Friday, December 31, 2010

An Old China Travel Book

Since we're going on our China trip, I kept my eyes open at the recent library book sale for any books about China. I picked this book up without flipping through it. When I got home and read it, I knew it was a very interesting find.

Seems like this Chairman Mao is a pretty awesome guy.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Shattered Dreams

I have such mixed feelings about this book. I was so frustrated for--and with--the author. I know some of my feelings are blaming the victim, but she stays in the marriage so long yet tells her husband over and over and over she is going to leave, is mad, etc yet never does anything. The constant awful story/whining/author frustration was annoying to read knowing she wasn't going to do anything about it. She constantly would tell her husband she wouldn't do something (go to the wedding with the 3rd wife, for example) then she'd change her mind and do what he wanted.

In some ways, I think the culture of polygamists is so foreign to me that it's hard for me to put myself in the author's shoes to even understand her life or the way of thinking that got her there.

The author was born into polygamy, so she was indoctrinated into the belief that she would be going against God not to be in plural marriage. Yet, she allows herself to be treated terribly (guilt trip over getting her tubes tied so she doesn't die in childbirth?! after 13 kids?!) and live in horrible poverty in the name of God. I can't imagine that God wants one to live such a horrid life.

Verlan, her husband, was such a moron. He believed in plural marriage but practiced it at the expense of his family's health: mental, physical, economic, educational. His view was definitely quantity over quality. He never seemed to have any empathy for his wives, and 5 of them had left him by the time of his death.

I felt sorry for the author, but it was a frustrating read. If you are interested in learning about Mormon polygamists, this is a good book to read, but keep in mind the author's experiences ended in 1981. Jessop's story is more current. But, I couldn't put Spencer's book down.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Top 10 of 2009

I'll post my top 10 of 2010 soon, but here's my 2009 top 10.

In no particular order (it's hard enough to narrow down to ten!):

Baghdad without a Map by Tony Horwitz (travel)

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (historical fiction)

The Help is set in early 60s Jackson, Mississippi. It's fascinating to see how different society is today compared to less than fifty years ago.

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert (historical fiction)

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan (non-fiction)

I'd read Pollan's The Omivore's Dilemma in 2008 and enjoyed it. This book, however, was more than enjoyable and has stuck in my brain for months. It's mantra is simple: Eat food. not too much. Mostly plants.

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King (mystery)

Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear (mystery, historical fiction)

Flipped by Wendelin van Draanen (young adult)

I have a weird relationship with young adult books. I mostly enjoy them, but sometimes think they are a bit of a cheat since usually they are very quick reads. This was a quick read that I finished in less than two hours. However, it was a great story. I love coming-of-age stories and this was one I really enjoyed.

Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty (young adult/general fiction)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (mystery)

The Last Season by Eric Blehm (non-fiction)
I love mysteries--real and fiction. This book is the true story of a park ranger who goes missing and the mystery of what happened.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

Many of my book friends love YA and raved about Dash & Lily's Book of Dares. I enjoyed Nick and Norah's Infinite Play List (also by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan), so I figured I should pick it up.

However, Dash & Lily's Book of Dares was a bit of a disappointment for me. I'm not really sure why. I think that part of the reason was that Dash and Lily spent only a small part of the book together. (Together as in talking to each other, in the same scene, not together as in dating.) I also found Dash a little too emo for my tastes. I did like the fun scavenger hunt type activities (though I did think they took up too much of the book.) Also, while I agree the Strand is an awesome bookstore, it, Franny and Zooey, and the Oxford American Dictionary all seemed a bit pretentious to me. (I can't believe I'm saying that since I love books so much, but it just was too much.)

I wish I could say great things about this book, but I can't. I didn't really like either one of the main characters, they didn't seem like true teenagers, the plot was far fetched, and it wasn't a book that made me want to finish it.

No Dash and Lily loving from me. I hate that--when everyone is raving about a book and you really don't get it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Finding George Orwell in Burma

I love Orwell and I love travelogues.


Emma Larkin is the pen name for a journalist who has spent time in Burma (Myanmar.) In Burma, there's a saying that Orwell's books are all about Burma: Burmese Days about Burma's colonial days, 1984 about a totalitarian government, and Animal Farm.

Burma is a fascinating place. The military rule is straight out of one of Orwell's books as are the last vestiges of colonial days.

If you are a fan of Orwell, I think you'd really enjoy this book. Even if you aren't, while modern Burma isn't a place you hear about very often, it's worth learning about. It's also a love story about books. It reminded me a bit of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. Books in Burma aren't readily available, so copies are treasured.

I added a new tag for books: glad I live here and now. Finding George Orwell in Burma definitely reminded me how lucky we are to live where we do.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Anna and the French Kiss

Several of my friends have raved about Anna and the French Kiss, so when it was a free pre-order on Amazon for my Kindle for about 5 minutes, I snapped it up.

I enjoyed it a lot. It is such a cute story.

However, it is not a true depiction of boarding school--just so you know. I speak from personal experience.

Don't hold that against Anna and the French Kiss though. It was a fun story. I love YA romances. It's definitely worth picking up.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Could the movie be better than the book?

I started reading Emma by Jane Austen a few days ago and really feel the need to watch Clueless. Paul Rudd + Jane Austen is almost as good as Colin Firth + Jane Austen.

I'm interested to read the book to see how it compares to the awesomeness that is Clueless.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Nothing to Envy

Wow. Just wow.

I knew things were bad in North Korea, but I always pictured it as more of a bad joke with a crazy guy as the leader. I know they have nuclear weapons, but it still seemed not that awful.

Sadly, I was dead wrong.

Nothing to Envy is the story of six North Koreans. The people profiled had all escaped to South Korea. They each had a different life in North Korea and different reasons for leaving, though they had faced the same hardships.

This photo perfectly shows the problems in North Korea. It shows a night satellite view of the Korean peninsula. The bottom half is South Korea. The top is North Korea. The one dot of light in North Korea is Pyongyang, the capital.

North Korea has very little electricity. The people profiled talked about how they lived their lives with so little. They also shared stories of the famine of the mid-90s. People were dying in the streets and scavenging for food such as weeds. One of the people was a doctor. She crossed the border into China and found dogs eating rice--a "luxury" she hadn't had in years. Another woman was a kindergarten teacher whose students died of starvation.

Life in North Korea was so terrible. This is truly an eye-opening book, even for someone who thought she knew about the country. I think it would still be enjoyable for a person who usually doesn't pick up non-fiction. The stories are so compelling and the topic is very relevant. The title is very appropriate.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Whose Body?

I found Whose Body? for free for my kindle. I read Sayers's Murder Must Advertise a couple years ago and wasn't that thrilled. Murder Must Advertise is on the 1001 Books You Must Read list so when I didn't like it I didn't think I'd pick up any other books by Sayers.

But as I mentioned I found this for free, so I figured I'd give it a chance.

I really enjoyed it! Lord Peter Wimsey is the second son in a British aristocratic family. This book was written in 1923. Lord Peter is a veteran of WWI and solves mysteries as a hobby. My favorite part was Bunter, Lord Peter's butler. He made me laugh out loud several times.

In this book, a wealth financier is missing while a body resembling the man turns up naked in soemone's bath tub. Lord Peter hears about the case from his mother, who at times lends him a hand. He sets out to solve the mystery at the annoyance of Police Inspector Sugg. I found the mystery to be somewhat predictable, but the characters more than made up for that.

If you like Agatha Christie, I think you'd like the Lord Peter books. I already ordered the second book in the series, Clouds of Witness, for my Kindle. At 99 cents, why not?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Shanghai Girls

Shanghai Girls is another book on my list of China books.

I wasn't a fan of Lisa See's Peony in Love or Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, so I'm not really sure why I gave Shanghai Girls a chance. But, I am glad I did.

Shanghai Girls is the story of two sisters who leave Shanghai as the Japanese were invading. They emigrate to the United States and live the immigrant experience in Los Angeles. When I read books about immigration, it makes me so sad. The immigrants were treated so terribly.

If you like historical fiction, pick it up. It's a great story of struggle, family, and hope.

The sisters went through Angel Island (the Ellis Island of the west) before being allowed to go to LA. When we were in San Francisco I would have loved to visit Angel Island, but we didn't have enough time.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sam Spade's Building

Have you read The Maltese Falcon?

This is Sam Spade's office building.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Can You Keep a Secret?

Such a cute chick-lit book.

I read Shopaholic and hated it. A nestie suggested this book as a good Sophie Kinsella book. I've read a lot of heavier non-fiction lately so this seemed like a good break.

It was a fun story, and I finished in two days.

If you disliked Shopaholic, don't totally write off Kinsella. I will definitely pick up another of her books, just not a Shopaholic one.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Last week for Thanksgiving, my husband and I went to San Francisco.

My favorite part of Alcatraz:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Books about China

My husband and I are going to China in the spring. I am so excited. I love reading about China and its culture. I have already read several great books about China and have several more I want to read before we leave.

The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (historical fiction)

Dreaming in Chinese by Deborah Fallows (non-fiction)

Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler (travel) I've already read his River Town, which was wonderful.

Country Driving by Peter Hessler (travel)

Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama (historical fiction)

Out of Mao's Shadow by Philip Pan (history)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Beast in the Garden

In grad school, I took a class on federal land politics. Being from the south, where there aren't many federal lands, it was something I'd never really thought of. The course covered a wide range of topics from Frederick Law Olmstead (of Central Park fame) to Margaret Sanger (birth control advocate) to mining on BLM (Bureau of Land Management, I had no idea such a think existed til I moved to Wyoming) land.

The Beast in the Garden touches on some of the issues covered in that class. As people move into areas that used to be wilderness, all sorts of situations present themselves. One of those situations occurs during interactions with wildlife. We frequently see wildlife near our house. Evan saw a moose this summer in one of the city parks. A moose swam in the pond across the street from our house last summer. Some antelope ate my pansies last year. However, antelope are thankfully no mountain lions. Mountain lions are scary bastards.

The Beast in the Garden is the very interesting story of mountain lions near the town of Boulder, CO. Historically, mountain lions had been hunted throughout Colorado and the west, but by the 1980s they had returned to the Boulder area.

As incidents between humans and the lions escalated, there was growing concern about an eventual human death. The Colorado Division of Wildlife response to the problem was interesting (no changes were made until after a human death, despite numerous pet deaths and lions in downtown Boulder). The book showed the political atmosphere in Boulder (at one meeting about the lions, people show up t
o make sure the lions rights are being protected).

I read this book in about a day. I couldn't put it down

This view is out our front window. Hopefully you can see the antelope by the tree in the front middle. You can also see the pond where a moose swam.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

More Book Covers

I would have read Annie Proulx's Bad Dirt regardless of the cover. But, it's such a fitting cover since it's the third in her Wyoming Stories series. Believe me, that picture could have been taken numerous places around the state.

China Road is in part about the changing Chinese economy and society. This cover gives an accurate view of what the book is about and piqued my interest.

I picked up Maisie Dobbs because of its very cool cover. Luckily, the story was as great as the cover.

How could you not pick this book up?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Powder Burn

Powder Burn chronicles the intentionally set fires on Vail Mountain in 1998. Vail was expanding into new areas. Those areas had previously been wilderness. Lodges in the expansion area were torched just before they opened.

There was a great deal
of controversy, some environmentally related, some not, surrounding the Vail expansion. Consequently, the arson suspect list is quite long. Powder Burn reads like a great thriller or mystery. It's an edge of your seat sort of read. You are kept guessing about the true identity of the arsonist. At the time of the book's publication, the mystery had not been solved, which is presumably some of the whodunit of the story. However, since the book's publication, the case has been solved. (Google it once you've read the book.)

I don't think the lack of an answer in the book hurts it. Instead, I think it probably helped it because all sides of the issue are thoroughly explained and explored. If the mystery had been solved prior to the book's publication, I feel like it would have been very easy to gloss over the groups and people who weren't responsible for the arson. Even though they weren't the ones burning down Vail's buildings, they still had plenty of reasons why they might like to see the new lodges gone.

The quote on the top of the cover is from Outside Magazine. They call Powder Burn "an alpine Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." I think this is an accurate description. Powder Burn gives a great feel for Vail as well as diving into the tension surrounding the ski resort and the fires. It only has a handful of reviews on goodreads, which to me is disappointing because it's a great read.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Packing for Mars

I really enjoy Mary Roach's books, so when I was looking for some new audio books, I picked up Packing for Mars. I was not disappointed; it was great.

I have read her other three books, Stiff, Bonk, and Spook, already. I thought Stiff (about cadavers) and Bonk (about sex) were so interesting and funny. I learned a lot. Spook (about the afterlife) was still a good read, but not near as good as the others.

Packing for Mars is about space travel, both in the past and potential for the future. I think one of the best things I can say about this book is that it left me more interested in space and space travel than when I started it. I have always thought that NASA was kind of useless. Now, it makes more sense and I can see its purpose. I read Packing for Mars because it was by Roach, not because I was interested in the topic. However, it really was a fascinating read.

Roach touches on all kind of issues related to space. She covers peeing, sex, and eating. While these issues seem mundane, in space they become very complex. Then there are the complex issues: the effect of g-force on the human body, the feasibility of a human travel to Mars, and even creating space suits to fit a wide range of astronaut body sizes.

If you liked Roach's other books, then definitely pick this up. If you haven't read any of her books, then don't be scared away because this is a non-fiction science book. Her books are very accessible and funny.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Some Recent 1001 Books Reads

A Modest Proposal

I read this in high school and thought it was great. Upon my recent reread, I love it even more. Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal in 1729 about poor Irish children. It's perfect satire and very funny. It's very short-- more of a short story than a novel--so it's a quick well-worth-it read.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

I read Alice in Wonderland in fourth grade for a book report. I dressed up as Alice. I really don't remember more than that though. I just love when Alice wakes up and reflects on it all.

A Christmas Carol

If you don't know the story of A Christmas Carol, you need to put it next on your to be read list. I don't think I'd ever read A Christmas Carol, but had, of course, seen the Scrooge McDuck version as well as other movie adaptations. Even knowing exactly what was going to happen, I still cried at the end of it. Get yourself in the holiday spirit. It won't be too long til Christmas!

I like using the 1001 books you should read list to pick classics because it covers a wide time range. The must-read label certainly applies to all three of these books. You can see the progress I've made here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Film and Lit class

I'm teaching another Film and Lit in Politics class this spring. It is a 2000 level course. The list:

Size and scope of government

The Lord of Flies, Golding


Funny in Farsi, Dumas

Foreign Relations/War

The Quiet American, Greene

In the Time of the Butterflies, Alvarez

Maus, Spiegelman (I am expecting and prepared for some skepticism about a graphic novel.)


A Modest Proposal, Swift

There Are No Children Here, Kotlowitz


The Help, Stockett

To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee

The Media

All the President's Men, Woodward and Bernstein (I know some people will watch the movie instead of reading the book, but the movie is good and has Robert Redford.)

What do you think? There's a lot, but A Modest Proposal is short and Maus is quick. I think all of them are fairly easy to read. (They aren't Faulkner!) Since I finally got the books nailed down, I'm getting excited about teaching the class.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Book Lust

I lust after books and book lists, so when I stumbled across Nancy Pearl's Book Lust I snapped it up.

Book Lust has suggestions for books in lots of different categories. A few of the 170ish categories: Irish fiction, King Arthur, I love a mystery, Cat crazy, What a (natural) disaster, and Czech it out.

I enjoyed reading it for Pearl's wit and all the great book suggestions. I got excited when she suggested a book I'd already read. I added several books to my already too long TBR list. I'll surely be referring to it again for ideas.

Alison over at Alison Can Read is doing a giveaway for Book Crush, another of Pearl's books. This one has lists for kid and teen books. Head over to Alison's blog to read about hearing Pearl speak and to enter the Book Crush giveaway.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Flashback: Sweet Valley High

Oh, how I loved Sweet Valley books, both the Sweet Valley High series as well as the Sweet Valley Twins one. I also loved the Wakefields of Sweet Valley and Patmans of Sweet Valley books.

A few months ago, I found Brokenhearted in the free box at the library. It's been years since I read a Sweet Valley book, so I picked it up.

From Goodreads: "Suddenly she is faced with a very difficult choice -- a choice between the only two boys she has ever loved. What will Elizabeth do?"

The entire book was as dramatic as that line. O.M.G. So. Very. Very. Dramatic. But when you are 16 it all feels so dramatic. Elizabeth, the good twin, has two guys, Jeffrey French and Todd Wilkins, who want to date her. If you remember anything about Liz, she winds up with Todd. Poor Jeffrey.

Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later is coming out in March. I am SO (ridiculously) excited. Here's an excerpt if you are interested.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Vegan Virgin Valentine

This book was challenged at a high school in Florida because of inappropriate language. I'm not sure what language because nothing in the story stuck out as potentially offensive or different than any other YA book I've read. (Of course, in most of the banned book lists I wonder the same thing: What in the world are these people objecting to?!)

I'm guessing some of it had to do with the title. Because, OMG, reading the word "virgin" makes me want to run out and have sex. Because nobody knows that taboo word. Because it's not a very important part of Jesus's birth. Because we're not teaching abstinence-only sex ed. (Well, we were.)

In fact, the book has some really great messages about sex. The main character had been pressured by an ex-boyfriend to have sex, but she didn't. Her niece (only a year younger) has sexual escapades that she later regrets.

Or maybe people are just touchy about the word "vegan."

I've also read Mackler's The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, which I really enjoyed. Both of these books are really good. I loved both of the main characters and their journeys. I will defnitely read another book by her.

In Vegan Virgin Valentine, the main character, Mara, is an overachieving high school senior. Her neice (who is just a year younger) moves in with the Valentine family becuase her mother has, in a sense, abandoned her. The niece is wild and all around bothersome to Mara. The book explores issues of love, sex, friendship, and family.

Another banned book = another ridiculous person out there.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Essential Classics

Last year, Penguin Books came out with an Essential Classics collection. The list included:
  • Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
  • Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  • Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • The Odyssey, Homer
  • Hamlet, Shakespeare
  • Moby Dick, Herman Melville
  • Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
  • Oedipus, Sophocles
  • Walden, Henry David Thoreau
  • The Inferno, Dante Alighieri

Since any such list is going to draw lots of opinions, they are asking for votes for a new list.

Here's my list (not limited to the options on their survey):

  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
  • 1984, George Orwell
  • Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  • Persuasion, Jane Austen
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  • Hard Times, Charles Dickens
These aren't necessarily my favorite classics, but ones I think should be at the top of your list to read in part to know what they are about and part that they cover a mix of issues and time periods.

If I were talking favorite classics I'd have to list as my top 10:
  • Burmese Days, George Orwell
  • A Modest Proposal, Jonathan Swift
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel, Emmuska Orczy
  • Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
  • Persuasion, Jane Austen
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
  • Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cool Covers

I have to admit it. Books with cool covers will definitely get a second look from me.

Here are some I like:

The mountains really do look like that!

Jesus horses! Do you remember that Weekend Update on SNL?

I haven't read this one, or even gotten it, but I added it to my TBR list after being attracted to the cover. (I liked the blurb of the story too.)

What a cool looking building.

More accurate depictions of mountains.


Using famous paintings.

Do you have any favorite book covers?