Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Quote Simply Screaming to be Posted!

"There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs." ~Kung Fu Monkey

Saturday, April 25, 2009

World Book Day Giveaway

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have a little surprise in honor of World Book Day. I've decided to copy the people of Catalonia, Spain and give a book to someone I love. And of course, I love all of you readers. So, I have a brand new copy of Charles Dickens' Bleak House (Signet Classics Edition) to give to one lucky blog reader.

Bleak House is my favorite Dickens work, so far. To me, it combines all of Dickens' best qualities. From his descriptive writing and his memorable characters to his crusading message and intricate plot, it is a story that mesmerized me from the very beginning. Though not as well known as his other works like Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House is a must read for any Dickens lover as well as those who have seen the wonderful 2006 BBC production. Here is how Signet Classics describes the story:

"Bleak House opens in a London shrouded by an all-pervading fog-a fog that swirls around the Court of Chancery, where lawyers are enriching themselves in endless litigation over a dwindling inheritance. Considered one of Dickens' greatest works, Bleak House scathingly portrays his belief: 'The one great principle of the English law is to make business for itself.' His genius for characterization, dramatic construction, social satire, and poetic evocation is memorably evidenced in this work as in no other. Peopled with characters both comic and tragic-including one of literature's first detectives and a case of spontaneous human combustion-in settings ranging from the mansion of a fear-haunted noblewoman to the squalor of the London slums, this superb narrative was hailed by Edmund Wilson as a 'masterpiece'."

It is very easy to enter. Simply leave me a comment in this post stating that you would like to be entered in this contest. You can be entered a second time by posting about this giveaway on your blog and leaving me another comment stating that you have done so. I will then randomly select a name (i.e. draw one out of a hat) and announce them next week. You have until 11:00pm EST Saturday, May 9 to enter. Good luck to everyone!

*Note: Due to shipping rates, I will only be shipping to readers in the Continental US. Thank you!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

World Book Day 2009

Today is a big day in the world of reading. It's World Book Day!! This yearly event was created in 1995 by UNESCO and celebrates reading, publishing, and international copyright laws. There are many celebrations held throughout the world including "The Big Read" to promote worldwide literacy. Also, a city is chosen to be World Book Capital for the next year. Past cities have included Madrid (2001), New Delhi (2003), Turin (2006), and Amsterdam (2008). This year, the distinction has been awarded to Beirut, Lebanon. It is believed to have been in the town of Byblos on the Lebanese coast that the 22-character Phoenician script was created in the 11 century B. C. Today, Beirut is known as the "Printing Press of the Arab World" playing a prominent role in the circulation of books in the east. Over 400 publishing houses produce works in Arabic, French and English.

So, why April 23? There are two main reasons. The first is that it corresponded with a celebration already going on in Spain. In 1923, booksellers in Catalonia, Spain began connecting books with April 23 to honor Miguel de Cervantes who died on that day. Since then, it has been traditional for lovers to give each other roses and books on St. George's Day (also April 23). Half the yearly books sold in the region are sold at this time. I say, heck with St. Valentine and his chocolate, I'm moving to Spain!

UNESCO also chose this date because it is also the birth/death date of William Shakespeare as well the birth/death date of many other world writers.

I encourage all of you readers to take some time over the next week to celebrate World Book Day. Buy a book for someone you love (or for yourself), read up on your favorite author, volunteer at your local library, donate to organizations like First Book, or simply curl up with a good book and lose yourself in it. Most importantly, keep an eye on "Complete and Unabridged", I just might have a nice surprise in the next week or so!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Peace Like a River

In 2001, Minnesota writer Leif Enger published his first novel, Peace Like a River. It wasn't long before it found itself on many bestseller lists including the New York Times. Time Magazine even named it one of the best books of the year. It is a story of faith, family and miracles combined with the strength and fortitude of the American pioneer spirit.

The Plot:

The narrator of the story is 11 year old Reuben Land, a severely asthmatic boy growing up in Minnesota in the early 1960s. His family is rather unique: there is his brother Davy who seems so much older than his 16 years, his sister Swede who at the age of 8 is already writing epic poetry, and his father Jeremiah who performs miracles (the first in the novel being bringing Reuben to life after being born dead). Their quiet life is shattered one evening when Davy shoots two intruders and is charged with murder.

During his trial, Davy escapes from jail. Jeremiah decides to follow Davy, so the whole family packs up in their new Airstream trailer and head out west in pursuit of the fugitive. There are no real travel plans, Jeremiah simply goes and stops where he feels the Lord is leading him to. It isn't long before they realize that they are not the only ones pursuing Davy. Martin Andreeson, a federal agent, is also on Davy's tail and believes that the Lands know his whereabouts.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

This could possibly be the hardest book that I have ever had to review. I found it to be beautiful, shattering, and breathtaking, but telling you why is going to be almost impossible to do.

I guess that I should start with Enger's writing style. In its simplicity, it has an almost lyrical quality, though it can seem rambling it times. It reminded me a lot of To Kill a Mockingbird (though it has been awhile since I've read that). Really, the first paragraph in the book gives a wonderful example of the quality of Enger's writing:

"From my first breath in this world, all I wanted was a good set of lungs and the air to fill them with-given circumstances, you might presume, for an American baby of the twentieth century. Think about your own first gasp: a shocking wind roweling so easily down your throat, and you still slipping around in the doctor's hands. How you yowled! Not a thing on your mind but breakfast, and that was on the way."

But more than his general writing, I really enjoyed the "Sunny Sundown" poems. I'd love to have a book full of nothing but Sunny's epic exploits. It is also interesting how Enger uses the poems to reflect the story itself. As the story grows more complex and the good/bad lines more blurred, so do the poems. I also enjoyed Enger's descriptions of life in the Midwest and the land itself.

Of all of the different aspects in the story, it was the miracles that really captivated me. Seen through the eyes of an 11 year old boy, they had an almost understated quality. Reuben doesn't deny the wonder of these miracles, he simply accepts them with a childlike faith as plain fact. To me, Jeremiah at times represents an almost Christ-like figure. He speaks Reuben into life, but with a major asthma problem (sin?); he performs many miracles, but leaves Reuben wondering why he doesn't cure his asthma; he ultimately gives his own life for Reuben, the only thing that cures Reuben's asthma. This quote really cemented the idea for me:

"My sister, Swede, who often sees to the nub, offered this: People fear miracles because they fear being changed -- though ignoring them will change you also. Swede said another thing, too, and it rang in me like a bell: No miracle happens without a witness. Someone to declare, Here's what I saw. Here's how it went. Make of it what you will.

The fact is, the miracles that sometimes flowed from my father's fingertips had few witnesses but me. Yes, enough people saw enough strange things that Dad became the subject of a kind of misspoken folklore in our town, but most ignored the miracles as they ignored Dad himself.

I believe I was preserved, through those twelve airless minutes, in order to be a witness, and as a witness, let me say that a miracle is no cute thing but more like the swing of a sword."

As Christians, isn't that what we really are? Witnesses to say "God did this and this in my life.."? And for all the beauty of the miracles, they are nothing to the second to last chapter. This is a picture of heaven that in my mind blows even C. S. Lewis' depiction from The Last Battle out of the water. It literally took my breath away.

So, is this the best book that I have ever read? Well, I wouldn't go that far. I didn't really get into the plot until about half-way through, and didn't get the full effect of the novel until the very end. Having said that, I do think that everyone should give this novel a try. Its story may be simple and understated, but it is also achingly beautiful. It gives me hope for modern literature. Thanks to Josh for the recommendation! I know that this review is probably lacking, but I was serious when I said that it was going to be hard to review. You simply will have to read it for yourself.

The Movie:

There is a film version of this story currently in the works. The screenplay is by Kathy McWorter and the movie stars Billy Bob Thornton. It is slated to be released sometime this year.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Catching Up

With Easter over, spring is now officially in full swing. I don't know about you, but it is shaping up to be a pretty wild and crazy spring and summer in my neck of the woods. I've got a little hodgepodge of things that I've wanted to mention in my posting, but either didn't have time to or didn't feel that they warranted their own separate post. Here they are in no particular order.

*Things are really starting to come together on Masterpiece's Little Dorrit. My sisters and I are loving it, though we've been a little confused at times. I don't think that it is going to be quite as good as Bleak House, but so far it has been a wonderful and very enjoyable production. We are on episode 3 of 5, so if you have missed any of them, you can catch up here.

*I'm currently reading I, Claudius by Robert Graves and loving every second of it. The political wranglings, the affairs, the murders, the suicides, evil old Livia...never a dull moment in imperial Rome. I have reshuffled my "To Read" list to make room for the sequel, Claudius the God, 'cause there is no way I'm leaving this story hanging.

*I've got books stacked up like cordwood that I need to review. It's been pretty amazing lately because it seems that I have simply been flying through books. I guess that it's because I've been reading 300 and 400 page books versus 800 and 900 page books. I'm hoping to get Peace Like a River reviewed later this week, followed by Kidnapped, David Balfour, and Under the Greenwood Tree. We'll get them wrapped up eventually.

*I've just about got my "Summer Reading Challenge" together for this year. Last year's went really well, so I decided to do it again. I've got my books pretty much picked out, I'm just finishing up on deciding on the order. More on this closer to Memorial Day.

*I mentioned last year that I had joined goodreads.com and I just wanted to say that I have really enjoyed all that it has to offer. The best thing about it is, of course, the thousands of book reviews right at my fingertips. Pretty much any book that you can think of is in their database with ratings, discussions, polls and even links showing which online bookstore has it for the cheapest price. They have also come out with lots of newer features like the ability to become a "fan" of a certain author as well as a selection of over 1,500 e-books including Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Anna Karenina, and Crime and Punishment. Add to this all the online book clubs, the ability to "shelve" books read and wanting to read, and the on-going literature trivia game and you have a wonderful, FREE resource for readers. If you are not already a member, I highly recommend it. If you are already a member or if you become one, please let me know so I can add you as a "friend" and check out what you have been reading.

*I saw this really pretty little reading contraption online today and I just had to share. It is called the "Book Buddy" and it is basically a pillow that holds your book in place while you read so that your hands a free. I think that this would be great for especially heavy books or for people who have difficulty holding anything for extended periods of time. It also has an acrylic pad that allows you to write or to use it for your laptop. Anyway, just thought that it would make a cute gift for the reader in your life (Mother's Day maybe?).

I hope that spring is going well for all of you readers. Feel free to share anything that is going on in your little corner of the literary world (What are you reading? What have you just finished? Any book suggestions for me?). As always, thank you for spending time on my blog.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Weekly Geek 2009-13: Be a Kid

This week's "Weekly Geek" celebrates International Children's Book Day (April 2) and National Poetry Month (April) with 2 options for posting. I'm going with option A:

Option A: Be a kid!
You could read a picture book (or two or three) and share what you read
Write up a post sharing your favorite books from childhood
Write up a post about reading together with your child(ren)

Reading has been a part of my life almost from day one. My mom read to me, my dad read to me, my grandmother read to me, my papa read to me...is it any wonder that I'm a voracious reader? I have so many favorite childhood books and each one has a special memory to go along with it.

Early Childhood:
  • Old Hat New Hat by Stan & Jan Berenstain. My dad read this book to me so many times that he could almost repeat it word for word from memory.
  • Hooper Humperdink...Not Him! by Theodore Le Sieg. Poor Hooper, why doesn't anyone like him?
  • I'll Teach my Dog 100 Words by Michael Frith. This was one that I my mom read to me a lot.
  • Animal Sounds by Golden Books. My papa used to quote this book to me whenever he took me to preschool.
  • Wacky Wednesday by Dr. Seuss. "It all began with that shoe on the wall..."
  • Just Grandma and Me by Mercer Meyer. This book was one of my favorite books to read at my grandparents' house. I always think of my grandma when I see this book.
  • The Berenstain Bears and the Week at Grandma's by Stan and Jan Berenstain. Since I was little, I have usually spent at a week at my grandparents' almost every year. My trips were always as much fun as Brother and Sister Bear's.
  • Fuzzy Rabbit Saves Christmas by Rosemary Billman. My favorite childhood Christmas book.
  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne. I've been a Pooh fan all of my life. Read more about that here.

Later Childhood:

  • The Boxcar Children Series by Gertrude Chandler Warner. I've read so many of these books that I lost count. Who can resist sweet kids, fun mysteries and a super rich grandpa?
  • Alfred Hitchcock & the Three Investigators Series by Robert Arthur, Jr. My mom used to read these aloud to me, then I later read them for myself. I think that this is where I really learned to love mystery stories.
  • The Babysitters Club Series by Ann N. Martin. I'd actually be a little ashamed to admit to this if every other girl growing up in the '90s wasn't reading them also.
  • Mary Poppins books by P. L. Travers. This was a read-aloud favorite for my sisters and I. My mom read most of it, but it was my dad that made one chapter particularly memorable. "It's a UNICORN!"
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory & Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl. Another read-aloud favorite.
  • Paddington Bear Series by Michael Bond. Favorites for me and now for my baby brother & sister. Read more here.
  • Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. A classic series that everyone should try. My favorite is These Happy Golden Years.
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. This is a classic that I absolutely adore. Mole, Rat, Badger and Toad are unforgettable.
  • Anne of Green Gables Series by L. M. Montgomery. Another classic series. It's been really fun recently because my younger sister has been reading them, so we have been able to discuss our favorite aspects of the books.
  • Carry on, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham. My mom read this aloud to us and instantly I knew that it was going to be a lifelong favorite. Even today I'll pick it up and give it a quick re-read.

Whew! See, I told you I had a lot of favorites. So how about you? What are your favorite books from your childhood? What books do you read to your children? Be a kid with me this week and take a walk down memory lane.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


"Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again." So begins what is considered to be one of the best works by British author Daphne du Maurier. First published in 1938, Rebecca became a run-away success with its first printing selling 20,000 copies, launching its author to fame which continues even today. Though not considered to be "intellectual heavyweight", du Maurier's works continue to be a wonderful example of first-rate storytelling and classic suspense. With its riveting story and unforgettable characters, Rebecca continues to mesmerize its readers and to stand with works like Jane Eyre as a classic of the Gothic genre.

The Plot:

In the 1920s, our young, female narrator (her first name is never given) is working as a paid companion to a wealthy American woman vacationing in Monte Carlo. While there she meets a handsome English widower named Maxim de Winter. After a whirlwind courtship of about 2 weeks, she agrees to marry him and returns with him to his beautiful estate on the English coast, Manderley.

The shy young bride is rather intimidated by her new role as mistress of Manderley. She ends up leaving most of the decisions to the cold and haunting housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. As time passes, she begins to learn bits and pieces about Maxim's first wife, Rebecca, who drowned the previous year. Everyone agrees that she was a charming, beautiful, witty woman who ran Manderley perfectly. The more she hears of Rebecca, the more sure she is that Maxim's increasing aloofness is due to his continuing love for his dead wife. An accident then occurs that brings the past back to life and reveals the truth about the beautiful Rebecca.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

It is virtually impossible to review this book without giving away MAJOR spoilers. So, if you are not familiar with the story of Rebecca, my advice is to stop reading now, and to go find a copy of the book.

First off, I guess that I should say that most critics are right when they say that Rebecca is not great literature. It is, however, an example of the good literature that floats along between being entertaining fluff and being a member of the "sacred" texts. The writing, though often bordering on the flowery, is very descriptive and completely immerses you in the world of Manderley. And let's be honest with ourselves, we can't live on "great" literature alone. Every now and again we need a book that simply let's us escape into and fall in love with the story. Rebecca is perfect for that.

What made this story so good for me were the many similarities between it and Jane Eyre. We have a young, innocent woman who falls in love with an older man. Both involve great mansions that are burned in the end and both involve first wives that "haunt" the couples' relationships. It is very apparent that the works of the Brontes influenced du Maurier greatly and these elements really help to cement Rebecca in the Gothic genre rather than the "romance" genre.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about du Maurier's writing was her ability to create characters that leap off the page even though they aren't alive. Rebecca herself, though dead for a year and a half, is perhaps the most solid of all of the characters. We know what she looked like, what she wore, what her hobbies were, who her friends were, and even what she smelled like. She is also the driving force of the story, dictating the motivations of the other characters. It is the narrator's jealousy of Rebecca that creates her interpretations of life at Manderley, it is Maxim's hatred of Rebecca that drives "a shadow" between him and his young bride, and it is Mrs. Danvers' obsessive love for Rebecca that fuels her loathing for her new mistress. Rebecca is the key to the whole story.

The other character that serves as a force throughout the story is Manderley itself. For Maxim, Manderley is the source of his pride and dignity and the ultimate reason why he killed Rebecca. For Rebecca, Manderley was simply a part of the large charade that her life was. For Mrs. Danvers, it was her last connection to her beloved mistress, one that she was willing to do anything to protect. And for our narrator, it was a symbol of her struggle with Rebecca, the prize to be won. The irony in that, of course, is the fact that just when the narrator feels that she has conquered her rival and is truly ready to be mistress of Manderley, her prize is snatched away from her. Du Maurier really spends a lot of time describing both the beauties and the terrors of Manderley. I think that it was interesting how she used different rooms to show the different personalities of it's 2 mistresses. Wild and confidant Rebecca liked the showy, formal morning room and the large bedroom overlooking the sea, while the shy and retiring narrator preferred the quiet, intimate library and the smaller bedroom overlooking the garden.

Though the story can drag at parts, and some of the elements are rather predictable, Rebecca is still a worthwhile read. Even though I was familiar with the story, I still had a hard time putting it down. I simply flew through its 380 some pages. It isn't a "page turner" per se, but its twisting plot is very engrossing and by the last 100 pages or so, you won't be able to stop.

The Movie:

There have been quite a few versions of this story adapted to both the screen and the stage. The most popular version is the 1940 version directed by Alfred Hitchcock which won the 1940 Academy Award for Best Picture (the only Hitchcock film to ever do so). It stars Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson. Though it doesn't follow the book exactly, it really preserves the Gothic suspense of the story. The acting is good: Olivier is at his most dashing as Maxim, Fontaine is sweetly convincing as the shy girl bride, and Anderson provides an especially creepy Mrs. Danvers. This is a film that both Rebecca fans and Hitchcock fans should see.

In 1979, the BBC and Mystery! produced a version starring Jeremy Brett, Joanna David and Anna Massey. Many who have seen this consider it to be the best adaptation of the novel, and based on what I know of Jeremy Brett's acting as well as the few clips I have seen, I can easily believe it. Unfortunately, this version has never been released on DVD and I couldn't find the whole thing online, so the jury is still out on that.

Finally, the BBC and Masterpiece Theatre produced a version starring Charles Dance, Emilia Fox and Diana Rigg. This version trades a lot of the suspense in favor of more romance. It's not a bad film in and of itself, its just not the best representation of the novel. I think that the actors had the potential to make it great if the screenplay had been a little different. They also made the HUGE mistake of showing Rebecca in flashbacks. That is a big no no. Not the worst thing that I have ever seen, but not the best either.

Trivia: Joanna David who played the 2nd Mrs. de Winter in the 1979 version is the mother of Emilia Fox who played the same character in the 1997 version.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Happy Birthday To:

Washington Irving
April 3, 1783

"On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow-traveller in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that he was headless!--but his horror was still more increased on observing that the head, which should have rested on his shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of his saddle!"

-from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Happy Birthday also to my sisters K & T!