Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Natanya's Ramblings on "Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman

Title/Author: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Publisher/Year Published:
HarperCollins 1996
How I got this book: Bought used from Powell’s (awesome bookstore in Portland, Oregon)
Why I read this book: It sounded like my kind of book
As a fan of dystopian literature (Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale in particular), I was drawn to Gaiman’s creation of an alternate universe beneath London. His story begins when his protagonist, Richard Mayhew, discovers a young girl on the side of the road. After bringing her to his flat and helping her get back to her world, he discovers that he no longer exists in London Above, the London he has always known. Instead, he can only be seen or heard by those living in London Below, a dank, dangerous, and unpredictable world. With the companionship of Door, the girl he aided, Richard embarks on a perilous journey to discover who hired assassins to kill Door’s family and to find his way back into existence within London Above.
Having seen this novel on many lists and read dozens of raving reviews, I expected to get sucked into Gaiman’s universe, unable to leave until I finished reading. While I certainly enjoyed the novel, I read through it at a relatively leisurely pace and, until I neared the end, had little trouble putting it down. Gaiman’s story is unique, darkly humorous, and at times gruesome enough to make me shudder, but I suppose it leaves something to be desired. London Below is an interesting place, but it is also confusing, maze-like, and definitely an underdeveloped part of the story. While at times it exists in the sewers, literally beneath London, most of the time it is more of a parallel world to London, containing the same places in another dimension. Perhaps this was Gaiman’s intent—to leave the world hanging in between London and a complete parallel universe—but it tends to make the novel a bit confusing. What I did enjoy, however, was Gaiman’s use of real places—particularly tube stations—within the world of London Below, giving backstory and meaning to strange station names like Earl’s Court, which, in London Below, truly houses an earl with his court.
Although certain aspects of the plotline were predictable, it had many interesting twists (and Richard’s sheer ignorance) to keep it away from the overused hero’s journey movie plotline. But unfortunately, by the end of the book I did not feel that I really knew the characters, beyond Richard’s whininess and very slow ability to comprehend all that happened to him. While I certainly enjoyed the novel, I could not say that it “blew me away” or that it had any lasting impression on me. Perhaps it is one of those books that require a rereading to pick up on all of the little details and references, but I doubt that I will reread it.
All in all, I do not regret reading Neverwhere and would recommend it fans of fantasy, dark humor, and Neil Gaiman.
Rating: 3.5 stars

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

In Which Snickers Tackles Astrology, Version 1

The Book:

Published: January 7th 2002 by Fireside
How I Got It: The library isn't just for picking up hot nerdy chicks, ya know.
Why I Read It: Aside from school, why does anybody read anything? For shits and giggles, of course!
The Review:

Born on a Rotten Day takes traditional astrology a bit further and gives insight on how to survive coexisting with each sun sign. The general descriptions made me laugh: the quality of my sign, Gemini, is described as "Mutable. Gemini is the human version of the revolving door." Each sign is divided into different categories: If You Love One - Man/Woman, If You Are One - Born Rotten, It's All Relative - The (Sign) Family, Office Party (each sign in the workplace), and Can't We All Get Along? (Basically, how to deal).

However, I had to disagree with some of the generalizations Born on a Rotten Day makes about my sign; this, of course, caused me to doubt the accuracy of the other sign descriptions. One worries that to keep the rotten, snarky tone of the book, Dixon-Cooper decided to forgo accuracy. Keep this in mind as you're reading; and try a little cross-referencing; I'd recommend Darkside Zodiac if you appreciate the bitchy, cynical tone in Born on a Rotten Day as I did.

I think the thing that bothered me the most, and is consequentially the reason I didn't give it 4 stars, is this: each sign supposedly has a back-up weapon of sorts against the other signs, EXCEPT for the other signs that have a shared element. Example: for Gemini, "You and the other Air signs, Aquarius and Libra, understand each other on a soul level, and therefore, rarely have serious confrontations." This is a load of bull. There has to be a way to get under Aquarius and Libra's skin, because despite having the shared element of Air, the qualities are all different. It is described this way for each sign, with the exact same phrasing; the only difference being the signs.
Understanding each other on a soul level, my ass. If every sign understood each other, well, we wouldn't be reading this, now would we?

Mostly, I'd recommend Born on a Rotten Day to anyone looking for a good laugh, not for someone who wants serious, accurate advice on how to live with someone born under a certain sign.

The Rating:
3 Stars.

I give it three stars because despite how much I tried to convince myself otherwise, I enjoyed the blunt, here's-what's-wrong-with-you attitude Born on a Rotten Day has. This quality redeemed the book right out of an otherwise certain two-star rating.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Kimberly Gives the Dirt on:The Help

Book Title/Author: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Publisher: Putnam Adult
How I Got It: Downloaded the audio book from iTunes
Why I Read It: I’d had it recommended to me several times and had been looking for a good audio book to listen to on a trip.
Rating- Five Stars
The Help tells the story of three incredible women living in Missouri in 1962. We see the events of the story through the eyes of Aibileen, a wise black woman that has spent her life caring for the children of white families, Minny, a smart mouth, sassy black woman, and Skeeter a 22 year old white girl who has just graduated from Ole Miss.
Skeeter wants to write more than anything. Her mother wants her to get married. A series of events bring Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen together and they decided to embark on a dangerous endeavor, something that will change everything they think they know about their friends, family, employers and life.
I highly recommend the audio version of this book. It is extremely well done and endears you to the characters even more.

This was an incredible read. It opened my eyes to what life was like in the south during that time. Sure, I've learned about civil rights in my High School and College classes but this book took it to an entirely new level.

The characters are vivid and real. Everything they experience, the good and the bad, you will experience right along with them. You...more
This was an incredible read. It opened my eyes to what life was like in the south during that time. Sure, I've learned about civil rights in my High School and College classes but this book took it to an entirely new level.

The characters are vivid and real. Everything they experience, the good and the bad, you will experience right along with them. You will laugh with them, cry with them and cheer them on when they overcome the trials that are placed in front of them.

Read this with an open heart and mind and I promise you will NOT regret it.
Also, I highly recommend the audio version of this book. It is extremely well done and endears you to the characters even more.

Top Ten Tuesday--Deserted Island

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish. Everyone is welcome to join in. Please be kind and link back to us. Sign the Linky widget so that you can peruse other top ten lists from fellow bloggers and comment on others lists!

Lori is tackling Top Ten Tuesday list this week and this week the list is--Top Ten Books I'd Want On A Desert Island!

I got the unenviable task of being sent to a desert island with only ten books.* I wanted to be methodical about it. I think I've come up with a good list, but I'm sure I'll come up with something even better that I should have put on the list. There are SO many good books out there! It was so hard to just choose ten because I really wanted to have a variety of reading material.

Here is what I came up with, along with a bit of rationale:

1. Gone With the Wind by Mitchell--This is my favorite book and I just couldn't imagine being stranded without Rhett and Scarlett. I've read this book at least ten times and I fall in love with it all over again every time I read it.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee--This is another favorite. I love the characters and the narrative style. Personally, I think Atticus Finch has got to be the wisest man ever. There are so many gems of wisdom that I need to copy down and live by.

3. Catch-22 by Heller--Also a favorite of mine. I'd bring this book to help keep me sane. I would know that so long as this book made sense, I was sane, which is important if you're stranded.

4. The Bible--It's a long book. It's a good book to read to learn about history, poetry, and life.

5. The Complete Whitman--It would be nice to have a bit of poetry and a bit of philosophy to enjoy and ponder. He was quite a prolific writer and it would kill some time to read his complete works.

6. The Complete Short Stories of Hemingway--I love Hemingway! He is my favorite author. Unfortunately, there is no single volume of his novels, which I'd take in a heartbeat. Since I'm not going to be a weiner and invent books, I'll bring along his complete short stories, which are all quite different from each other.

7. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath--OK, this probably isn't the BEST book to take when I'm stranded, but it would definitely keep me occupied for a while. And I just love getting into her mind (although, it's important and safest to not spend too much time there).

8. The Civil War a Narrative by Foote--I'm going to be a bit of a weiner here. This is really a boxed set of 3 different volumes. But since it comes in a box that actually holds all three volumes together, I'm packing it.

9. The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson & Henry David Thoreau--I'll level with you: I didn't even know this book existed until I did an Amazon search for the Complete Works of Thoreau. But since they both existed together in one single volume, I just HAD to throw in Emerson as well. So, we've got a bit more philosophy and non-fiction for me to enjoy.

I had the hardest time as I got further down the list. I mean, I was running out of slots and I had to be more selective. It's easy to throw my favorites at the top because I've got 7 open spaces. But the open spaces dwindle down and I need to make sure I pick the most varied books to bring so that I don't get bored, which is why I chose:

10. Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 1980s edition--I love to cook and my desert island has a full kitchen and a magic refrigerator and pantry that holds any and all ingredients I would want to cook with. So I picked this cookbook because it has a wide variety of recipes.

*Books that Almost Made the List (or, Books that I Would Sneak Into My Suitcase When No One Else Was Watching [because that's what I always do after I've carried my bags downstairs]):
11. The Complete Works of Shakespeare--Because all stories come from Shakespeare or the Bible.
12. East of Eden by Steinbeck--Because I loved this book so much and I can't wait to reread it.
13. The Short Novels of Steinbeck--Because I just can't wait to read more of Steinbeck.
14. David McCullough's Presidential Biography Boxed Set--Another set of 3 books held together by a common box.
15. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez--Because I can't wait to read it and I've just never gotten started yet.
16. War and Peace by Tolstoy--Because this is probably my best chance at reading it.
17. Out of Africa by Dinesen--Because I'm just starting to read it.
18. All the King's Men by Warren--Because I want to read it.
19. Treasure Island by Stevenson--Because it might give me some ideas for what to do on a desert island.
20. Swann's Way by Proust--Because this is probably the best chance I'll have at reading it and I'll have a lot of time to kill.

Tahleen reviews: "Red Kayak"

Title: Red Kayak
Author: Priscilla Cummings
Published: Puffin, 2006
Where I Got It: I found this on the Summer Reading shelf for one of the local schools at my local library.
Why I Read It: It looked interesting, and I'm always interested in finding more books I can suggest for boys. Plus, since it's a summer reading selection, I figured there must be something to it.

One cold and stormy April day, 13-year-old Brady is called to help on a rescue mission—his neighbors, Mrs. DiAngelo and her 3-year-old son Ben, go missing after going out on their new red kayak. After some searching, the rescue team manages to find Mrs. DiAngelo, but Brady is the one who finally finds Ben, not breathing and so cold his lips are blue. He manages to keep him alive until he makes it to the paramedics, but it looks grim.

At first hailed as a hero, things quickly turn around for Brady when the child dies. Wracked with guilt for not being able to save him, and for not yelling out to the DiAngelos the morning of the accident when he and his two best friends saw the kayak in the water, he is at first unable to grieve properly and move on, but eventually finds a little peace when he begins to help Mrs. DiAngelo with yard work and odd jobs. However, a terrible discovery leads Brady to make one difficult and life-altering decision.

At its heart, this crime drama is about grief, guilt, and, more subtly, forgiveness and acceptance. Brady really struggles with the decisions he must make, as he knows they'll not only affect him, but everyone close to him. It's obvious what the "right thing" to do is, but it's so layered and complex that even I had a tough time deciding what I thought he should do. For younger readers, this will really challenge them to think about how they would act in the same sort of situation.

The pacing started off really well, with the first chapter consisting of Brady looking back on the events to unfold in the novel and wondering a series of "what ifs" that would have led to a different outcome. He doesn't reveal anything, and only as the story progresses do we see what his musings are all about. Though there are parts in the middle that kind of drag, which can be especially frustrating for reluctant readers, there are twists placed strategically throughout the book that keep the interest there.

My problem with the book was with the language. It was written in the vernacular, which in itself wasn't too bad, but there were times when it just got distracting for me. I really didn't like Brady's voice much either; at one point he uses the phrase "gee whiz," which never wins points with me unless it's used ironically, and unnecessary exclamation points abound. It just didn't seem very real to me; Cummings didn't pull off the teen male perspective very well, and I had trouble believing any teen would speak the way Brady does. He also tends to throw in boating jargon, which really affected the pacing in the all-important rescue scene.

Despite my minor beef with the narration and lagging bits in the middle, Red Kayak still has a lot of merit as far as themes are concerned. As I mentioned before, doing what's right is huge here, but the more subtle issue of forgiveness shines through in the end. I have to admit, I teared up during the final scenes--very touching.

This would be a decent choice to give to boys, though older teens might get bored with it because of the age of the main character and tone--it just sounds like it was meant for a younger audience. I would think it would be good for ages 12 to 15, or around there. And of course, girls would enjoy this just as much--the only reason I am focusing on boys here is that it can be difficult to find things they'd be interested in!

Rating: 3.5 stars

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kelly's Review of "The Reader"

Title: The Reader
Author: Bernhard Schlink
Published: Vintage, 2008 (originally 1995)
Where I Got It: Creeping around the shelves of Goodwill
Why I Read It: I refuse to watch a movie before I read the book

When fifteen year-old Michael Berg becomes sick on his way home from school one day, he is rescued by Hanna, a much older woman who cleans him up and escorts him home. When he later goes back to thank her, they begin a hasty and secret love affair. A large majority of their time spent together is simply Michael reading aloud to Hanna, literally acting as “the reader.” About six months into their affair, she simply disappears. It isn’t until several years later when Michael, now in college, finds Hanna again, in court being accused of Nazi war crimes against Jewish people.

In order to properly read and understand this book, you need to look past the fact that a thirty-six year-old woman is getting it on with her fifteen year-old boy toy. I could write an entirely separate review on the Freudism of this relationship. It is actually an unimportant part of the story, no matter how hard it is to ignore (hence the ‘icky sex’ tag).

It wasn’t until their sixth or seventh day together that Michael finally asks the woman her name. This is our first hint of how secretive Hanna is (or how dumb Michael is). She is also very moody, kicking Michael out when he says that school is pointless and hitting him when he goes to the store without telling her. Just as easily as she loses her temper, she becomes her normal passionate self. When Hanna picks up and moves away without telling Michael, he is consumed with sadness and regret. His body yearns for hers and she is all he thinks of until he learns to let go. Her memory does not follow him anymore and he can move on with his life.

When Michael next sees Hanna, he is in law school and observing a courtroom seminar dealing with Nazi war crimes. One of the defendants of interest is Hanna. Michael learns that Hanna was a concentration camp guard and how she inadvertently had a hand in the death of dozens of Jewish women. We don’t get a lot of emotional reaction from Michael, we get it through the viewpoint of the sole Jewish survivor. You would think that Hanna’s past as a Nazi guard in Auschwitz would be her most disgraceful secret, but to her, it’s not. The secret that she finds more shameful and refuses to reveal is keeping her from defending herself. The price she pays is immense.

I’m not revealing the verdict of the trial or what happens to Hanna or Michael; you can find that out for yourself. The Reader is a book full of secrets, love, guilt, and their consequences. It is written in memoir form, which makes me feel as if we lose the in-the-action feel. I am glad I read it, but I don’t think I’ll ever read it again.
3.5 stars.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Jess' Review: The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Alan Bradley)

(photo image found at

Title: The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: A Flavia de Luce Mystery (Flavia De Luce Mysteries)
Author: Alan Bradley
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Year Published: 2010
Notes: I checked this book out of the library, and I read it because I picked up the first Flavia de Luce mystery (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) a few weeks ago and loved it!

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag is the second installment of Canadian author Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce mysteries. Situated at an old family mansion in a mid-20th century English hamlet named Bishop's Lacey, the books center around protagonist and narrator Flavia de Luce. She is an exceedingly bright and charming 11-year-old and well-versed in chemistry (particularly poisons). She lives with her father and her two sisters in Buckshaw, her deceased mother's family house; Flavia gets around town on a bicycle she has named Gladys.

In this book, Flavia encounters a puppeteer and his assistant, who give an impromptu show to citizens of Bishop's Lacey. Things go awry and the puppeteer is electrocuted. Somehow Flavia discovers threads that connect this death to a mysterious death a few years ago…

Along her way to the solution, Flavia encounters a slew of unusual, cracky characters who are eccentric but interesting, and keep the book moving forward. The reader also meets another of Flavia's relatives—this one her father's spinster sister.

Flavia has both street smarts and book smarts. She's messy and rumpled. She disobeys authority, but not without good reason. She has a rational and sensible way of deducing the layered mysteries that she encounters. But better yet, as an 11-year-old, Flavia is able to get people to talk. Nobody expects her to surpass the police in solving crimes. Everyone, including her family, underestimates Flavia:
"You are unreliable, Flavia," [Father] said. "Utterly unreliable."
Of course I was! It was one of the things I loved most about myself.
Eleven-year-olds are supposed to be unreliable. We're past the age of being poppets: the age where people bend over and poke us in the tum with their fingers and make idiotic noises that sound like "boof-boof"—just the thought of which is enough to make me bring up my Bovril. And yet we're still not at the age where anyone ever mistakes us for a grown-up. The fact is, we're invisible—except when we choose not to be. —p112

Her natural curiosity and penchant for detail leads her to the solution, and the journey along the way is both nerve-wracking and hilarious. I cracked up over so many of Flavia's entertaining observations and her youthful lack of knowledge over "affairs."

Bradley has deftly weaved a witty humor with juvenile curiosity and unbelievable murder mysteries. The revelation at the end of the book left me shocked and chilled to the bone. These are light-hearted books in comparison to the forensic, gory thrillers that abound, but they have an undeniable grittiness.

It is a testament to his writing that Flavia stands out in so many readers' minds as a unique and awesome character. I highly recommend this book, and give it 5 stars.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Julia Reviews "The Spymaster's Lady"

Title/Author: The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne
Publisher/Year Published: 2008 by Berkley
How I got this book: Checked out of the library
Why I read this book: To prove the old adage "You can't judge a book by it's cover"
Rating: 4 stars

Seriously. Let's start right off the bat by gazing at this cover. I try not to judge books by their covers, really I do. But the first time I picked up this book, I doubted that anything within would be worth my time.

I was wrong.

The Spymaster's Lady, despite its cover, is not about oiled chests, getting men out of their clothes or even carrying around guns in one's waistband. It's about spies; spies for England and spies for Napoleon/France. Even though I found this in the romance section, I would classify this book more as an adventure romance with the heavy emphasis being on the adventure and not the romance. The romance is there, it's just not as prominent as you would normally find in romance novels. Don't get me wrong there are still a couple of steamy scenes, it was just that I cared more about the spy games then the love games.

This book picks you right up from the first pages and does not let go until it thinks you should be let go. You find yourself caring for all of these characters and cheering for them to conquer the multiple hurdles thrown in their paths. The two leads, especially the female lead, you come to know and understand. This book has no whimpering female either. She is more hard core than most women of today.

If you like adventure and don't mind a little bit of romance, give The Spymaster's Lady a try. Ignore the cover (although I must mention that they did just rerelease it with a less chest-y cover). Embrace the chase and underhanded cunning. Enjoy the well written, engaging spy games.

I give it 4 sparkling, well oiled stars.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday--some weekly fun!

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish. This meme was created because we are particularly fond of lists here at The Broke and the Bookish. We'd love to share our lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week we will post a new Top Ten list complete with one of our bloggers answers. Everyone is welcome to join. All we ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND post a comment on our post with a link to your Top Ten Tuesday post to share with us and all those who are participating. If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment.

This week's Top Ten list is:

What are your top ten childhood favorites?

Jamie's Top Ten Childhood Favorites (in no particular order):

I devoured books when I was younger and had tons of favorites so this is kind of hard for me!

1. Little House on the Prairie--Laura Ingalls Wilder: I absolutely loved this series but mostly this book! I went through this phase where I wanted to live in a small cabin and I would always make my sister make a fort with me to pretend we lived like they did.
2. The Boxcar Children--Gertrude Chandler Warner: Again, loved the whole series but I read the first one over and over again. I was always happy that I had a family after reading this but also felt envious that they were all so close and that they got to live alone and have an adventure.
3. Wanted..Mud Blossom--Betsy Byars: I don't really remember that much about this book but I remember loving it and loving that darn dog! I was surprised to see that it alot of people on Goodreads hadn't read this.
4. Harriet the Spy--Louise Firzhugh: I pretty much wanted to be her bff. As a nine-year-old, i fell hard for the boy with the purple socks from this book. I can't pass up a man of mystery.
5. Sideways Stories From Wayside School--
Louis Sachar: This book was all sorts of craziness and I remember loving it. Probably one of the more bizarre books I read when I was younger but it was one of my favorites.
6. Ramona the Pest--Beverly Clearly: Oh gosh how I loved all Beverly Cleary books but this one takes the cake! Ramona has always been one of my favorite characters in literature and this book was hilarious.
7. Behind the Attic Wall -- Sylvia Cassedy: This book was so magical and mysterious. Secret passageways. Dolls that walk and talk. Ok. It was a little creepy but I loved it.
8. Nancy Drew--Carolyn Keene: I can't just pick one book out of the Nancy Drew series. I really can't. I just remember the delight when my mom passed down HER Nancy Drew books to me. I thought Nancy was pretty much the coolest--unlike me, the child who was probably scared of her own shadow.
9. Sweet Valley Twins -- Francine Pascal: Again, I can't pick a particular book out of the series. I devoured every single one of these which led into me reading all the Sweet Valley High books. Ah, I just want to read them all again.
10. The Babysitter's Club -- Ann M. Martin: Oh, I thought I was so cool reading these. And I thought I was even cooler when, like many girls around the world, I tried to make my own BSC.

Ah, there are so many great books of my childhood that I couldn't put on here. Just have to give a shoutout to RL Stine--Goosebumps, Fear Street, etc. You were definitely an honorable mention on the list!

Lori's Livres--Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Book Title/Author
: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Publisher/Year Published: Algonquin Books, 2006
How I got a hold of this book: I bought it at Borders.
Why I read this book: I avoided this book for a couple of years because I've been so disappointed by several books that have received a lot of hype. But the one day I saw that Reese Witherspoon was starring in the film adaptation, so I bought the book.
Rating: 5 stars--Once I actually started reading the book, I loved the concept of running away and joining the circus. I loved seeing the development of the protagonist's relationship with other members of the circus company. And I loved the development of his character as an old man, which intersperses the chapters of him in his 20s. I will definitely read this again and it might even become a favorite.

The scene starts with a scene of mayhem as the menagerie has been set loose while a circus is underway. Our narrator looks across the tent, searching for "her." Soon after he sees "her," "she" kills the bad man with a stake to the head. So begins the prologue of this tale. From there, the reader goes into the mind of a 93-year-old man unhappily living in an assisted living home. As a young man living during the Great Depression, his life fell apart, he dropped out of vet school, and he joined a circus.

As a person who has often joked about running away and joining the circus (I'd be the daring young woman on the flying trapeze) I was hooked by this point.

In the Q&A with the author at the back of my edition, I read that Gruen did a lot of research in writing this novel. I think that this dedication shows in her prose. She created convincing and dynamic characters. Even her stereotypical characters, such as the evil man in charge of the circus, had a third dimension that made them real and not just flat. It would have been so easy for Gruen to fall into the trap of giving the reader the static kind of freaks and clowns normally expected in the circus. Gruen introduces the reader into the company and makes them feel privy to the behind the scenes interactions among a large and disparate group of people.

Another thing that Gruen does really well is write from a male perspective. As someone who has taken creative writing courses, I know how challenging it is to create a convincing narrator of the opposite sex. To be able to take the male narrator from his 20s to his 90s and still be convincing shows Gruen's story-telling capabilities. The depth of Jacob in his 90s made me think a lot about my grandparents and growing older. I loved Jacob's fire and determination to take care of himself as an old man; I hope my grandparents are like that when they're his age. Heck, I hope I'm like that when I'm his age.

Though the love story was pretty evident from the get-go, I recommend this book to people of all ages (my grandma has it right now) because of the amazing story about working on a circus during the Depression and the belief that just because you get older, it doesn't mean you're less capable.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Jamie takes on 360 Degrees Longitude: One Family's Journey Around the World

Book Title/Author: 360 Degrees Longitude: One Family's Journey Around the Word by John Higham
Publisher/Year Published: Alyson Books 2009
How my grubby hands got a hold of this book: I won this via a giveaway on Goodreads.
Why I read this book: If I'm not traveling myself, I won't pass up a chance to live vicariously through others whilst they are having a journey of a lifetime.
Rating: 5 stars--honestly one of the best travel memoirs I've read. I've loved others but always found them to drag in certain places but this one never did for me.

One thing you should probably know about me before I proceed with my review. I suffer from wanderlust, the travel bug, or whatever name you feel compelled to call it. If I could explore the world for the rest of my life, I'd be a happy camper. That being said, you can imagine how giddy I was when this book showed up in my mailbox. I immediately got the goosebumps like I do before I travel caused by that feeling of exploring the unknown and the thrill that there may be an adventure in your immediate future.

I started this book and within a page or so I already had one question. Can I join this family? I mean, for real, this family is kickass. They spend 10 years meticulously planning and saving up for this "World-the-Round trip" (and yes, that's World the Round) in which they will travel around the world for 52 weeks with their two children that are 8 and 11. That would be enough to make most parents break out in a sweat and bring them to their knees with anxiety. And did I mention that for a good chunk of this time they will be cycling via tandem bikes from London to Istanbul with children and luggage in tow?

This decently thick travelogue is set up like an itinerary with excerpts of the family's personal journal entries placed in various parts of the stories. There are also added goodies that were included. The book is set up so that at different points you will come to a place where you an go on to Google Earth to visually be a part of their trip. You'll see pictures, videos, and additional text. I found myself checking out a few of them (and will probably check out more at some point) but found it a little distracting while reading to stop and get on my computer. And the likelihood of someone reading this all in front of a computer is pretty slim. Really cool feature to the book but the novelty wears off after awhile.

Anyways, this book is exceptional. I mean it. The Higham family adventure is one of the best vacations I've had from the comfort of my plush little chair. John Higham carefully creates a scrapbooks of sorts as he balances recounting the sights and the scenery (and some interesting facts along the way!) with the family's personal thoughts and experiences as they face the unknown and explore some of the most beautiful places in the world. He touches delicately on the frustrations and annoyances in traveling with one's family (such as how two adults can have alone time??) and shares the joys of experiencing the world and growing together as a family. Alot of travelogues I've read drag in places but he really knows when not to linger on one country for too long and how to balance reflection, descriptions of people and scenery, and insights on history and culture.

Whether he is describing eating ham sandwiches for months, the challenge of "luggage Tetris," or homeschooling kids on the road--be prepared to experience the good humor that the family maintains throughout. I'm not sure I could find the humor in French campgrounds with no toilet paper or being stranded in remote places. But somehow this family is able to face defeat, give it a swift blow to the groin and keep on pedaling through some of the biggest hurdles and trials that one could face whilst traveling.

The best part about this book, for me, is that this family seems to be navigating by the same principle of travel that I believe in. Traveling is so much more than snapping photographs in front of historic sites and staying in posh hotels. True, those are all elements that can make a great trip, but traveling is really about the rich experiences with other cultures and viewing the world as one gigantic classroom. It's, as John Higham points out, "about discovering how people all over the world are similar, yet different in profoundly subtle ways, and how because of those very differences we were always able to find something to eat, something to wear, and somewhere to sleep."

It helps you to realize that at the end of the day "humankind in all its wonderful weirdness is the same all over the planet."

Thanks for stopping by if you are here from the Radiant Reviews meme!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Obligatory Introduction Post..

I guess this is where we say hello and tell you what to expect from this blog.

So, basically, we are a bunch of bookish college aged kids who met on Goodreads and decided that it would probably be a good idea to collaborate on a blog to serve readers around the world. As college students, we have a thirst for learning and a need to escape from the plight of the college student in 2010. We face economic recessions, unemployment, and life after graduation with a book in our hand.

It is my hope that this blog will be a place for other readers to see literature from the point of view of college students and a resource for readers to find great books and book lists that interest them. We hope that we can garner discussion with other bookish people to make our reading experiences all the richer.

We aren't paid bloggers. We read because we love to and we are giving our honest reviews of books we read because we feel compelled to share with other readers.
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