Saturday, July 31, 2010

Julia Reviews "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov

Title/Author: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Publisher/Year Published: 1997 by Vintage International (first published 1955)
How I got this book: It wasn't actually a book, but an audiobook (from the library, of course)
Why I read this book: I saw the movie and was vehemently told that the book was extremely better
Rating: 4 stars

There are few things more confusing than being serenaded by the lovely voice of Jeremy Irons when the content is the diary of a pedophile.

I feel like most people know what Lolita is about, but if not the summary is it is the confessions of a man, Humbert Humbert, as he tells of his emotional and physical relationship with 12 year-old Dolores, aka Lolita, as she grows into adolescence. I can hear some of you scoffing already. What could make anyone want to read about such a disturbing topic?
You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous flame aglow in your subtle spine (oh, how you have to cringe and hide!), in order to discern at once, by ineffable signs—the slightly feline outline of a cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limb, and other indices which despair and shame and tears of tenderness forbid me to tabulate—the deadly little demon among the wholesome children; she stands unrecognized by them and unconscious herself of her fantastic power.

The writing. It is beautifully written. You would never think that you could get caught up in the mind of such a sick person, but you do. You're not really rooting for him, per say, but I definitely understood him most of the time. The author sums this up in the foreward, "But how magically his singing violin can conjure up a tendresse, a compassion for Lolita that makes us entranced with the book while abhorring its author!"

I was very rarely taken out of the story, which is an unusual case for me with classics, but that may also have to do with Mr. Irons' performance. It was hard pressed to get me out of the car most nights, at least until I found a good stopping point. He voice embodies Humbert. It is like listening to a narrative movie, a production of a one man play.

If you're looking to tackle a book from the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, Modern Library's 100 Best or just want to read a book from a different perspective, Lolita is for you.

And I strongly suggest you get the audiobook with Jeremy Irons. It completely enhanced the experience for me for the better I believe. Any time you can get a little more Iron's in your life, you must jump on it! Now to go watch The Lion King...

I give this book 4 stars for pure can't stop listening enjoyment.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Jess' Review: The Butterfly Mosque (G. Willow Wilson)

(photo image found at

Title: The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam
Author: G. Willow Wilson
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Year Published: 2010
Notes: I got this book at the library, after waiting for its release for about six months.

G. Willow Wilson's memoir is as complex as people's identities; this is not merely a love story, or a conversion memoir, or the tales of an American expat, or the experiences of a woman in a male-dominated culture. I was drawn to this book because, having lived in Egypt myself (though under the umbrella of a 'structured' study abroad program at the American University in Cairo), I was curious to hear this woman's story. How did her experiences change her life so intimately and drastically?

Wilson is an astute observer who looks critically at both Egypt and Egyptians, as well as the United States and Americans. She is not harsh to either, but since she is betwixt and between Arab and American, she navigates the differences and similarities with clear observations and anecdotes. Wilson seems to have an enormous capacity for understanding and relating to other humans, and I find her to be a reliable memoirist. She is well-versed in Qur'an, Muslim folklore, and Middle East history, with a growing sense of Egyptian social norms. Conversely, Wilson grew up atheist and participated in American popular culture for years. These experiences, I believe, have allowed her to identify and critique hypocrisy and paradoxes from each side:
"I think this holds true on a larger scale: of the Middle Easterners I have met who resent the West (and specifically the United States), the vast majority resent it because they perceive it to be a military and economic juggernaut bombing whole countries into rubble, putting local industries out of business (though this title is slowly passing to China), and succeeding and succeeding where the Middle East fails. Religion never enters the discussion." —p135
This is direct commentary on Wilson's personal experiences, but I found it wonderful that she converted to Islam or embraced its role in her life prior to her engagement and subsequent marriage to Omar. People often assume that individuals convert to Islam because they are persuaded or forced to do so. Though Islam is a proselytizing religion, it maintains many of the same tenets as monotheistic religions like Judaism and Christianity, and for that reason has broad-based appeal.

Wilson and her friends are not left unscathed by the post-9/11 political environment. Though it is not central to this memoir, some of Wilson's colleagues and friends are investigated by federal agents; her phone is tapped at times. These are the realities of contemporary American security concerns, and I commend Wilson for her treatment and discussion of them in this book.

Wilson's writing is a pleasure to read. I found it to be purposely detailed and emotional while also succinct. She does not waste any time skirting around issues, but boldly plucks them. Her stories of not eating anything except cheese and bread reminded me of my own time in Egypt—taxicab drivers, the incredible disparity from neighborhood to neighborhood, the strange lack of sweating. She, like me, agrees that to be a Middle East expert you must live amongst human beings in the Middle East.

What may draw many readers in is the love story. Wilson's storybook romance is full of uncertainty, cultural barriers, and the mystery of romance in any society. Yet despite their differences, Wilson and Omar find many more similarities. Readers will find their love fascinating and beautiful.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is curious about Islam or American Muslim converts. You do not need to be learned in either subject to read this book, though it may help. I found the use of Arabic and either Muslim or Arabic quotes throughout the text to be wonderful. I think that this book is a good counterpoint to Irshad Manji and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who depict a negative image of Islam that is quite unrealistic, yet garners great attention from American media.

I give this book 4.5 stars.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jessi Laughs Through "Miss Hildreth Wore Brown"

Title/Author: Miss Hildreth Wore Brown: Anecdotes of a Southern Belle by Olivia deBelle Byrd
Publisher/Year: Morgan James Publishing, 2010
How I Got This: I received a complimentary copy of this from the author (Thanks, Olivia!)
Why I Read It: I love Southern lit and was looking for a good laugh!
Rating: 4 Stars

Oh, how I laughed out loud while reading this one!

As the subtitle tells it, this little book is full of short anecdotes told by a true Southern woman. The topics range from hair to weddings to Victoria's Secret to just about anything there is to chat about. Now, I am not from the South nor am I a mother or a wife, but I still found plenty to laugh about in this little book. The anecdote about hair had me howling because even though I don't have thin hair (I have the opposite--thick and wavy), I totally get how frustrating it is to make my hair look decent in the humidity.

Olivia deBelle Byrd writes with such wit and such sass that it was as if I could hear her telling me these stories. She's truly a great storyteller. It was great, too, because even though none of my family are from the South or reside in the South (except for my uncle who moved to South Carolina), many of Olivia's ideas and opinions made me think of my own grandmother. If there is above 1% chance of rain, my grandmother goes to no end to make sure that her hair is perfect, complete with 3 cans of hair spray (1 being tucked into her purse), as well as those plastic net things that cover hair. And I know she has plenty of "we-know-Mimi's-crazy" rules. That's what is so great about this little book--no matter where you're from or your situation, you can find something to relate to and chuckle about.

This is a quick read, perfect for a lazy afternoon. It would also make an excellent gift book or travel book. It was a true pleasure to read, and now that all of my laughter has subsided, I'm thinking about passing this onto my grandma Mimi who I know would enjoy this!

Jessi Reviews "The Dead Zone"

Title/Author: The Dead Zone by Stephen King

Publisher/Year: Signet, 1983
How I got this: It was a Christmas gift a few years back!
Why I read it: Stephen King is one of my favs!
Rating: 5 Stars

Y'know, I read this before, I must have been 14, but for the life of me, when I began re-reading this, I could not remember a thing about it. I guess that wasn't all so bad, but I admit, it had me scared because I thought that if I couldn't remember it, then maybe it wasn't that great.

Boy, was I wrong! This is the Stephen King that I know and love. I don't even know where to begin with all of the stuff that I loved about this book.

First of all, this book goes to show that old Uncle Steve doesn't just write about things that go bump in the night. Not that I find his other books hokey (because I DON'T), but for the skeptic, this book is the prime example of how he can take a seemingly unbelievable idea and make it absolutely believable.

I also loved how he portrayed Johnny's ability. To put it simply, after waking up from a four and a half year coma, Johnny has this ability to know things about people by touching them--he can tell things about them, but he can also locate lost things (and people) and can even experience small flashes of insight into the future. Great, right? Wrong. This ability isn't all it's cracked up to be, and I find it great that SK shows that while it can be truly helpful and life-saving at times, it is also a torturous curse for Johnny. This is especially true when he sees a vision of the future under the control of a conniving, maniacal politician. It brings to rise the question: If you could go back to 1932, would you kill Hitler? Consequences, consequences, and a dilemma to beat all dilemmas--I LOVE it.

And again, of course, this man is master of characterization. From the main characters to the most minor characters, SK has a handle on them all. You can tell that he spends a lot of time on his writing, and it absolutely shines. Once again, SK has created a cast of characters who I hold near and dear. I could go on and on about this book, I really could, but I think I'll just leave it at what I said before--this is the Stephen King that I know and love!

Oh, and I particularly enjoyed the references to Carrie and 'Salem's Lot. Those kind of connections always make me giggle and I feel like they're a sort of shout-out and a thank you to his Constant Readers.

I would definitely recommend this one to those who haven't read anything by Uncle Steve before and definitely for King fans who haven't picked up this gem yet.

Lori's Livres--Suck Your Stomach In & Put Some Color On! by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson

Book Title/Author: Suck Your Stomach In & Put Some Color On!: What Southern Mamas Tell Their Daughters That the Rest of Y'all Should Know Too by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson
Publisher/Year Published: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2008
How I got a hold of this book: I bought this book at
Why I read this book: I am pretty much obsessed with all things Southern, so this seemed like a good book to read. I was even more excited when I found out that recipes were involved. But Shellie's style was the frosting on the cupcake as far as I was concerned.
Rating:5+ stars because I will definitely go back through and pick out some recipes, as well as refer to the lessons and guidelines to live by that Shellie shares on several topics.

I bought this book kind of on a whim, as a part of a 3 books for a bit of a deal on Amazon...and I am so glad that I did! There was something magical about reading this book and being able to say "You too?!" when I read about many of Shellie's experiences.

The South is known the world over for its manners and charms. Our mamas wouldn't have it any other way. Shellie provides the reader a good collection of Southern manners and social graces through her own life story. I'm sure that a work the length of Proust's entire In Search Of Lost Time series would not cover all of the nuances of the Southern code of life. But Shellie does an excellent job of giving the reader a good starting point. The margins of her pages include gems of wisdom from other Southern mamas and their daughters.

While reading this book, I was surprised to learn just how Southern my childhood was. Here I thought my mama just did a good job, but no! she was Southern through and through. Shellie includes chapters about love, having children (which was the last chapter I read because I was a little afraid of what that might entail), budgeting, keeping house, manners, and other pearls of wisdom. At the end of each chapter, she gives a few good old Southern recipes--main dishes, casseroles, soups, desserts, pretty much every course in a good meal. She does all of this with quintessentially Southern wit, charm and humor. Her first person narrative is open and honest. I felt like I was sitting on the front porch, sipping a glass of fresh squeezed lemonade, while Shellie talked to me and me only.

I tried to read this book one chapter a night so that I could really savor and stretch the book and its contents. But I found myself sneaking in multiple chapters a day. I feel I need to reread it (again and again) to see whether I missed any other manners or tips that I could (and should) incorporate into my life. It may sound disingenuous to say that this book was life-changing, but it has definitely made me think about the person I present to the world...and how I represent not only myself, but my mama who raised me as well.

About halfway through this book, I looked up Shellie's website, All Things Southern, and found a new mecca for being Southern. Definitely check it out and subscribe to her blog. I also started following her on Twitter. OK, you've probably noticed that throughout this review I've called her "Shellie" instead of "Tomlinson" or "the author." Well, that's because not only did she follow me back on Twitter, but she's someone I talk with every now and then. She answered all of my many questions when I went to make her Pork Roast Barbecue (which you make in the oven!) for my family's Memorial Day meal. And she was quite helpful when I turned to her for some spiritual advice. I mention all of this because it is so nice to meet a published author who is so accessible. She doesn't take herself too seriously at all and I feel I can count her as one of my friends.

I would recommend this book to women who want to learn more about being Southern, whether or not they come from the South...especially if they love to cook. I feel that this book holds many gems about life and good manners that everyone should follow, regardless of where they are from.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jamie Takes On Backseat Saints

I'm doing a giveaway of Backseat Saints on my personal book blog-- The Perpetual Page-Turner!

Title/Author: Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson
Publisher/Year: Grand Central Publishing 2010
How I got this book: GCPeditor sent it to me!
Why I read this book: She said it was one of her favorite reads this summer so I had to read it!
Rating: I kept vacillating between 3.5 stars and 4. I'll just say a solid 4.

Whenever I encounter a book about a tough subject, such as abuse, mental illness, drugs, suicide, etc., I am always nervous to see how the author portrays it. I wonder if they add humor or other devices to soften the dark subject matter? Is it explicit in detail? But more importantly, for me, I always wonder if it is an accurate and honest portrayal of the subject. I can handle alot when it comes to books. I'm don't stray away from hard subject matters. I do, however, dislike when I feel that the portrayal of something so serious is not handled with utmost care and delicacy. I want it to be real and honest.

That being said, I was nervous when I saw that this book was about a wife who is abused. Ro Grandee/Rose Mae Lolley is a woman who has endured abuse by her dad as a child (after her mom left and didn't take her) and ran away after high school only to move along the string of abusive boyfriends and finally into the arms of her husband who also likes to beat her. She's trapped--in her marriage and within herself. Her "new" self--Ro Grandee, wife of Thom, tries to repress Rose Mae Lolley--her younger, rebellious self. She lets herself slide in the routine of being a battered wife and doesn't think she can escape until the day she has a chance meeting with a gypsy fortune teller who reveals that her husband is going to kill her. She then has to decide--will it be him or her that prevails?

I feel like the author deals with the subject with care and presents a realistic view on every aspect of domestic abuse. I've never experienced abuse before but I know others who have. I think she touched on the cycle of abuse, abandonment, and the abuse itself in an honest manner. It wasn't extremely explicit and it was easy to handle because of the quirky nature and humor of the main character. She was an unpredictable, Southern girl who decided it was time to make a change. The journey is pretty exciting and you find yourself rooting for her in the end even though sometimes you just want to shake her. She encounters some of her past and I thought the author did a really good job of portraying the realities of forgiveness for those who have hurt you in the past. Redemption was a strong theme in this book and I thought these acts were touching. I think the cover embodies the characters journey so well. You'll see what I mean when you read the book.

I have to say that sometimes I got distracted by the whole Ro/Rose/Ivy (I haven't even touched on that) thing. I felt like she had split personalities sometimes and sometimes it just irritated me to no end. I just wanted her to make up her darn mind as to who she was. I thought about it for a while and realized that, although it was irritating in the book, I can be like that. I can be unsure of who I am. I feel like there are parts of myself that are just trying to get out. Maybe not as much as her but I guess I get it. It just honestly was something that I grew weary of while reading the book. I did feel that all three facets of this woman were very real. Anyone with a hard past knows how you still have that person lingering inside you, then you have your present self, and then you have that faraway person you have the potential to be.

A few vagrant yet valid thoughts about this book:

1. I hear that her other book Gods in Alabama is related to this story. I think Rose Mae is a minor character in it? I'm not all that sure but I think you are supposed to read that one first although it isn't necessary by any means.

2. It got me thinking about alot of things-- about protecting yourself and the ones you love. I don't want to give anything away about the twist of an ending but there are questions that will surface while reading this--what is ok when it comes to protecting yourself or others? Is murder a viable option? Ialso thought alot about the plight of women like her. How can you stay? Why can't you just get help and get out? I think it is easy to judge when you aren't in the situation and wonder why someone could deal with that but I think this book gives you a perspective on those questions.

3. *Kind of a spoiler although it is on the Goodreads description** The only thing I found unrealistic was how she found her mom. I felt like I didn't make that connection at all and it was really rushed. I had to go back to that part and still couldn't figure out how she made that connection. I think that them finding each other again just didn't seem like it was plausible but that could just be me.

All in all, a good read. You won't be disappointed if you like a good Southern fiction novel dealing with real issues. I have to admit that it isn't generally a book I would pick up but I'm glad I did. It was quite the ride. If you are someone who can't handle books about this topic, I'd say give it a try because I thought it was done pretty well and isn't explicitly disturbing.

Hello to everyone from Radiant Reviews at Chrissie's Corner!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Top Ten All-Time Favorite Books

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!

This week's top ten is:
What are your top ten all-time favorite books?

How awful is it to have to choose your ten favorite books? It's like picking your favorite child. Well, if books were children, these would be my favorites:

  1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling - I'm sure these will be my favorite books well into adulthood. Nothing beats them. Period. I can't even choose my favorite out of the seven in the series!
  2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith - Of all people, my dad first recommended this book to me. He was a slacker all through high school, yet he dearly loved this book. The copy that he gave me has been ripped, stained, and fallen into the pool a few time. No lie, I think I've read it at least thirty times.
  3. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein - Oh, who can't help but love Bilbo Baggins? I adore The Lord of the Rings books, but The Hobbit, its prequel, it a much easier read. It doesn't go into as much detail about the scenery, the history of Middle Earth, Elvish songs, or the hobbit's hairy feet. Peter Jackson needs to get his stuff together and make this into a movie already!
  4. Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir - This is my all-time favorite historical fiction book. Lady Jane Grey fascinates me. She was literally forced onto the English throne in 1553 by her father at the age of sixteen, held the title of Queen for nine days, and was soon after executed by the orders of Mary I (the start of Bloody Mary, hmm?). Jane didn't want any of that, all she wanted to do was read her books. I can relate.
  5. Avalon by Anya Seton - Another amazing book that soothes my inner history nerd. It follows a young woman in 10th century England as she travels with Leif Erickson and his crew to Greenland and back again. It has kings, queens, love, murder, and Vikings!
  6. The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George - Tackling the complete, personal life of Henry VIII is no easy task, yet Margaret George captured the much misunderstood king wonderfully. At almost a thousand pages, it keeps me happily entertained for a long time.
  7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - This is a really long book. It's also very predictable: poor orphan girl ends up with the rich guy. It's perfect. It's a classic.
  8. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory - The historical inaccuracies make me cringe, but this is the closest to enjoyable chick-lit I'll ever get, and I LOVE IT.
  9. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy - This was one of those books that I felt I needed to read in order to be a well-read, educated person, but I'll admit, I was scared senseless when I pulled Anna off the library shelf. I can't even explain why I love this's certainly not Leo Tolstoy, I almost had an aneurysm when I read War and Peace.
  10. The President's Lady by Irving Stone - One of my favorite love stories! Better yet, it's a true one! Andrew Jackson sounded like a cool guy, but his wife, Rachel, sounded even cooler.
Next week's TTT is: Top Ten Favorite Book Characters

Monday, July 26, 2010

In Which Snickers Tackles Alice Hoffman and Tasseography.

Title/Author: Fortune's Daughter by Alice Hoffman

Published: 1985 by Berkley Trade
How I Got It: Borrowed it from the library.
Why I Read It: I was seduced into reading it by the alluring cup of tea on the cover.

The Review:
Warning! Spoilers Included.

Hoffman is a master at portraying the raw humanity of her characters. It's that portrayal of those raw emotions that we all feel - but could never explain - that makes her such a popular author. We can relate to her characters because of this, even though outwardly we have nothing in common with them. As Practical Magic was my first Hoffman novel, the bar was raised fairly high for the rest of her books. Fortune's Daughter doesn't even come close. It's not a stretch for me to say that it was a disappointment.

I found it hard to even pretend that I had something in common with Rae and Lila, the two protagonists. While they display the same open emotions as Hoffman's other characters, it just comes across as being wishy-washy instead of endearing. Rae just couldn't decide whether she should stay with her inattentive, detached boyfriend, or if she should do what the reader is screaming at her to do: leave him already, woman! See what I mean? Wishy-washy. Lilia, who began as a somewhat intriguing character, simply goes bonkers by the end of the novel, what with the whole summoning her dead baby's ghost and keeping it in her dresser drawer thing. Yeah. THAT. If you're thinking, "WTF?", then you're not alone. No, Hoffman does NOT clarify the reason for this display of insanity.

The character I wished I would have learned more about was the old fortune teller, Hattie. She was such an influential character - after all, it was she who taught Lila Tasseography (the art of reading tea leaves), and as another Goodreads reviewer noted, it was with her that the real magic in Fortune's Daughter seemed to lie. I found myself hoping and praying that she turn up later, but she never did - and somehow, this was the biggest disappointment of all. Maybe this was the point: Hattie would always remain a mystery, to both the readers and Lila. However, since she was the only interesting character, the point is almost lost on the reader, who meanwhile struggles to remain interested in the protagonists.

The Three Sisters, for which Three Sisters Street was named (and where Lila and Richard lived), pop up unexpectedly toward the end of the book, and get a whopping page and a half devoted to their story. I honestly don't understand the point of this, seeing as how they had no previous importance whatsoever in the plot, other than a street being named for them. They seem cool, really, they do. They just have no real place in this particular story. Maybe if the plot was changed to echo that of The Probable Future or Practical Magic, in which the most important characters of all are the ones who came before to leave a soft whisper of their legacy. In Fortune's Daughter, which centers mostly around the young ones, the babies, any generation that goes beyond that of "mother" simply has no reason to be included.

One last observation/complaint. Hoffman has a knack for describing the weather in her stories. She manages to intertwine the little things, like the weather and landscape, with the emotions of her characters. It acts as an amplifier and makes it all so REAL. Hoffman realizes that the weather really does have an effect on human emotions; that it tells the truth of the feelings we have yet to acknowledge ourselves. She uses this to her advantage, and wields it elegantly.

Except when she's so blatantly WRONG. I am a California native, born and raised. I can honestly say that there is no such thing as "earthquake weather", and anyone who says otherwise hasn't spent much time in California - Hoffman, this means you. There is no real way to predict earthquakes; the only reliable way to tell that something's wrong is to watch the animals. Note that I said "something", not "earthquake". Has Hoffman ever even been to California?

She puts so much emphasis on this earthquake thing in the beginning of the story. You just KNOW it's going to come in to play again later, and in a big way. Chapters upon chapters go by, and you start to think, "Well, it's Hoffman. I'm sure she'll tie it in somehow with her characters' lives, and it will be splendid." But nothing happens until somewhere near the end of the book, and it is neither monumental or significant. It reads as if Hoffman was plodding along, when suddenly it occurred to her, "Oh yeah! I made a big fuss at the beginning about an earthquake. I should throw one in there. Maybe no one will notice that I forgot about it." Oh, I noticed. I especially noticed how she failed to tie it in with her character's emotions.

To summarize: this book was a disappointment. If you're undeterred in your motivation to read it, go for it. Just don't expect it to live up to the standards of Practical Magic.

The Rating:
2 stars.

I didn't hate it enough to give it one star, nor did I care enough to bother with half-stars. Fortune's Daughter gets a solid 2 stars because it IS Alice Hoffman, after all - it's hard to hate her writing.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Linger Giveaway Winner!

Thank you to everyone who participated! We are so thankful to have so many wonderful people reading this blog. We are delighted to be hosting our first giveaway!

The winner was chosen by random draw.

Number 26 on our spreadsheet was:


Congrats! You will be receiving an email shortly! Be on the lookout for more giveaways from this blog!

Regarding Jana and "Poison Study"

Title and Author: Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder (Book one of the Study series)

Publishing Info: Published by MIRA Books, 2005

How I got this book: I got it for my birthday June 2010.

Why I read this book: I've heard a lot of raving reviews about this book and felt it was about time I sink my teeth into a new series! Oh, and the cover is really pretty!

Much like Suzanne Collins’s
The Hunger Games, I was really worried about this book. I don’t usually like books where the main character(s) are violently mistreated. In both instances, I read the back of each book and skeptically thought, “Who on Earth could enjoy such a violent and tragic storyline?” However, I’d heard AMAZING things from friends and fellow book-a-holics that I trusted. I loved The Hunger Games, so I dove right into this book with the same expectations. I loved this one too! Let me explain.

This book is about Yelena, a young girl living in the land of Ixia. She has been convicted of murder, and is therefore sentenced to death by hanging. While lying in her dark, grimy, rat-infested dungeon cell she awaits the noose made especially for her. After living in that cell for just under a year, a guard comes and scrapes her emaciated body off the floor and takes her away. She can only assume it’s her turn to die. However, she is presented with a way to live—a new life. There’s a catch, though. If she’s going to live, she has to do it as a servant in the Commander’s home as his food taster. The previous food taster has died, and since the favorable method of assassination is by poison, the commander needs a new food taster immediately. The code states that the next person in line for the noose has to be offered the position. She accepts, thinking that surely there will be opportunity for escape in the future. Valek, her new handler, takes her through an extensive training curriculum, even poisoning her in the process. She comes through with a complete knowledge of all the poisons and begins her job.

Brazell, the father of the man Yelena murdered wants her dead. Her life becomes an obsession of his and she has to fight him and his guards off along the way. Not only is he after her, but so are some of the other servants she lives with. On top of that, someone has noticed some special powers she possesses and insists on either killing her or training her. If she does not learn to control these powers, she could cause major trouble for not only herself, but the world she lives in. This makes life difficult, obviously, and Valek, takes her into his suite so he can protect her. Along with Valek, she finds a few friends in the castle who help her and teach her new things.

When a conspiracy arises against the Commander, Yelena is forced into the middle of all of it. She has to face the man who drove her to kill, the demons of her past, and the man who just might ruin her future. She also has to quickly discover her true potential in order to help protect those she is bound to by vow and bound to by love. Throw in a ton of suspenseful scenes, some menacing characters, and a love interest or two, Yelena is in for a bumpy ride on the road to self-discovery, love, loyalty, and friendship.

I really loved this book! Yelena is so spunky. You’d think that with the crappy past she had and the dismal life she ends up surrendering to, she’d be all whiny and woe-is-me all the time. She’s a fighter! She takes no crap and she kicks butt a few times! It’s really entertaining and refreshing to see such a strong female character. Here’s this skinny, weak little thing fighting off some of the strongest and most evil people ever. There’s a few lessons I think I need to learn from her. I loved Valek from the beginning. He’s got that hardened, cold, stand-offish persona but you just know there’s a teddy bear in there somewhere. That kind of man is very appealing and you’ll know what I mean if you’ve read about a man like him. The other characters were also likable. Really, the only ones I did not like were the villains (go figure). The storyline was so unique to me that it really pulled me in. I was constantly turning pages wondering how the author would treat the subject matter. It took me way too long to read, since I was on vacation, but it kept calling to me from my carry-on bag or my suitcase. I forsook sleep for it! I do that a lot with books, but not usually on vacation.

I’m really excited for the sequel and am SO excited that I discovered this series late enough to not have to wait for it! I’ll be at Border’s in the morning with the gift card I’ve got stashed away for such an emergency.

Stars: 4. I could not give the book 5 stars, just because I really hated how horrible some of the people in this book were treated. I had a hard time hearing about the sad life of Yelena, as well as the people from her past. I loved the suspense, the little bit of romance, and the unique storyline. I’m so excited to grab book #2!

Hello to everyone coming from Radiant Reviews over at Chrissie's Corner!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

R holds forth on 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Street by Helene Hanff
Penguin, 1990
How I got this book: The library.
Why I read this book: I heard that it's about books... and I like books.

Right then.

I cried.

I’m just going to lay my cards down right at the start. I wasn’t chopping onions. I didn’t get something in my eye. I cried, like a baby with a stinky nappy and an empty tummy in the middle of the night.

What can I say? I may have cried watching the first Hulk movie, but I promise you that my judgment isn’t really that skewed. This little book is seriously moving.

84, Charing Cross Road is a collection of letters sent between the NYC denizen Helene Hanff in and the employees of the secondhand bookshop – or bookstore – Marks & Co., located at the titular address in London.

It starts out as Hanff’s bibliophilic quest to hunt down some of the more obscure titles on her TBR list. It’s something I’m relatively familiar with, so in a way I felt like I identified with her right from the start.

I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to ‘I hate to read new books,’ and I hollered ‘Comrade!’ to whoever owned it before me.

A funny secondhand book enthusiast? My kind of person.

Over the years, the relationship between the booksellers and their faraway customer grows. It becomes apparent that she matters greatly to them (and they to her) despite never having met in person. It’s just delightful to watch how Hanff’s little gestures of kinship melt the stiff-upper-lip professionalism of her initial correspondent Frank Doel, as the restrained decorum of his early letters gradually seep away and are replaced with warmth.

This edition has a foreword by Anne Bancroft, who played Helene Hanff in the film (which I haven’t seen) based on the book. In it, she writes that attachment to the volume stemmed from how these little exchanges reminded her of a friend of hers… That’s really how it was for me. Through the letters between Helene and the employees at the little bookshop half a world away, I could feel the echoes of conversations I’ve had with friends – both over a distance and “in real life”; both still with us and now lost.

I’m making the assumption that, if you’re reading this blog, you have a passion for books and an appreciation for the border-transcending sense of community shared by readers all around the world. To you I holler, ‘Comrade!’ and recommend this book. Even if you find there are elements of these letters that you might not unconditionally adore – Helene’s somewhat aggressive cajoling, perhaps, or Frank’s indomitable reticence – the booklover in you will identify with some of it, somewhere.

Strange as I feel about rating a collection of real correspondences (I’m giving stars to somebody’s life!), I’m giving 84, Charing Cross Road 4 stars.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon

Book Title: Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon
Author: Melissa Anelli
How I got it: Downloaded it on my nook.
Why I read it: Being the Harry Potter geek that I am, the idea of learning more about it delighted me, so I bought it.
Rating: 5+ Stars

**Warning for possible Harry Potter spoilers up through book 7**

J.K. Rowling took Children’s Fiction a huge step forward when she began Harry’s story. When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was first published the best selling series was the Goosebumps series. Children’s novels were never over about 150 pages.Books were supposed to be politically correct and should help direct children to do the right things, they should teach not entertain. Novels with any hint of British culture were discouraged, little details like milk bottles on the porch and the Underground were kept out of books because they thought it would dissuade readers. J.K. broke those rules and forever changed Children’s Fiction.

Harry, A History tells the story of what was going on in the ‘real’ world while Harry’s story was being written. The author, Melissa, is the web mistress of “The Leaky Cauldron”, and was at the very center of all the fandom. She describes how she herself got into the story, beginning with her reluctance to read the books and then quickly moving to snatching brief moments to read between classes and breaks at work.Gradually becoming extremely well known among the fandom. As a reporter and fan she became as involved with it as possible, standing in line waiting for the latest book release, attending conventions devoted entirely to Harry Potter, even going as far as to interview Laura Mallory, the woman who relentlessly protested the Harry Potter books, calling them “evil” and demanding that they be banned. Melissa was even lucky enough to meet and become friends with J.K.Rowling.

Now, normally I don’t really enjoy reading nonfiction. This book was different, I could not put it down! Her descriptions of waiting impatiently in line for that magical time of 12:00 when we would finally get to jump back into the world of Harry Potter, jumping up and down with excitement upon seeing the movie trailer for Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time, breathlessly awaiting news of when the next book was going to be released and guessing what the title would be, all of that took me right back to those moments. I was reliving those moments over again, remembering how it all was. I’ve never had a book affect me in the way that Harry, A History, did. I laughed, I was even brought to tears at some points remembering fond memories, I talked back to the book things like: “I remember that!” or “Oh my gosh, me too!” or when I got to the parts about Laura Mallory it was more like “You have got to be freaking kidding me!” (I’m telling you, that woman is insane-very dedicated to her beliefs- but quite insane.) I found myself falling in love with the series all over again and the moment I finished the book I had to go back and reread the series.

There is something uniquely special about growing up with the Harry Potter series. I was 10 when I started reading the books and I was 17 when Deathly Hallows was released. I think those that are just now reading them really missed out on something special. I wouldn’t give up those late nights of waiting in line for the book, meeting wonderfully odd people, getting my face painted, and then finally, finally getting my hands on the long awaited book. I can still remember how the book felt in my hands, and even remember the way that the book smelled. I grew up with the characters, laughing with them, cheering them on, crying when Dumbledore died and then crying even harder after the events of the 7th book. There is a quote from the book that I think quite accurately describes how I, and many others, feel about the books. She is describing finding the books in a box a year after she had read them for the first time.

“I pried loose a rose-colored book with a textured cover, and stared again at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. I ran a hand across the cover in the cheesy way that people do in Hallmark commercials, then scurried back to sit against the wall, and opened the book for the second time.

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

I sighed aloud, as if I’d sunk into a down comforter. The ho-hum tone of the opening sentence was a complete lie, and it felt great to know it. There were giants and dragons and spells and witches and battles and friendship and magic to come, and it was all funny and warm and loving and powerful, and I hadn’t realized how much I had missed it.”

I can’t recommend this book enough, if you love the Harry Potter books read this and fall in love again. It was like experiencing the excitement all over again, plus I learned a lot along the way. If you are new to the series, pick this book up and read about what you missed it’s almost (almost) as good as experiencing it for yourself.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did. I’m off to visit Harry’s world again.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Natanya's Ramblings on "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

Title/Author: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Publisher/Year Published: Houghton Mifflin Company 2005
How I got this book: Library
Why I read it: I heard it was fantastic
At age 9, Oskar Schell is extremely bright, capable, and insatiably curious (albeit a bit socially challenged). He is an inventor, spending much of his time creating useful items in his head, such as a teakettle whose spout became a mouth and “could whistle pretty melodies, or do Shakespeare.” Through Oskar’s eyes, we are able to view the world through an entirely different lens as he struggles to deal with his father’s September 11th death and his mother’s apparent ability to move on. A year after his father’s death, Oskar discovers a key among his father’s belongings along with the name “Black,” and he immediately sets out on a search for the lock to which the key belongs. Travelling throughout New York City, Oskar meets people from every walk of life, from an old man with a card catalogue of every important person he has heard of or met, to a couple who keep museums in each other’s honor. Meanwhile, alongside Oskar’s quest and his memories, Foer tells another, much different but equally intriguing tale, written in letters beginning in another place and time and unveiling two lives up until now shielded behind a cloak of rules, lies, and silence.
Oskar’s objective perspective provides us with what I can only term (in a horribly clich├ęd manner, but with no negative intentions) as a “learning experience.” When Oskar says or does something strange we as readers, though perhaps embarrassed on his behalf, can nearly view the situation through his eyes. We fully understand his motivations and desires, but are simultaneously unable to predict the next move of this remarkable young boy.
I picked up Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close expecting it to be amazing, and was not at all disappointed. This is a novel that really does not need any explanation. In a manner simultaneously humorous and lighthearted yet tragic, Jonathan Safran Foer seamlessly weaves together and brings to life dozens of lives, forming a unique and uplifting story. I would recommend this novel to anyone.
5 stars

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Stephany's Review On Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Book Title/Author: Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
Publisher/Year Published: St. Martin's Press/2010
How I Got This Book: From the public library.
Why I read this book: Someone actually suggested to me on goodreads to read this book and I almost always read a book that's suggested to me.
Rating: 5 stars

In all honesty, in chapters one through seven, I would give this book 3 stars at the most. I was very bored in the beginning of the book and it took me forever to actually get into it. But once I got to chapter seven, the book started changing, and got more exciting and it was hard for me to put the book down. So, I have to give it 5 stars.

Winter Garden is about two sisters who never had a good relationship with their mother. They never felt that unconditional love that a mother gives, they felt as if their mother hated them, for whatever reason. The sister were very close with their father, however, and he became very ill. He asked his daughters to promise him while on his death bed, that they will try to get to know their mother while they still have the chance. To try to understand why she is the way that she is. Their mother talks about fairy tales quite often in this compelling story. While the two sisters were growing up, they would listen to bits and pieces of this fairy tale until one day they just stopped listening and stopped caring. For Nina, one of the daughters, she stopped listening when her mother refused to wave goodbye to her from the train platform when Nina was going on a trip when she was younger, and for Meredith, it was when her mother didn't show up for her play. These sisters didn't understand their mother at all, and didn't want to. But, they made a promise to their dying father that they would learn everything they could about her.

So, this story is about forgiveness, finding yourself, friendship, and the many emotional outcomes life has to offer. The reason I felt that the first 6-7 chapters were boring is because it wasn't really telling the story. It was just dry, boring 'information' for a lack of a better word. But once Chapter 7 comes, the story changes and get extremely exciting. With the fairy tales, it's like you're reading a story within a story. But the full on fairytale didn't come until after chapter 7. That's when it was hard for me to put the book down.

Winter Garden will leave you feeling so many different emotions. You will feel bored, happy, sad, excited, you will feel heartbroken, but wanting more. You will laugh, and you will cry, you will be shocked, surprised, and the ending is amazing. Kristin Hannah makes you feel exactly what the characters are feeling in her ever powering explanations through out the book, especially when the fairy tale is being told.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. It's a must read and if you haven't read it yet, I suggest you add it to your "To Be Read" list! I promise, you won't be disappointed!

Top Ten Tuesday - Regarding Jana and Her Favorite Covers

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! Don't worry if you can't think of ten--add as many as you can!

This week's Top Ten is-- Top Ten Favorite Covers

I am SO excited about this blog post! I'll proudly and openly admit that I judge books by their covers. What can I say? I'm a graphic designer! It's my job. :) If a book has a good cover, I'll buy it (unless the subject sounds totally uninteresting--I do have my limits!). If it has a bad cover, I'll have to be talked into buying it... and I mean you'll have to give me a REALLY good reason. I wouldn't say I'm obsessed, necessarily, but I do think that's the best diagnosis... I've analyzed the imagery, symbolism, color combinations, typography, level of unique-ness (I know... that's not a word.), and how all those elements work together to create MY favorite covers!

P.S. These are in no particular order. It was hard enough narrowing it down to ten, so don't ask me to put them in order too! You decide which you like best!

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

I know, I know. We’ve seen enough of this book cover, it has been forever engrained in our minds, and it’s not terribly exciting. That’s the reason this cover is SO good! According to Stephenie Meyer’s website, “the apple on the cover of Twilight represents "forbidden fruit." I used the scripture from Genesis because I loved the phrase "the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil." The nice thing about the apple is it has so many symbolic roots… Apples are quite the versatile fruit. In the end, I love the beautiful simplicity of the picture. To me it says: choice.” Have you noticed that it has become part of society? I’m seeing knock-offs of this image (like on other book covers or highway billboards with someone holding something else, etc.), not to mention that people are WEARING this image. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone, somewhere has this tattooed on themselves. Oh, I was right! Look! Everyone recognizes it, even if they have not read the book. It’s everywhere. VERY effective.

Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater

I’ve always loved this cover! Truth be told, the cover was the main reason I decided to give a werewolf teen romance a chance.

So often, covers are based off of a photo. This one is strictly vector imagery and I think it’s stunning. The monochromatic use of a light, smoky blue reflects the feeling of the book itself. This book deals a lot with the feeling of being cold, hence the title. We see a werewolf peeking through the trees—another element of the book. The woods are very important in the book, so it’s very appropriate that they be on the cover. The heart-shaped leaves indicate the hint of romance. The blood drop used for the “i” in the title adds an interesting focal point to the otherwise monochromatic color scheme. The sequel to this book, Linger, is very similar. It’s also monochromatic, but done in green. They look very nice sitting next to each other on my bookshelf! LOVE this cover!

The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman

Look at the concept we have here! I love it! This book talks about how the earth would respond without us being here, beating it up. What an appropriate book cover design. On top, we have a cityscape in silhouette, creating an emphasis on the polluted air around it. Reflected in the water is a green landscape and a beautiful blue sky—essentially the way the earth wishes it looked. That reflection is the only color on the book cover, creating a focal point. I think the cover makes us think just as much as the book itself. If an image so simple can make you think, even for a minute or two, it’s successful in my opinion!

Halo, by Alexandra Adornetto

Look how pretty this is. :) I don’t really have a whole lot to say about this one. Since it's being released on August 31st, I’ve never read it, just ooed and ahhed over the cover a few times on Goodreads. Obviously, it’s about an angel. I love the typography used for the title and author, surrounded in the swirls. I love the lens flare between their faces, emphasizing a love story of some sort. I’ve seen this done in wedding photography and I love the concept. I think the wings on the angel are absolutely stunning! I'm excited to get this when it comes out next month!

The Opposite House, by Helen Oyeyemi

Again, I’ve never read this. A reviewer on Amazon says, “The novel is mainly about Maja, an Afro-Cuban girl who emigrated from Cuba to England when her father began to feel that Castro's government was not going to let him live the life they desired… Maja was four when she arrived in London and as the plot unfolds she has only a few confused memories of Cuba. In school this is an issue because she is the descendent of slaves brought to Cuba-so her heritage is African, but she has never been there at all. This causes her to struggle with her identity and confuses her ideas of where her life should be going. Her best friend is from Trinidad and her boyfriend is a white Ghanaian.” Based on this description, both the title and cover symbolically illustrate the story. The upside-down city street is very intriguing and the simple typography does not deter from that.

Pegasus, by Robin McKinley

I’ve taken a ton of art history classes and some of my favorite paintings focus on landscape and light. I love the treatment of both in this painting. This is such a small book, but doesn’t it look like you could just step right into that world? I also love that the layout forces the eye to focus on the title in the center. The clouds on the right and left, the Pegasus on the top, and the girl on the bottom frame “Pegasus”. The title is in a deep red, making it pop from the sky. I love that font, by the way… with the custom lowercase “s” at the end. Lovely. Everything is so nicely centered and symmetrical. The book is about the strong bond between Pegasi and humans. To me, the cover symbolizes the union of the sky and the earth—Pegasus and human.

This was one of my college textbooks! I always got so many comments from my friends on the differences between their boring textbooks and mine. It’s so much fun! The bright colors make it noticeable. The head is filled with everything a designer should have a knowledge of. The word “fees” is shown coming out of the mouth because once you’ve read this book, you should be able to discuss your price strategy with your clients. It’s really quirky and fun.

Over the Moon, by Diane Daniels

I think this is so pretty. This is a young adult paranormal romance about a girl who falls in love with a boy who is basically an alien. The girls is shown looking up at the sky, indicating her love for him but also pondering the kinds of choices she has to make. I like the simple typography and the little orbit that goes around “the”. There’s not a lot to say about this one. Lol. Don’t you think it’s pretty?

The First Word by Christine Kenneally

This book talks about the origins of language. I love that the little figures turns into the first letter of our alphabet. We’ve all seen the origins of man and how the monkey turns into the human. We’ve even seen some spoofs of that one. But I’m not sure I would have thought to do the evolution of the letter! It’s so clever!

Marcelo in the Real World, Francisco X. Stork

This cover was done by the same guy who did Shiver’s cover! I just learned that this morning. No wonder I like it! Once again, we have a vector-based image with a lot of blue and one extra color that creates emphasis. The book is about a teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. His parents push him into the “real world” and encourage him to get a summer job. During the summer, he learns a lot about himself. I love the symbols in this cover! Marcello is being led from his treehouse and towards the road, symbolizing his transition into adult life. The light is on in the treehouse, inviting him back when he needs it. The starry sky symbolizes the oncoming morning—the new day for him.

Sorry… I could not settle on just 10 covers. I had to add an 11th.

Everlasting, by Angie Frazier

The moment I saw this, I thought of two things. 1. OH MY. I love that font a lot. 2. The Little Mermaid. The cover looks like a fairytale to me, which is what the book is! The title is inside a circle, which symbolizes eternity because a circle never ends. It just goes around and around and around, with no breaks in it. Inside the circle is an old map, which is a really nice touch. Combining the map and the circle, to me, symbolizes forever and wherever. Sounds like a strong love to me! I love the color combination and the whispy, airy feel. SO pretty. :)

I used a lot of restraint to not add numbers 12 through 3,721. I've got so many favorites, but I highlighted these ones because I actually had something to say about them. There are other covers I love just because I do! It could be because of a really awesome storyline, some glitter, some embossing, etc. Book covers are amazing because they visually represent the story you're about to dive in to!

So now... tell me what your favorite book covers are! You don't even need a reason. :) Sometimes you just love something!

COMING UP NEXT WEEK: Top Ten Favorite Books of All Time

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