Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir

From the dust jacket: Acclaimed historian and New York Times bestselling author Alison Weir turns her masterly storytelling skills to the early life of young Elizabeth Tudor, who would grow up to become England’s most intriguing and powerful queen.

Even at age two, Elizabeth is keenly aware that people in the court of her father, King Henry VIII, have stopped referring to her as “Lady Princess” and now call her “the Lady Elizabeth.” Before she is three, she learns of the tragic fate that has befallen her mother, the enigmatic and seductive Anne Boleyn, and that she herself has been declared illegitimate, an injustice that will haunt her.

What comes next is a succession of stepmothers, bringing with them glimpses of love, fleeting security, tempestuous conflict, and tragedy. The death of her father puts the teenage Elizabeth in greater peril, leaving her at the mercy of ambitious and unscrupulous men. Like her mother two decades earlier she is imprisoned in the Tower of London–and fears she will also meet her mother’s grisly end. Power-driven politics, private scandal and public gossip, a disputed succession, and the grievous example of her sister, “Bloody” Queen Mary, all cement Elizabeth’s resolve in matters of statecraft and love, and set the stage for her transformation into the iconic Virgin Queen.

This book was another pick for the Facebook historical Fiction book club moderated by Jennifer from the Literate Housewife. I enjoyed the book. I imagine each of Henry's wives is probably interesting enough to merit their own books but I would never have the patience to read that many so this provided an interesting overview of the procession of wives! One of the more fascinating parts for me was the way the Queens each handled their straying husbands - first the Queen with the Admiral and then later Mary with Philip. That resignation to their husbands' straying seems so incongruent to their position of power. I would have liked a little more of Robert Dudley - he was a character that I liked. And, grimly enough I would have liked to have heard in more detail about the carnage that provoked the nickname "Bloody Mary".

I was startled that the book ended when it did. I assumed it would proceed through Elizabeth's reign. Because I am such a historical fiction novice, I have no idea what happened! I guess I'll have to Google it. And I did think the toddler Elizabeth age 2-3 years old was too precocious. But the author in the notes at the end assures that some of the quotes are factual - attributed to the young Elizabeth - so she must have been amazing for her age.

Boy Meets Girl

Awhile back I made a really lame joke about the palms in my yard not being all females. Well darned if it wasn't true. In the midst of my palm peeking ritual I found this palm tree version of a Georgia O'Keefe painting...

about ten feet away from this proudly erect fellow....

And then the yard guy confirmed for me that yes, palm trees have gender and I had a girl and a boy in that bed...together. Oh the scandal.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What's On Your Nightstand June 2009

This monthly feature is hosted by 5 Minutes for Books on the last Tuesday of every month. Click on the logo to go and check out all the particpants.

From last month's list I read and reviewed Dry, Inkheart, and Just Take My Heart. I worked a little bit on John Adams but as you can see it is still there for this month!

This month from the bottom up, I have, John Adams, that I am reading ever so slowly for the U.S President's Reading Project. Then there is Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir which is the June selection for the Facebook Historical fiction book club moderated by Jennifer at The Literate Housewife. The Devil in the Junior League is leftover from last month, it was one of my "D" possibilities for the A-Z Reading Challenge. I didn’t pick it for that challenge but I still want to read it. Next is Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner. That's what I picked for my "G" book for the A-Z Reading Challenge. The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner is the July book for the Facebook Historical Fiction book club. And finally, Zapped by Carol Higgins Clark is my "Z" book for the A-Z Reading Challenge unless something better comes along because Zapped got a very lukewarm review from my friend who passed it on to me at our No Stress Book Club.

Monday, June 22, 2009

No Stress Book Club

About three years ago I tried to start a book club with my girlfriends in town. We had fun the first month, good the second time around but after about four books it just petered out. It was just too much: getting everyone to agree on a book, deciding who was going to host, deciding which night it would be, who was coming, who was going to e-mail who, who would bring what for snacks - there were so many variables it was doomed from the start! It wasn't doomed because we didn’t enjoy it - when we actually got it all together, we had a great time. It was doomed because it was complicated.

Doomed does not equal forgotten. Whenever two or more of us were gathered the topic would come up… "we really should do book club again". Then somewhere on the Internet I stumbled across what we decided was the perfect idea. We stole it and renamed it the No Stress Book Club. Rule One is.. Read whatever you want. Then you bring what you read to the gathering and tell us all about it. The book goes onto the table in the middle.(That's Rule Two - you have to be willing to part with your book) After everyone has had a chance to talk about their selections, we all get to pick something from the pile and go home with a new book. Do you have to read that book for next month? NO! That goes back to Rule One - Read whatever you want!

We made it easier logistically too. We picked a night and we're sticking to it, bringing any kind of food is optional - bring if you like, don’t if you don’t. My house is always available to host and I make all sorts of great martinis so even if no food appears - we'll have martinis! And the day I picked is the one day a week I have a housekeeper that comes so there is no effort involved in preparing my house - it's done! This way Rule Three - come if you can, don’t if you don’t want to, no RSVP needed - doesn't worry me because I'm not cooking or cleaning especially for the group. If only one person appears, that's fine - I haven't put out any extra effort. (Of course "no effort" is not entirely true, I did use the gathering as an excuse to buy a big, beautiful new palm for my entry way and will probably use it as an excuse every month to buy pretty new things but that's just for me to know!)

We had out first meeting last night - bibliophiles that we all are, everyone brought two or three books rather than just one! There was a heavy lean towards historical fiction and a heated discussion about Katherine of Aragon's virginity at the time of her marriage to Henry VIII - some believing she was chaste with her first husband, others convinced their romance led to consummation. The camps were pretty much divided by those who had read The Queens' Lady and those who had read The Constant Princess! At the end of the night I had a few new books but ALL of my books were still on the table. Not sure what that says about me that no one was enticed by anything I had read the last month!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

From the Scholastic website: One night Meggie's father, Mo, reads aloud from a book called Inkheart, and an evil ruler named Capricorn escapes the boundaries of fiction and lands in their living room. Suddenly Meggie is smack in the middle of the kind of adventure she has only read about in books.

I think the problem with this one was too high expectations on my part because it really is a great story. The family is interesting and endearing and quirky. The villains are dark and heartless. The setting is described in great detail with the little glimpses we get of the world from inside the book (fairies and trolls) magical and fanciful. I like all the elements. The plot was suspenseful. I thought the solution was quite clever and well executed by the characters. But.. I was more than ready for it to end. It was a long book 500+ pages and I never got hooked. I was curious. I was impressed with the details and thought as I read, "Oh this is a good story." but it wasn't a story that captured me so I had to push myself to keep reading. But in the words of George Kastanza, "Inkheart, its not you, its me."

BTW..the Scholastic website above has some stuff for the kids to do and I passed this one on to Youngest, age 10, we'll see what he thinks!

Click here to see my progress towards completing the challenge!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Spring Reading Thing Wrap-up

How did I do? I started the challenge out with eleven books on my list. Of those original eleven, I read six. Not too impressive. But I felt free to expand my list as the days went by…I think it was "legal" but am not really sure it was in the spirit of the challenge. I read an additional 19 books. So I am happy with the amount that I read, I just wish I had stuck to my original list a little better. (And the butchered list, if you want to view the mess, is here.)

What was my favorite? My favorite from my original list would have to be Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. It wasn't an easy read, it didn’t hook me and make me want to not put it down. But it was written in a way that made difficult concepts easier to understand, it was thought provoking, and it was amazingly timely considering it is more than fifty years old. It's the book above all the others that I am happiest to be able to say, "I've read this." Of the add-ons, I loved two, The Help by Kathryn Stockett - ooh that was good, and When Madeline Was Young by Jane Hamilton.

Where am I stuck? I went through another Callapidder Days challenge without cracking open Pillars of the Earth - what is my problem? I have heard great things about it, it's sitting there waiting for me. I don’t know why I just haven't felt the urge to read it. And I really thought when I wrote my opening post that I would make a concerted effort to finish John Adams by the end of the Spring challenge but I didn’t. You might say, just give up on John Adams, but I don’t want to do that. I started the US President's Reading Project to learn more about history…I will have to force myself to read all of them until I start getting a firmer grasp of the subject.

What's next? I'm working on a few other challenges... The First In A Series challenge, the 2009 Audiobook challenge, the A-Z Reading challenge,and the Chronicles of Narnia challenge.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Katrina for hosting the challenge. I didn’t get to nearly as many of the other blogs as I had hoped but the ones I did get to, I enjoyed. And I got some good picks, for example, after seeing it listed a few hundred times, I went and bought The Mysterious Benedict Society which I L-O-V-E-D! So thank you also to the all the participants - it was great fun being part of this community of readers. See you in the Fall!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge

Do I need more to read? NO! But I remember adoring the Narnia books as a child and having just read Mere Christianity for the first time, I am feeling the CS Lewis love and would like to take part. The challenge starts June 19th and ends July 17th. I may only read one or maybe I'll read the whole series...I'm not going to stress about it..just enjoy what I can!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Quiet here...noisy there.

I am a leader at Cub Scout camp this week. This means I am walking all day in the 100 degree South Carolina heat shepherding Youngest and twelve other boys through BB shooting, and archery, and songs, and skits, and fishing, and sports, and oh so much more. And when I get home, I am exhausted. Every muscle aches. And today my thumb is a bloody bruised mess from holding the nails as these thirteen boys (who apparently lack eye-hand coordination) made bird houses. So things here on the ol' blog are quiet. Camp...very, very noisy!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

From the author's website: Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women--mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends--view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't.

Great book. The dust jacket has that "pitch perfect" blurb on it and it is so true. Each woman has her own voice and they each feel absolutely authentic. Much is written in dialect but it feels right not forced. There are moments of laugh out loud humor, when Skeeter interviews for and is awarded a job writing a housekeeping column for the local paper, her mother who agonizes over Skeeter's single girl status says, "Oh the irony of it." which maybe won't make you chuckle as much as me - until you read the book. There's real strength in these women, the help, that they
put themselves aside and did what they needed to survive. I wonder how much of that still has to happen today - the vestiges of racism that I, as a white woman, don't even notice?

This book is my "H" for the A-Z Reading Challenge! Click on the logo to see my progress.

and this one too...
This is on my list for the Spring Reading Thing 2009. Click on the logo to see the rest of my list.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Shopaholic & Sister by Sophie Kinsella

From the author's website: What’s a round-the-world honeymoon if you can’t buy the odd souvenir to ship back home? Like the twenty silk dressing gowns Becky found in Hong Kong…the hand-carved dining table (and ten chairs) from Sri Lanka…the, um, huge wooden giraffes from Malawi (that her husband Luke expressly forbade her to buy)… Only now Becky and Luke have returned home to London and Luke is furious. Two truckloads of those souvenirs have cluttered up their loft, and the bills for them are outrageous. Luke insists Becky go on a budget. And worse: her beloved best friend Suze has found a new best friend while Becky was away. Becky’s feeling rather blue—when her parents deliver some incredible news. She has a long-lost sister! Becky is thrilled! She’s convinced her sister will be a true soulmate. They’ll go shopping together, have manicures together.…Until she meets Jessica for the first time and gets the shock of her life. Surely Becky Bloomwood’s sister can’t…hate shopping?

My favorite part of the Shopaholic books are the memos and letters interspersed throughout from various bankers or creditors to Rebecca. I find their reactions to Rebecca's behavior much more amusing than Rebecca's actual behavior. With her, I just get angry, she makes the same mistakes over and over again but then everyone just finds it endearing and all is well in the end - pffft. I looked back at my reading journal and I liked the first book in the series - I gave it an 8, then the next one I read I gave a 7, and now here is this one with a 6. It's just all been downhill! (I have to take one second and say how disappointed I was in the Shopaholic movie. It did not translate well to the big screen but the book is really cute and fun!) So with the negativity said, I'll read a 6 - this is light, light, light easy reading - fluffy, finish in a couple of hours reading. Some days, that's just what I want.

This is on my list for the Spring Reading Thing 2009. Click on the logo to see the rest of my list.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Dry by Augusten Burroughs

From the author's website:You may not know it, but you've met Augusten Burroughs. You've seen him on the street, in bars, on the subway, at restaurants: a twenty-something guy, nice suit, works in advertising. Regular. Ordinary. But when the ordinary person had two drinks, Augusten was circling the drain by having twelve; when the ordinary person went home at midnight, Augusten never went home at all. Loud, distracting ties, automated wake-up calls and cologne on the tongue could only hide so much for so long. At the request (well, it wasn't really a request) of his employers, Augusten lands in rehab, where his dreams of group therapy with Robert Downey, Jr., are immediately dashed by grim reality of fluorescent lighting and paper hospital slippers. But when Augusten is forced to examine himself, something actually starts to click, and that's when he finds himself in the worst trouble of all. Because when his thirty days are up, he has to return to his same drunken Manhattan life-and live it sober. What follows is a memoir that's as moving as it is funny, as heartbreaking as it is real. DRY is the story of love, loss, and Starbucks as a Higher Power.

Fascinating book! Yes, it's about the drinking but it's more about the relationships. I loved his friends, Hayden and Pighead and his co-worker Greer, I loved the way that they loved Augusten. I didn't love Foster but he certainly was riveting. What fun to get a peek into the world of advertising! Working on a German beer campaign, they brainstormed a list of "all things German" and, of course, it included cuckoo clocks and lederhosen, but then it also included techno music and leather underwear - that's just funny. Thats the way of the book - life but funny, sad but funny, real (mostly) but funny. There were some flashbacks to childhood so the ick factor of Running With Scissors wasn't completely gone. And you know the inevitable is going to happen so a lot of the book just feels like you're waiting for it. But in the end, it's just amazing, when you consider the life he had led already - just in his teens and early 20's - that he survived it all to write his memoirs.

This book is my "D" for the A-Z Reading Challenge! Click on the logo to see my progress.

and this one too...
This is on my list for the Spring Reading Thing 2009. Click on the logo to see the rest of my list.

For anyone who liked The Thorn Birds...

I haven't actually read The Thorn Birds, but I've heard enough to figure out there's a hot you oughta like this, a diet Coke ad that never played in the states....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano

From the dust jacket: Stylish, convincing, wise, funny - and just in time: the ultimate non-diet book, which could radically change the way you think and live.
French women don't get fat, but they do enjoy bread and pastry, wine, and regular three-course meals. Unlocking the simple secrets of this "French paradox" - how they enjoy food while staying slim and healthy - Mireille Guiliano gives us a charming, empowering take on health and eating for our times.

I think I gained three pounds this week while reading this book. You see the part about 'indulge in what you really want instead of the imitation chemical filled diet foods' really took. The rest of the advice - not so much. Here are the bullet points and my resolutions...

*I did look around the produce department when I went grocery shopping at the commissary to see what a leek might look like but they didn't appear to have any so Magical Leek Soup didn't happen. I'll try to check out the fancier grocery store and see what they have.

*I nodded along to the 'drink more water' admonishments, that really does help me but I am addicted to my diet colas and didn't make any progress on that front. I'll try to add a cup of water every night before dinner this week. In fact, I'll try putting a glass of water at each person's place next to their initial glass of milk. We go through five-six gallons of milk a week so I know these three children are getting plenty of calcium but water I'm not so sure about.

*I wore my pedometer one day only to discover that despite working all day long, I had only logged 1200 steps. My job is apparently even more sedentary than I thought! I'm going to try adding walking back to my day and I did walk last night!

*I'm certainly not making any homemade yogurt no matter how easy she says it is. I will try to buy yogurt and eat one a day, I mean, I do listen to the news, I've heard about how important dairy is to weight loss.

The other idea that I would like to try is not putting all the food on the plate all at once. Dinner for our family is a together time but it does go by quickly. I am always amazed at how much longer it takes me to get the meal on the table than it does for the family to eat the meal. So I'm going to try to sneak in a "salad course" or a "soup course" rather than having soup (as we sometimes do) in bowls right there beside our plates or salad in a big bowl in the table to take as you like. Slowing us down would be good for health and for extending that family time allowing for more bickering between the children conversation.

She talks a lot about balance and equilibrium and those indulgences I've been enjoying are supposed to be balanced with a "corresponding reduction". Aha, even the non-diet can't get around that sticking point...EATING LESS FOOD!

This is one of the books on my list for the Spring Reading Thing 2009. Click on the logo to see the rest of my list.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Me and My Books meme

This was posted over at Beth Fish Reads and looked like fun so here are my on the link to see Beth's answers.

1. What author do you own the most books by?
It used to be Lawrence Sanders - I went through everything he wrote but then last fall I realized I hadn't touched them in years so I boxed them all up for the church bazaar. That leaves me with Mary Higgins Clark.
2. What book do you own the most copies of?
The Bible.
3. Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
Didn't even notice.
4. What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
Hate to admit it but the only one I can think of is Edward - there must be somebody better! At least somebody within twenty years of my actual age.
5. What book have you read the most times in your life?
Easily The Secret Garden but not the one by Frances Hodgen Burnett, the lesser known one by Julie Andrews originally published as Mandy.
6. Favorite book as a ten year old?
Probably was Mandy - timing seems right. And, I still have the same paperback copy that I read back then. I used to climb up into my favorite tree and perch there to read. Now I just go to my corner of the couch where the good light is and my reading glasses are! Other possibilties would be Harriet the Spy and the Trixie Belden series.
7. What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
Do I want to put my negativity out into the universe? Oops - already did - I had two books that I rated a "2" in my reading journal here and here.
8. What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?
I looked back at my reading journal. I gave 7 or 8 books a "10" this past year and out of those I'll pick Cage of Stars by Jacqueline Mitchard - it was such an emotional tale - loved it.
9. If you could force everyone you know to read one book, what would it be?
I immediately think of something to do with the Holocaust like Night or The Hiding Place because I'd like them to read a book that would help bring about world peace (how's that for a beauty queen answer?!). But there is also The Lemon Tree about the Middle East and Abraham about the shared beginings of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths. Thought provoking question!
10. What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
The Mysterious Benedict Society - would be really fun to see brought to life on the big screen.
11. What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
Apparently it is John Adams.
12. What is your favorite book?
This is an impossible question - does anyone answer it?
13. Play?
None - can't think of a play that I have read of my own volition.
14. Poem?
Not much into poetry either.
15. Essay?
This I can answer - hands down, David Sedaris - L-O-V-E him. I've read When You Are Engulfed in Flames and Me Talk Pretty One Day. His others are on my wish list.
16. Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
Easy - Nicholas Sparks.
17. What is your desert island book?
The Bible
18. And . . . what are you reading right now?
John Adams- I will finish it this time! But I have French Women Don't Get Fat in the car (so I can read it while I'm waiting in the Sonic drive-thru lane), Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope on my desk at work (the Navy can't possibly be unhappy with me for reading at work if it's the musings of our commander in chief!), and in my purse I have Dry by Augusten Burroughs - can't wait to tell my book club girls that and hear them all go "eww" - they hated Running With Scissors.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Getting In on the Giving Away that's Going On

I clicked my way around the Internet last week while visiting other blogs and found some contests that looked good. But they weren't ending until JUNE so I had plenty of time to enter, maybe even write a post for an extra entry, you know...lots of time. Ha! I can't believe it is June. How did that happen? But there is still a little bit of time so check these out...

This is from Bookish Ruth:
To celebrate this past Tuesday's release of The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline, the fifth book in Nancy Springer's excellent Enola Holmes series, I'm giving away brand new paperback copies of the first three books in the series.

It's open for entry until tomorrow June 2nd at 11:59pmEST.

And this is from Reviewer X:
One person will get signed copies of the following:Bloom, Stealing Heaven, Love You Hate You Miss You (out June 2nd), Perfect You, Something, Maybe, and Living Dead Girl.

You can sleep on this one for one night - it's open until June 3rd! Check out her review of Bloom by clicking on the book cover or here!

And finally, the folks over at 5 Minutes for Books are hosting the Summer Fun Giveaway:

From May 25 - June 7, we will be bringing you giveaways designed to help you get through the summer. We will feature books and games to keep you busy, resources for road-trips, and of course some great summer reading for you and the kids.

June 7th for this one although they are giving away SO MUCH STUFF that you should go over and start clicking now because there are a lot of things up for grabs.