I just finished A Discovery of Witches  - loved it, so fun and entertaining!  I'll be posting a review about it sometime next week.

I won't be blogging at all this weekend because the hubs and I are visiting my fam in Chicago!  We're going on a foodie extravaganza and I just can't wait!  I'm hoping to snatch a library audio copy of the next Btown Booksters pick entitled The Year of Living Biblically.  I think it would be perfect for the long drive up north!  Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Latest Read: I Think I Love You

When I saw praise for this novel I thought it would be a perfect read around Valentine's Day!  I heard this book described as high-brow chick-lit...I hate the term "chick-lit" as it seems inherently demeaning somehow.  Anyways, I don't know how I would categorize this book...but it's definitely not just a tale of friends or shopping or whatever chick-lit is supposed to be about.  It's a really sweet story that deals with identity, fate, and the intensity of a crush on a teen idol.

The book has two storylines: one following a Welsh girl named Petra beginning when she was 13 and the other following a young man named Bill starting after college graduation.  Both stories intertwine at points and follow how the character's life is affected by the 70's teen heartthrob David Cassidy.  I think the author does a wonderful job accurately portraying the woes of being a female teenager.  The only complaint I could see people having is that the ending may be a little too perfectly happy...but I rather enjoyed it all the same.  A fun little read!
3/5 stars.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Latest Read: Room

Below is the "trailer" for the book Room by Emma Donoghue.  What a unique premise for a novel...very engrossing and thought-provoking.

The book is about a boy named Jack and his Ma who are trapped in Room (where he's lived his entire life).  Narrated by Jack, you are given a unique perspective of one who's only known captivity and whose reality is shaped by this unnatural occurrence.  It's an extremely quick read and one that will haunt you for quite some time.  I would highly recommend this novel for a book easily lends itself to some great discussion.  In fact, I'm eager for a friend to read this so I can have someone to talk with about Room.  Really recommend this one!

4.5/5 stars.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!!

The hubs and I are having a delicious home-cooked meal (prepared by him), wine, and a yummy dessert followed by movie night!  So cozy...just the way I like it :) 

Happy holiday!

Latest Read: The Hunger Games Trilogy

It's been awhile since I've read a YA novel...I think the last time was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (which I highly recommend).  I was drawn to The Hunger Games series due to the vast amount of adoration and raving over this trilogy.  I feared that I would once again fall prey to having my expectations too high to be met...but thankfully, I feel these books more than fully deserve their praise!

I really can't reveal too much plot without spoiling it for those who haven't read it.   I knew nothing about the books except for their praise and I liked it that I'd rather not talk plot.  I will say that this is a really easy trilogy to read.  Sometimes I'm hesitant to start a series due to the time commitment required...but don't worry about that with these books.  All of the novels are relatively short and incredibly quick reads due to the amount of action packed into their pages.  My favorite book of the three was the first (but all are great...and you won't be able to resist picking up the following novels in the series).  My only complaint about the trilogy is that I wish the author had fleshed out the ending of the last book a bit seemed a tad abrupt (but I still liked it).  Overall, I really recommend...such a fun read, interesting premise, and wonderful characters!

4.5/5 stars.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Latest Read: The Passage

Whoa, a vampire original!  I know that's what you'd probably think after reading a short synopsis of this novel...but really, it's nothing like the Twilights and such of current literature (although I understand the draw of those books).  This is not some teenage angsty romance novel with some vampires and werewolves thrown in for a bit of a twist, rather, it's militarized, glowing, freaky-as-all-get-out vamps.  In the same sense, it's not a quick read, but rather a dystopian saga that will take you through a horrifying apocalyptic reality. The author weaves together many story lines that develop into a tale encompassing one hundred years and almost 800 pages.

I liked it...I did.  Just, once again, given the hype...I thought it would be better (maybe I should just stop believing hype, eh?).  The book is great, really, once you get past 130 pages of intro...and still I was only beginning to be mildly interested. Then, after a bit, I was completely sucked into the story.  But, if it hadn't been for the glowing praise of this novel...I may have given up on it before the narrative drew me in.  So, main complaint: the beginning is too long with too many story-lines (I know they're needed...but there must be a better way to condense all of this information and slim down the book a bit).

The other thing that I think everyone should know about The Passage is that this is the first book in a planned series. prepared for an unsatisfactory ending in that, it leaves you wanting more.  But really, if you can get over the first 130 pages or will be completely drawn into this story.  I don't want to say too much because, as always, I don't want to give too much away.  I will say that I highly recommend...I'll be interested to see what more Cronin has coming our way!

3.5/5 stars.

Historical Fiction Extravaganza

Holy moly!  I went on an intense historical fiction bender this past weekend.  I reread a favorite book of mine called The Rossetti Letter and soon found myself wanting to read similar books.  So, I quickly downloaded a few recommended titles onto my e-reader and took up a near-permanent residence on the couch.  Historical fiction is such a fun escapist genre...although I think I've finally had my fill (for a little while anyways).  Here's the books I devoured this weekend:

  • The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
  • A Cottage by the Sea by Ciji Ware
  • Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware
Of the three I think I enjoyed A Cottage by the Sea the best...although all were fun reads.  I also thought I'd share a few titles of reads along these same lines that are in my TBR list:
  • Frederica by Georgette Heyer
  • Silent in the Grave (and sequels) by Deanna Raybourn
  • The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

I don't know what it is about historical fiction novels...but they truly are one of my favorite genres of books.  Somehow they're both cozy and yet very enlightening.  It's funny, I never much cared for history courses...but reading novels that bring history to life is quite a different matter. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

The New Classics List

So, I came across EW's "The New Classics" list and was appalled at how few I've read (I highlighted them in red and crossed them out)!  How about you guys...have you fared better?

1. The Road , Cormac McCarthy (2006)
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000)
3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)
4. The Liars' Club, Mary Karr (1995)
5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)
6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001)
7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991)
8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)
9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)
10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)
11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)
12. Blindness, José Saramago (1998)
13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)
14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992)
15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000)
16. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)
17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (1988)
18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)
19. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (2005)
20. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding (1998)
21. On Writing, Stephen King (2000)
22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (2007)
23. The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1996)
24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)
25. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)
26. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)
27. Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)
28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)
29. Bel Canto, Anne Patchett (2001)
30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)
31. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien (1990)
32. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch (1988)
33. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)
34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)
35. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
36. Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003)
38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (1998)
39. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)
40. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000)
41. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)
42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)
43. Borrowed Time, Paul Monette (1988)
44. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (1991)
45. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende (1988)
46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman (1988-1996)
47. World's Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)
48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
49. Clockers, Richard Price (1992)
50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)
51. The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom (1990)
52. Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan (1992)
53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000)
54. Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware (2000)
55. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (2006)
56. The Night Manager, John le Carré (1993)
57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)
58. Drop City, TC Boyle (2003)
59. Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat (1995)
60. Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)
61. Money, Martin Amis (1985)
62. Last Train To Memphis, Peter Guralnick (1994)
63. Pastoralia, George Saunders (2000)
64. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)
65. The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)
66. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1997)
67. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (2003)
68. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (2006)
69. Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)
70. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)
71. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman (1997)
72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003)
73. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989)
74. Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)
75. Cathedral, Raymond Carver (1983)
76. A Sight for Sore Eyes, Ruth Rendell (1998)
77. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
78. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
79. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)
81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991)
82. Atonement, Ian McEwan (2002)
83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994)
84. Holes, Louis Sachar (1998)
85. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004)
86. And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts (1987)
87. The Ruins, Scott Smith (2006)
88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)
89. Close Range, Annie Proulx (1999)
90. Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl (2001)
91. Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)
92. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987)
93. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (1991)
94. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (2001)
95. Kaaterskill Falls, Allegra Goodman (1998)
96. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003)
97. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992)
98. The Predators' Ball, Connie Bruck (1988)
99. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman (1995)
100. America (the Book), Jon Stewart/Daily Show (2004)

Wow, 11 out of 100...those are pretty poor stats.  I do have a few of these on my bookshelves (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Corrections) and I have read other books by some of these authors (i.e. Allegra Goodman, Kazuo Ishiguro, Nick Hornby, Dave Eggers, Junot Díaz, etc).  But still, that's pretty bad, yeesh!  Some of these are already on my TBR list but looks like I'll need to be adding quite a few more.  What about you guys?  Are your stats better than mine? Do you think this list accurately represents modern classics?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Latest Read: The Postmistress

From the publisher:

My two cents:
Great book...great book!  It made me cry about three times...the descriptions of the horrors of the Blitz as told via Frankie's radio show simply transported you to a place and time that is quite inconceivable (as I sit here comfortably on my couch).  If you are telling yourself, "I've read too many WWII books...I want something new."  Tell yourself to can it! ;)  This book along with Markus Zusack's The Book Thief are simply modern-day WWII must-reads.  I love the favorite being Frankie.  I'm having a hard time trying not to overindulge in gushing over this...can I just say, read it?  Seriously, check it's heartbreaking, compelling and beautiful.

4/5 stars. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fully Stocked Bookshelf for a Winter Storm!

Welp, apparently the biggest winter storm since '99 is sweeping through the country right now.  I can attest to the fact that indeed all of our trees are covered with a thick coating of ice and it is still raining.  The combination of this ice and wind will obviously increase the chances of power outages in the area.  Luckily, I am fully prepared with plenty of entertainment as I have several books from both the library and some newbies that I just had to buy.  From the lib:
And I just recently purchased Room by Emma Donoghue, Just Kids by Patti Smith, and A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.  Now all I need to do is hunker down in a mountain of blankets and read by candlelight...yay!