Wednesday, August 31, 2011

RIP VI - Hurrah!

It's that time again! My very favorite challenge is ON! Carl is hosting the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril challenge for the sixth year (can't believe it!), and I'm soooooo game!

Of the various Perils, I've chosen Peril the First! I'll be attempting four books from any of the following genres: mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, Gothic, horror, supernatural.

I may also find myself dabbling in Peril of the Short Story, and I'm definitely interested in taking part in this year's Peril of the Group Read. One of the selections is the much-blogged-about, The Lantern, by Deborah Lawrenson.

I've found it's pretty productive for me to limit my reading choices so as not to become overwhelmed; I'll be working from a small collection of printed books and the e-books on my Nook. Some of the reading I have in mind:

  • Affinity by Sarah Waters (STILL need to finish it)
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  • The Good Doctor Guillotin by Marc Estrin
  • Captivity by Deborah Noyes
Autumn is my favorite part of the year for the weather, the atmosphere, the damn fine reading, and the wonderful sense of community that swirls around the RIP Challenge! Thanks to Carl for fearlessly hosting us once again!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Sunday Salon - Sick, Sourpuss, Short Stories

I always seem to forget that Greyson attending daycare is harder on me than on him. In his first week and a half back I've now conquered the snot monster and have successfully caught a stomach bug. GRRRR!

Greyson spent yesterday and today in the care of his daddio and brother and sister while I lounged and did absolutely nothing. That said, I finished Tout Sweet, by Karen Wheeler, and just as I suspected, it was a huuuuge winner! It fit my mood perfectly and I loved the atmosphere, her writing about food and decor and the goings-on in the French countryside. Sourcebooks is marketing this as "Flit Lit" -- chick lit + travel. I like it, though I'm always resistant to the "chick lit" label in any of its forms. Tout Sweet officially scores a rating of Snuggle.

I jumped directly from Tout Sweet back into Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory. There's a chance I may finish it up today while I'm relaxing and recovering. As much as I like the surreal, fairy tale feel of this collection, there are some distinctive problems with it, but I'll share those when I'm completely finished reading it.

While I am absolutely, positively ready for a Sunday without illness, this one has been laid back and low-stress, so I can't complain too much. How's your day? Healthier than mine, I hope. :)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tout Sweet: Review in Progress

Tout Sweet: Hanging Up My High Heels for a New Life in France, by Karen Wheeler, has a review deadline! You all know how bad teachers are with deadlines -- or at least this one is -- so I'm reviewing Tout Sweet in progress. I started it a few days ago, and while I've had limited time, I do find that when I sit down with this memoir, I indulge in big chunks of it. It shouldn't be more than a day or so before I finish it completely, but I feel totally comfortable jumping in at this point to gush.

Karen Wheeler writes about her life as a fashion editor in London and her decision to chuck her comfy flat, reliable plumbing, and easily accessible supply of new shoes in favor of a fixer-upper home in a small French town.

It was inevitable that I thought about those other "drop your life and move somewhere exotic" books when I accepted this one for review. It may work in Wheeler's favor here, but I have not read Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun or Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. I've seen the movies, but I have not experienced the intimacy of their writing. In the early pages I wasn't so sure I'd like this book, but once I passed the first chapter or two and  really got acquainted with Karen Wheeler, I like her a great deal, and her story makes me smile.

In the process of renovating her home enough to set up house in at least one room, she decides to camp out nearby in an actual campground but soon finds herself rained upon, uncomfortable, surrounded by throngs of loud, scantily clad triathletes, and served a dinner of cold vegetarian cuisine. While the tent is quite fashionable (sent from a PR person in her London fashion days), camping itself is not quite as fashionable as she'd imagined.

Her house is dirt cheap --and there's a good reason owing to the fact that it's missing a kitchen floor, needs an entirely new bathroom, painting, rewiring, and lots of tender loving care. In the process of overhauling her space, Wheeler makes a bevvy of new friends in her new hometown including a crunchy couple who run the Liberty Bookstore, a down-on-his-luck divorcee with a spending problem and a homicidal son, a clingy Frenchman intent on making Wheeler his next wife, some charming and quite normal, helpful French neighbors, and a host of nutty and eccentric expats.

I love this book so far! It's a nice counterpoint to Tolstoy and the Purple Chair since that one was quite emotional, and this one is much more light-hearted and fun. Recommended? Absolutely! I'll weigh in with my final thoughts early next week, but if it keeps up at this pace, it will definitely earn a rating of Snuggle.

Pub. Date: August 1, 2011
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Format: Trade Paperback
ISBN-10: 1402261187
Source: Sourcebooks

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

One of the most buzzed-about books about books to come along in a good while is Nina Sankovitch's memoir, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading. Three years after the death of her sister, Anne-Marie, Sankovitch decides to read one book every single day in order to slow down her life and deal with her grief instead of running from it.

Grief is a complicated thing. When I picked up Tolstoy and the Purple Chair it was for the pure rush of excitement of picking up a book about books. However, the grief component in this book came into focus for me when I found out that a good friend of mine from my undergraduate days passed away. While we hadn't been in close contact in a good while, I still enjoyed keeping up with him on Facebook, the occasional exchange of a funny comment or a "How's life?" Even though we were removed from each other by miles and hectic lives, some little part of me was crushed to lose such a wonderful and influential friend. On top of that, he died a good while back, and I'm just finding out. How the hell did I not KNOW?! For that, I am regretful.

When I was 18 and a freshman in college, I moved out of my mom's house and lived on the campus of Baylor University in a dorm with 600 freshman girls (ack!).  I grew up in a small town of 1,200 in northeast Texas. I graduated with a class of 52. Baylor is made up of roughly 15,000 students and was slightly overwhelming.

On the whole, Baylor is a "privileged" environment. Lots of rich kids and upper-class families (celebs' kids, a prince even). I was one of the students who came from a single-parent home and depended on scholarships and work-study to get through. I started my on-campus job as a Student Technology Specialist on my third day there, and Mike was the first person I met. The group of students with whom I shared the campus computer labs would become like a family to me for my two years at Baylor. Mike was one of my favorite people. At a Baptist college, and having led a small town existence to that point, I was not expecting the first friend I made to be an openly gay atheist with 10 piercings.

But my God, he was so special. He was outgoing, more than a little hyper, funny, and one of the smartest people I've ever met to this very day. He never met a stranger, he could learn a new language in six weeks flat, and he was always a character. He accompanied me to my freshman formal dance where we scandalized the crowd with our dancing, and when I got my first apartment he showed up to christen the place with a box of wine. I woke up in tears in the middle of the night because I can't believe he's gone and I can't believe I didn't know.

Reading this book, I had the grief part covered. Of all the things Nina Sankovitch writes in her book -- and there are a great many wonderful things -- what I relate to most is the multi-faceted need she feels for books. She's looking for inspiration, insight, comfort, motivation, empathy. She's looking for authors she can relate to, who feel the same things, express them in ways she cannot.

That, friends, is a laundry list of the reasons why I read. Books allow me comfort and heightened insight, heightened experience. While I hadn't expected my own grief to sneak into my reading of this book, it most certainly did. While Mike and I did not have a bookish connection, we had a beautiful, fun, spirited friendship and this book allowed me to share some of the insight and solace Sankovitch experienced during her year of reading. Throughout my life, in the throes of personal tragedies and losses, I too turned to books with a deep need for some enlightenment. It was not at all painful to read Tolstoy and the Purple Chair but quite cathartic.

A few favorite passages:
When I was in high school, I began keeping a journal of favorite quotations from books. The purpose of the journal was to act as a vault. I wanted to save the words whispered in my ears by beloved authors, and store them up for the day when I would need to hear them again. As much as they had inspired me when I first read them, I could turn to them when needed and rekindle the inspiration. I hoped back then that by following the words, I would become stronger, wiser, braver, and kinder. The quotes I saved in my journal were the proof of, as well as guidance for, how I would meet any challenge and overcome difficulties. (111)
I received an e-mail from a man in New York City who had been doing research for a book club meeting and happened upon my review of The Sin Eater by Alice Thomas Ellis. Over the next few months he would become a regular correspondent, recommending books like The Old Man and Me by Elaine Dundy and Desperate Characters by Paula Fox. He and I, complete strangers, made a connection through our love of books. A reader reached out from Germany, the sister of a friend wrote from Brazil with recommendations of Brazilian writers, a woman wrote from Singapore, and I had a whole slew of British book lovers writing in with recommendations. There was a world of voracious readers out there, and they all had "must read" and "loved this" books for me. (105)
 I was right there with Bolsover on his search for understanding, rooting alongside him for a why and wherefore for death, and hoping that he might find relief from his agonizing pain of responsibility and, in finding this relief, show me a way to ease my own. Bolsover felt guilt as a clawing into his shoulder. I felt it closer inside me, a sharpness scratching hard against my heart. My still beating heart. Beating only by chance. The chance that felled my sister but kept me alive. (89)
Now, as much as I liked this book and as much as it landed in my life at the exact right time, it was not perfect. In a book all about coping with death and grief, things can get a little repetitive. I found it very easy to get lost in Sankovitch's rich turn of phrase, but it felt a little like she shoehorned some of her chapters to get them to fit with her overall theme. In some instances, I wished I was reading a book like Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris where the love of reading was allowed to exist on its own and not always circle back to death.

If you have an opportunity to try this book, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. For those who may be turned off by the subject of grief, I would still give it a go. There are a great many things to enjoy in this thoughtful examination of the reading life and the healing power therein.

Snuggle -- Skewer

Pub. Date: June 7, 2011
Publisher: Harper
Format: Hardcover
ISBN-10: 0061999849
Source: Library

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Reading - And Stuff

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading This Week? is a weekly event to list the books  finished last week, the books currently being read, and the books to be finish this week. It was created by J.Kaye’s Book Blog, but is now being hosted by Sheila from One Person’s Journey Through a World of  Books!

I feel like shit.

My gracious, loving, generous, 16-month-old Greyson has officially shared his back-to-daycare cold with me. Now the snot monster is trying to devour my cranium from the inside out. Ugg. Can you tell I'm teaching a SF/Fantasy class this term? My description is taking on an Octavia Butler quality. Sorry.

So anyway, I haven't been reading A TON lately due to some very strange and troublesome developments on the homefront of which I will not type, but I have been reading a little bit on a consistent basis. With this snailish pace in mind, I've almost finished Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch. As a lover of books about books, this one is clearly of interest. Three years after her sister's death, Sankovitch decides to read a book a day in order to slooowww her life down and deal with her grief. A BOOK A DAY?! Who does that? No one! Because most of us have to work. BUT, if I could do it, I certainly would. More thoughts on the horizon. Should finish this one by week's end.

My TBR pile is looking dead sexy right now, too. Not only did I download lots of books for $0.99 each recently (thanks to HarperPerennial e-books!), but I also have a juicy stack of review books calling my name. I'm currently reading Tout Sweet: Hanging Up My High Heels for a New Life in France. It's one of those memoirs about leaving life behind and moving into a dilapidated house in France. Think Under the Tuscan Sun, though that was obviously Italy.

I also received an ARC of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. You may remember me throwing a digital hissy fit because I couldn't get this one from NetGalley -- DE-NIIIIED! But receiving an actual ARC after I requested it directly from the publisher was SWEET! I haven't started it yet, but I fully expect to be punched in the face by its awesomeness in the coming weeks.

What's swirling in your bloggy, bookish world? Anything I need to read?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Sunday Salon - Finally, The Little Stranger!!!

FINALLY. It only took a month, but I finished and adored Sarah Waters' novel, The Little Stranger. You might think that I wasn't wild about it since it took so darn long to read, but that was not the book's fault. In fact, I actually found myself putting off finishing it because I just didn't want it to end.

This is the story of the Ayres family and their formerly palatial estate, Hundreds Hall. England is changing as the middle class is no longer interested in being servants, tracks of homes are popping up everywhere, and the Gentry can't afford their way of lives any longer. Told by family friend, Dr. Faraday, it's really a novel about the Ayres family's undoing. Are they haunted by the disintegration of the upper crust or is the book's "little stranger" a real ghost?

I first became interested in reading The Little Stranger because I watched a video of Sarah Waters discussing it. To watch a video of Sarah Waters and hear her describe her work is enough to seduce anyone into reading. While I didn't have the same luck with Affinity (yet), I was sucked into this story from the very first page.

The narrator, Dr. Faraday, is a picture of logic and reason without being cold or calculated. He's a nice man who befriends the Ayres family quite by accident and becomes thoroughly entangled in their plight to maintain Hundreds Hall. The other Ayreses are Roderick, the only son; Caroline, the homely, stout daughter; and Mrs. Ayres, the family matriarch. In the midst of their struggle to fund their estate, odd, paranormal things begin to happen causing each family member to take a mental dive in their own way. While I can't say I liked all of the characters (Roderick, blah!), I did feel for all of them and their individual struggles. Dr. Faraday was a rock of strength and normalcy in the midst of all the Ayres madness, so it was nice that he was the center of this story.

The paranormal elements were fantastic, and there were moments that were incredibly and overwhelmingly creepy and troubling. It's a hell of a good ghost story, if we're to believe that the ghost was the problem. Or maybe it was just family madness caused by their class struggles.

Furthermore, the writing was rich and wonderful. Very much like reading The Woman in White or other classic British Gothic novels. There's also a quick Great Expectations reference that made my heart sing. Unsurprisingly. :)

I rarely meet a book that I just don't. want. to end. At all. Ever. I wanted to swim in this one for ages. To float along and be held by it. How long will it be before I find another book I love this much? I can only hope it's soon.

Snuggle -- Skewer

Pub. Date: May 4, 2010
Publisher: Riverhead Trade
Format: Trade Paperback
ISBN-10: 1594484465

Source: A friend sent it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Get Your Cheap E-Books!!!

20 E-Books for $20 dollars, y'all! HarperPerennial is running a sale on 20 e-books, each priced at 99 cents. You can get the books from iBooks, Amazon, B&N, or through your fave participating indie via Google E-Books. Click the image on the right to see more.

I picked up seven of the twenty available books:

  • Bad Marie
  • Kapitoil
  • Who By Fire
  • A Common Pornography
  • Everything is Wrong with Me
  • Postcards from a Dead Girl
  • I Am Not Myself These Days
I am ridiculously excited. A couple of these are on my Tournament of Books reading list for my personal TOB 2011 Challenge and others just look yummy. Especially I Am Not Myself These Days by the illustrious Josh Kilmer-Purcell of Fabulous Beekman Boys fame.

Want to buy? Check out the Facebook page or just search any of these titles at your fave e-retailer.

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Catching Up Post

Whoa, dude! It's been INTENSE around here. In addtion to the new term start, I've been doing stuff with the fam, mentally preparing myself to buy school clothes and school supplies, chasing Greyson around the house (and up the stairs...hmphf!), and all sorts of madness.

More than anything, I've been prepping for classes left and right. We headed into the second week of the academic term today. My Lit and Film class started watching Edward Scissorhands. It's decidedly not literary, but it's really effective for learning film terms. We're headed into "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" AND Burton's Sleepy Hollow film next.

My Science Fiction and Fantasy class is working on their folk and fairy tale unit. We've read oodles of "Little Red Riding Hood" variations including Perrault, the Grimm Brothers, Joseph Jacobs, and even Roald Dahl. We also watched the Tex Avery cartoon, "Red Hot Riding Hood" and today we started the newest film version of Red Riding Hood, directed by Catherine Hardwick.

Whew! And did I mention our Academic Dean is on maternity leave? That adds a little fuel to the workerly fire. We've been BUSY.

Fun reading? Not so much, though I think the school reading has been pretty darn fun. I'll be wrapping up some loose ends this week (The Little Stranger) and diving into some new loose ends (Tout Sweet).

What have I missed?
Images by Freepik