Thursday, May 29, 2008

Anne Frank Remembered - Miep Gies

Title: Anne Frank Remembered
Author: Miep Gies
Date Finished: May 29, 2008
Yearly Count: 28
Pages: 252

It has been so long since I have read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl that I could only remember a few of the details. I don't even actually remember reading it (I think I must have been in 7th grade), but many of us are familiar with Anne's story of her life in hiding for two years.

While this book suggests a remembrance to Anne, it is more specifically Miep's own story of courage and survival as she helped the Franks into hiding in German-occupied Holland during World War II. While working for Otto Frank in the early 1930s, Miep also became his confidant as life became more and more difficult for the Jewish population in Amsterdam. Eventually, Frank asked Miep and her husband Henk to help hide his family and eventually another family (altogether eight people) in the cramped upper level living quarters of Frank's business.

Over the course of more than two years, Miep and her husband Henk provided sustenance, safety, and above all friendship to the families they kept in hiding. As I was reading this book, I was struck by Miep's undying compassion and courage to do unthinkable things--putting her life at risk to helps those around her whose lives were also in such grave danger. I simply cannot fathom the things that these people had to live through. Things that people are currently living through. This book broke my heart, but at the same time the strength of all of those who resisted the cruelties of the Nazis showed such hope for mankind.

Miep's writing style is effortless and flowing; she has the natural voice of a storyteller, which made this book absorbing. My grandmother has a beautiful accent (she is Swiss but also studied in France and England before moving to Toronto after the war--so her accent is a little mixed), and I could hear her voice through Miep's writing. Soft but at the same time urgent:

"As I sat, I became aware of what it meant to be imprisoned in these small rooms. As this feeling registered, I felt a taste of the helpless fear that these people filled with, day and night. Yes, for all of us it was wartime, but Henk and I had the freedom to come and go as we pleased, to stay in or go out. These people were in a prison, a prison with locks inside the doors" (128).

My only regret about this book is in the ending. It seems as though Miep isn't quite sure how to end such an important story and so the last few pages are a little forced and awkward. Otherwise, this was such a powerful and important read. There are only little bits and pieces about Anne in the book, so it really makes me want to re-read Anne's diary. In addition to this book, I'd also recommend The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom--also a woman who helped in the Dutch Underground during WWII.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Shipping News - Annie Proulx

Title: The Shipping News
Author: Annie Proulx
Date Finished: May 26, 2008
Yearly Count: 27
Pages: 337
Rating: 2/5

I'm trying, for the life of me, to figure out what makes this book as great as "they" say it is. Unfortunately I'm drawing a blank on this one. Grrr! I watched the movie years ago and remember enjoying it, but I was really let down by the book.

The Shipping News is the story of Quoyle, a quiet and misunderstood man who doesn't seem to have anything right going for him. When his life hits rock bottom, he moves with his aunt and two young children from the states to Newfoundland--the province where his ancestors are from.

In Newfoundland, Quoyle learns to adapt to the foreign lifestyle with the help of a motley cast of characters. He learns about survival and what it means to love and live fully and freely. Sounds good, right? Could have/should have been? I had a tough time with Proulx's stark and choppy language--often wandering points and sentences that are missing main components (nouns, verbs, etc). I think my difficulty with the writing might partially be because I am coming off of the rich and deliberate language from All the King's Men, but I never really felt comfortable with the rhythm of Proulx's writing.

In addition, the characters seemed flat--well, Quoyle had a little bit of character. Even at the end of the novel, I had a difficult time distinguishing between the different characters because they all seemed interchangeable. I do think that Quoyle grows throughout the novel--that he makes some important discoveries about himself, but the rest of the book didn't really seem to go anywhere. With all of the subplots, I kept thinking--so what? Where is all of this going? Oh well! I think it was just a bad reading week with a book that I must have missed out on the larger picture. It happens, right??

They also reviewed it:
Booklogged
3M

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BOOK AWARDS READING CHALLENGE FINISHED!

The Shipping News

Middlesex

All the Pretty Horses

The World According to Garp

The Remains of the Day

The Book Thief

All the King's Men

Atonement

The Left Hand of Darkness

The Age of Innocence

As I Lay Dying

Snow

The Giver

The Robber Bride

*Favorite: The Book Thief
*Least Favorite: The Left Hand of Darkness

Monday, May 26, 2008

Four Things Meme

Bethany tagged me for this meme, and even though it is a little on the personal side I thought I'd play along. If you'd like to play as well--consider yourself tagged! :)

Four jobs I've had:
1. Sears: Women's Department - first job
2. Sonic Drive-In - paid for a lot of my college
3. 12th Man Foundation (Texas A&M) - will never do telemarketing again ever!
4. Little Elm Fire Department - wish I could write a book about that job...great fun!

Four movies I've watched more than once:
1. When Harry Met Sally
2. While You Were Sleeping
3. The Princess Bride
4. Under the Tuscan Sun

Four places I've lived:
1. Dallas, Texas (18 years)
2. Toronto, Ontario (7 years)
3. Salt Lake valley, Utah (2 years)
4. Lubbock, Coleman, College Station--all Texas

Four places I've been:
1. East: Europe (Italy, England, France, Germany, Austria)
2.North: NYC
3. South: Eastern Caribbean
4. West: Alaska (All the Western States except Montana)

Four TV shows I watch:
1. Grey's Anatomy
2. Brothers and Sisters
3. Law and Order: SVU
4. Desperate Housewives

Four people who email me regularly (doesn’t include blogging comments):
1. Scott (hubby)
2. Brooke (sister)
3. Mom
4. Coworkers

Four of my favorite foods:
1. Sushi
2. Mexican/Tex-Mex
3. Hamburgers
4. Ice Cream!!!

Four places I would like to visit:
1. New York with Hubby
2. Austrailia
3. Eastern Canada (Maritimes)
4. Greece

Four things I'm looking forward to in the coming year:
1. Toronto in August
2. Getting our own house (out of this rent house)
3. New Experiences
4. The Unexpected

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

All The King's Men - Robert Penn Warren

Title: All the King's Men
Author: Robert Penn Warren
Date Finished: May 20, 2008
Yearly Count: 26
Pages: 438
Rating: 3.5/5

WAHHHOOOOO! I was assigned this book my junior year of college and didn't finish; since then I have picked it up two or three times, read a dozen or so pages, and put it right back down. But, I finally persevered and finished it. I feel like I've been holding my breath for six years and can finally breathe.

All the King's Men is about a southern politician, Willie Stark, as he makes an unlikely climb up the political ladder to become governor of an unnamed state (based loosely on the life of Huey P. Long--so the state is in theory Louisiana). He is used by others at first to help split a vote, but when Stark finds out he is being played by others he stakes his claim and begins speaking directly to the people. He doesn't win his election, but the people hear his voice. Soon he does become governor, but somewhere along the way he becomes entrenched in the power of his position and...well, I'm not going to tell you!

While the story of Willie seems to be the main focus, the book is narrated by Jack Burden, a once newspaper man and later the secretary and right-hand man to Willie. As Jack explains, "the story of Willie Stark and the story of Jack Burden are, in a sense, one story" (157). It slowly becomes clear that Jack's search for truth and meaning is the center and heart of All the King's Men. Jack tells the story of Willie's climb to the top, of his love affairs with various women, of his short comings and failings, but really, Jack is telling his own story about love and loss, redemption and truth, and finally answers to all of the questions.

So, did I like the book? I did like it. I didn't love it. The language Warren uses throughout the book is at the same time beautiful and tedious. This is not a weekend book, nor do I think it was meant as such. Every sentence (there is little dialogue) is packed with careful meaning, and I found myself having to re-read passages in order to grasp all of the hidden connections and subtle metaphors. But essentially I believe this quote gives a nice little summary of what is at the heart of this book (and it also gives a taste for the writing):

"...the world is like an enormous spider web and if you touch it, however lightly, at any point, the vibration ripples to the remotest perimeter and the drowsy spider feels the tingle and is drowsy no more but springs out to fling the gossamer coils about you who have touched the web and then inject the black, numbing poison under your hide. It does not matter whether or not you meant to brush the web of things. Your happy foot or your gay wing may have brushed it so lightly, but what happens always happens and there is the spider, bearded black and with his great faceted eyes glittering like mirrors in the sun, or like God's eye, and the fangs dripping" (188-9).

Although Jack acts as if he is a bystander in the book, merely recording the events as they happen, he has to take responsibility for his actions--how even the slightest touch to the web of life will cause the other threads to ripple infinitely. Everything from his relationship to his mother, his love affair with Anne, his father and what he asks of him, and the way that all of these things connect to Willie shape the story--making All the King's Men as much the story of Jack as it is Willie.

This book is a fascinating look into the human mind and one that I am grateful to have encountered. There has been some talk on the classics meme that I put up last weekend about how sometimes we don't know why a classic is a classic--and I think in many cases this book is a classic, but I'm wondering why it was left off of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. For all of its longwindedness (reminiscent of Faulkner--who is the king of Southern Lit...right??) :) it is a captivating and thought-evoking book.

*If you've reviewed it, let me know!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Classics Meme/Fill-In

I'm anxious anxious (wait, I think the correct word is eager) for the classics challenge to begin. Well, maybe not to begin but for it to be closer. I probably should have waited a little to do everything, but I couldn't hold my breath that long. Ha!
Anyway, so, I thought in the meantime I would stir the pot a little bit with a quick fill-in (click here for the meme post on the challenge site to join the fun)

1. My favorite classic is Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte--this book turned around my thoughts on "literature" when I was a senior in high school.

2. The classic I had the toughest time finishing is Um...there are several that I haven't finished yet. :) I really disliked Pamela and don't see myself ever finishing it. Another that I had a tough time with was Howards End.

3. I would recommend The Scarlet Pimpernel to someone who doesn't read a lot of classics or who doesn't generally like classics because it is fairly short and a fun, captivating read.

4. To me, a classic book is one that has defined/defines a generation/era, changed or challenged our way of thinking, something that is still relevant in today's age. I generally think about classics being written before 1950, but then again there are some from the 60s that I sort of think about as classics--I'm not sure that there is a good rule of thumb on this one.

5. The type of relationship I have with classics is love hate. I am an impatient reader because part of me is scared to death that I won't be able to read everything I want in this lifetime (yes, I'm 26...I know I have a lot of years ahead of me!). Because of my impatience, sometimes I find it difficult to take the time and effort to really really read a classic--give it my full attention and think about it instead of simply reading the words. I love the language and art I find in classic literature, which is the love part. For me there is nothing better than a book steeped in emotion--a book that brings those emotions out in me.

What d'you say, join me? I'd love to hear how other people feel about classics. In the meantime this is how I plan to spend the rest of my Saturday:
Yes, when I won't allow Maggie to lie on my stomach while reading, she usually settles down on my arm. Such a funny girl (see below post for another picture of Maggie Moo).

Friday, May 16, 2008

FINE!!!!!

MAGGIE the cat--she likes to sit right in front of my mouse I think just to drive me crazy. Not sure where she is this morning--usually she's either meowing at my feet or sitting on my desk.

Anyway:


I took a sort of week off of blogging (mostly due to a weekend at the in-laws without Internet and then a very busy week with little free time in the evenings), but I think I'm finally caught up with my blogging for the most part (Man you guys post a lot! and I can't keep up, but I tried to do my best). So, I thought what better way to celebrate than join to more freakin' challenges! Am I out of my mind? I think it is because I'm going a little stir-crazy with All the King's Men and would just like to dream about other books.

Since I've already got two Southern books on my TBR list, I thought why not add one more. Plus, Maggie is giving away pecans. Yummmm! Click the here to take you to the site.

1. All the King's Men

2. Mother of Pearl

3. Welcome to the World Baby Girl


**********************************************************

I have been waiting to do my list for this challenge until I figure out what I'm reading for my classics challenge, but since this starts in May and mine not till July, I figured I could just swap out if needed. You can read all of 3M's rules here.


1. The Shipping News
2. In Cold Blood
3. Cry, the Beloved Country
4. Tess of the D'Ubervilles
5. Emma
6. The Portrait of Dorian Gray
7-10. TBR :)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wicked - Gregory Maguire

Title: Wicked
Author: Gregory Maguire
Date Finished: May 12, 2008
Yearly Count: 25
Pages: 406
Rating: 4/5

"One never learns how the witch became wicked, or whether that was the right choice for her--is it ever the right choice? Does the devil ever struggle to be good again, or if so is he not a devil? Is it at the very least a question about definitions" (231).

I must have seen the movie The Wizard of Oz a million times when I was little and I've read the book once or twice, but how do you ever really know a story unless you hear both sides? This story tells the tale of the Wicked Witch of the West, most commonly known in the book as Elphaba, and how she began the legend that she is.

Born a bright green girl she led a curious childhood and even more curious adolescence as a smart, witty, and deeply understood girl. Elphaba is passionate about Animals and determining what makes someone human, but more important to this story, what makes someone evil or good. Is evilness inherent or is it something that develops? Can someone who is evil become good, or visa versa? These things she seeks to learn as she grows up in the Land of Oz where the country is ruled by a tyrant Wizard.

Wicked is a type of bildungsroman, following Elphaba through her school years at Shiz, her time as a covert spy in Emerald City, and her years in recluse at the castle in Kiamo Ko. The story is very different from what I expected--I think I expected this to be a type of children's book, but it isn't. There is a little bit of language and sexual content, but mostly it contains deep adult themes such as politics, ethics, love, forgiveness, and what it means to have a soul.

Maguire weaves a beautiful story, and I grew to love Elphaba even as she matured into a tortured woman. He does a great job of developing her character, but the final encounter with Dorothy was still a little awkward for me--most of the story was believable, but somehow the ending seemed forced. My only other qualm with the book is there is so much left out and left up for the reader to interpret--such as Elphaba's mysterious childhood in Quadling before going to school in Shiz, her time in Emerald City when she is on a secret mission, and of course I wanted more of the love affair between her and Fiyero. I guess if all of that was included the story could be a thousand pages long. But overall, I heartily enjoyed this story and my next step is to purchase the Wicked soundtrack since the play won't be coming back to Texas until next year (and even then it will be a five hour drive to see it in San Antonio).

*I was hoping to use my Google Reader to find other's reviews, but it didn't work as nicely as it did for The Innocent Man. If you've reviewed it, leave me a little note with your link and I'll include it. I did, however, manage to find Nymeth's review.

Jeane also reviewed this book here.

Happy reading!

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Innocent Man - John Grisham; Weekly Geeks #2

Title: The Innocent Man
Author: John Grisham
Date Finished: May 4, 2008
Yearly Count: 24
Pages: 360
Rating: 3/5

[Edited Note: this book is NonFiction--Grisham's only nonfiction work]
In a small Oklahoma town, Ada, in the early 1980s, Debbie Carter was brutally raped and murdered. The police began an investigation into Carter's murder, but they soon found that they did not have any leads as to who the killer was. The police received a tip, however, that Ron Williamson was involved in the murder.

Williamson was once a star athlete with a promising future, but after he sustained an arm injury, he slipped into a steady decline. He began drinking and was arrested several times for various crimes--some he committed, some he did not. The police began building a case around Williamson for Carter's murder--but he wasn't formally arrested until years after the murder. It seems as though the police were desperate and under immense pressure to solve the crime and exaggerated the little evidence available.

It is difficult for me to write my thoughts on this book without letting my feelings get in the way. I found myself angry at the police and the DA for charging Williamson and his friend, Dennis Fritz, for a murder they did not commit. The crime scene did not yield much evidence and in a time without DNA testing much of the evidence was circumstantial. Things were omitted from court, shady character witnesses were used, and neither man had a strong defense lawyer.

This book opened my eyes to the many injustices that occur in the legal system--it is not perfect and innocent men were put on death row (there are a total of five innocent men discussed in detail in this book). Williamson suffered from severe mental disabilities, and his condition throughout the story angered me and saddened me--especially as his mental condition was not presented in court during the time of his trial.

Overall I believe that Grisham did his research and presented a compelling story. The way that the story was told, however, was at times muddled and confusing. For the first 100 pages, numerous characters enter the story and it is difficult to keep track of them all. Grisham inserts small paragraphs in the middle of his narrative that have little relevance and the only purpose for them seems that he just wanted to get the information out there. While the information was usually interesting, it was distracting and made the book have a jumpy feel. Bottom line - a fascinating story that could have used a heavier red pen.

They reviewed it too:

Joy at Thoughts of Joy
Becca at The Inside Cover

***********************
WEEKLY GEEKS #2

To be honest, I'm a little overwhelmed by the idea of including links even though I really like the idea. I will do a google reader search for books that I write about (starting with The Innocent Man) and include what I find. If I somehow miss you, please leave me a comment and I'll revise my post to including your link [not to be snarky, but it won't really thrill me if ALL you leave is your link!! *evil little laugh*]. Another great resource to find out about other blogs that have posted on the same book, Natasha from Maw Books has created a wonderful website that contains numerous books and their blogger reviews: Book Blogger Book Reviews.

To find out more about this week's Weekly Geeks--click the link above to take you directly to the post.

Happy reading! :)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Classics Challenge 2008

I was going to wait...but I can't!!! Click the button below to learn more about this challenge (and please forgive my wordy description)


Thanks to everyone again and again for all of their suggestions and support. You guys are the best!

Six Random Things About Me and Weekly Geeks #1 Part 2

First, I want to thank everyone who responded to my last post about the challenge questions. I've got something going going and I hope to make my challenge annoucement in the next few days! I'm so excited (and a little scared). Eeeeks!

I was tagged earlier today by CJ and ThisRedHeadReads to provide six random things about me. So, here goes:
  1. Although I am a Texan through and through, I wasn't born here (born in Utah) and I lived in Toronto from ages 2-9. When I moved I could sing the Canadian National Anthem in French!

  2. My husband, Scott, and I met in College Station when we were next-door-neighbors. We only lived next-door to each other for two months before he moved away to Corpus, then Harlingen, then Tahoe. It was almost two years before we lived in the same town again (College Station), but I guess those first two months sealed the deal.

  3. I was never a great student in English. I was good, but I didn't particularly care for it until Senior year when I read Wuthering Heights. I've always loved to read, though.

  4. I am a Texas A&M Aggie--I bleed maroon. Scott is a Texas Tech Red Raider, so he bleeds red. I guess our kids will bleed a combination of red and maroon (hopefully more maroon! At least it won't be orange...). Whoop!

  5. If you've been reading my blog long enough--I think there are a few of you--then you already know that Bridget Jones is a type of heroine in my eyes. Yup, it's true.

  6. You've seen the pictures of Maggie, my cat, but we also have a dog, Lexi. She really didn't want me to take her picture and she has scary eyes in the photo, but otherwise isn't she sweet? I'm told she is an English Lab, so she is much smaller than regular labs. I like to think that her and Maggie are friends, but truthfully, Lexi is very scared of the cat. Silly dog!

Weekly Geeks #1 Part Two--yes, you read that right--I'm not onto Week #2 yet!

On Friday I was a little pressed for time, so I wanted to take a few minutes and talk a little more about my new discoveries:

Andi - Like many of the bloggers below, I've seen Andi's name a lot as it seems we read the same blogs. I had to laugh a little when I chose to visit her for weekly geeks and saw my name as one she selected (I had no idea!). I guess we Texas girls need to stick together!

Debi is an organizer like I am. She has a number of different blogs and I browsed through a lot of them amazed at her thoughtfulness that she puts into her daily routine.

Valentina - As soon as I visited Valentina's blog, I was thrilled to add another book to my wishlist--The Declaration. What can be better than that? She writes great reviews and reads a variety of different books.

Ravenous Reader - I enjoyed reading through her bookish ravings. In addition to reviews, she also speaks her mind on anything a bibliophile like me can think of. Definitely a great blog to browse.

Gautami Tripathy - as I browsed through Gautami's blog, I quickly realized that we have similar tastes in books. She's also a challenge addict like me. Strength in numbers?

*****Stay tuned for the challenge annoucement. I need to make a few final tweeks to my button (thanks to everyone who offered to make one for me! but I decided it is high time I figure it out!). I hope to have the post up soon.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Weekly Geeks #1 and Challenge Questions for YOU

WEEKLY GEEKS #1

I've procrastinated--again. This is not to say that I'm looking up five random sites on Friday morning before work. I wish I could spend some time writing up a few things about these bloggers, but I have that pesky thing called work... I've visited many and spent some time browsing around and found these gems:

Andi from Tripping toward Lucidity

Debi from Nothing of Importance

Valentina from Valentina's Room

Ravenous Reader

Gautami Tripathy from My Own Little Reading Room

And I want to make a special mention of the following blog. She's not new to me, but she's new to blogging. Most of my family and friends kind of look at me funny when I tell them that I have a blog--even my reading enthusiast friends. But Laura was curious and interested and now she has a blog of her own! Go check her out:

Laura at Reading Reflections

CHALLENGE QUESTIONS FOR YOU!

I'm thinking about hosting a challenge and have a few questions for all of you challenge goers:

1. What format of challenge entry do you prefer?
* Separate blog where you can post your actual review
*Separate blog with Mr. Linky
*Mr. Linky on hostesses blog

I have found that I don't post my reviews anymore on challenge blogs just because I don't have the time, so I'm thinking one of the last two. But...I don't know whether to do the Mr. Linky on my blog or the challenges own blog. What do you think?

2. How the heehaw does one make a button?? Is special software required?

Um, I guess that is it! I'm thinking of a challenge between July and December, but I haven't decided for certain. I'm getting a little pressure from Laura (see above) to host one, but really...it scares me a bit. :)

Alright--off to work (and an hour in traffic!). Hope everyone has a great Friday!
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