Sunday, January 30, 2011

Birthday Cake

I turned 30 (eek!) this week and my husband threw me a surprise party tonight.

Look at my cake!

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Secret Garden

I know I read this when I was a child. I picked it up again for the online book challenge as a classic.

A little girl becomes orphaned in India and is sent home to England to live with family. She is forgotten about except for the servants. She finds a secret garden and begins to rebuild it with a neighbor kid. The gardening makes her healthy and happy and brings together the broken family that she joined.

It's rather silly, but the India to the moors of England part really intrigues me. It was part of the reason that I liked A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. I am kind of a sucker for the gothicness of big old English manors.

When I read gothic novels like The Thirteenth Tale or The Secret Garden, I picture everything as dark. There's not enough light inside. It's gloomy outside.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

At Home

I really enjoy Bill Bryson so I picked his new one up.

It's hard to classify what At Home is about. It's subtitle is A Short History of Private Life, but it's more than that. It's more of a lot of interconnected trivia on all kinds of things.

Even though the topics seemed to jump around, it was still interesting. There was tons of social history I didn't know. This review isn't telling you much of anything. If you like history, trivia, or Bryson, you'll like this one.

As much as I enjoyed this, I'd love to see another travel book from Bryson.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Avalon High

Avalon High is one of my favorite YA books. I listened to the audio book and enjoyed it so much I exercised longer and did chores just so I could listen to it. I don't think there's much more I can say about liking a book than it made me want to exercise and clean.

Avalon High is a modern day retelling of King Arthur and Camelot. Ellie, the main character, moves to town and is the new student at Avalon High. Will, the dreamy QB, shows interest in her. Their friendship/romance begins as Ellie starts to wonder about the odd things that happen. The Arthurian legend plays out between Ellie, Will, their friends and families.

There's a three book graphic novel series that picks up after the end of Avalon High. I read the first one, but wasn't a fan. I like graphic novels, so it wasn't that, rather the plot was bleh. It was disappointing since I loved Avalon High so much.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Catcher in the Rye

Like many people, I first read The Catcher in the Rye in high school. I wasn't a fan. I thought Holden was stupid. I hated him. He was whining about phonies when he seemed to be the real phony. He didn't follow the rules. (I'm a big rule follower.) My 15 year old self could not connect with him in any way. I attended boarding school and even that wasn't enough for me. (During my reread, however, I had dreams of my life in boarding school.)

Over the past couple years I have been thinking that I should pick it up again and see what my (hopefully) more mature self thought of it.

I've read a few classics in the past couple years that I'd never read but are common high school picks or reread ones I read in high school. I have gotten a lot out of it.

I read Lord of the Flies, which was something I probably wouldn't have appreciated in high school, but found so relevant. Others haven't been as rewarding. I reread The Scarlet Letter thinking I'd like the themes of religion and social norms. Nope. I hated it. It was painful. My 15 year old self's judgment was right on that one. Now, I question why this book is still on high school reading lists everywhere. There are plenty of books that will actually encourage students to read them instead of the Cliffs Notes.

Anyhow, back to The Catcher in the Rye. Didn't like it or Holden way back when. One of my friends raves about it and I figured it was one about which my adult self would think differently.

Holden Caulfield is kicked out of yet another school. He doesn't care about classes and thinks everyone around him is a phony. He leaves school a few days early and wanders around NYC (where he lives) for a couple days before going home.

For the first half of the book Holden really bothered me. I wanted to tell him to shape up and shut up. Then, when it got to the part where he bought his little sister Phoebe a record, my thoughts started to change. I started to feel sorry for Holden. To me it seemed obvious he was having a hard time emotionally. His behavior saddened me. He was trying to act so cool, but was so lonely. His love of Phoebe did me in. Holden isn't a bad kid, just one that need a big hug and some help.

My opinion of the book is now much more positive. I think it's a book that can be viewed quite differently based on where you are in life. As I let it stew over the next few years, I think my thoughts will still be evolving. And that is the sign of a good book--one that you can't stop rolling over in your head.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The House at Riverton

I finished this book and said, "Wow." Then I put the book down. Then I picked up and reread the last couple pages and again said, "Wow."

The House at Riverton is the story of Grace, once a maid at Riverton, now an old woman, remembering her life at the manor. She tells her story, but she also tells the story of the Hartford sisters, the young women of the house, and what happened the night a poet committed suicide at a party.

I've mentioned before how I like historical fiction mysteries that bounce back and forth between the present and the past. This book had that structure and it was written by Kate Morton, whose The Forgotten Garden I really enjoyed. The past was the more important part of the book, but the story set in the present also offered some interest.

Obviously you can tell I enjoyed The House at Riverton. There was so much to like: the setting of Edwardian and post WWI England, the old woman telling her life story, the mystery of the poet's death. It's a gothic book along the lines of Rebecca or The Thirteenth Tale.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lost on Planet China

As I've mentioned 12 times already and will mention at least 6 more, we are going to China soon. The reason I wanted to go to China is because I have been so interested in it. Over the last few years I've read several interesting books about China.

A couple years ago I read J. Maarten Troost's Lost on Planet China and really enjoyed it. It was so funny and had lots of interesting information about China. Troost has also written two other travel books: The Sex Lives of Cannibals and Getting Stoned with Savages. Those other two books are set in Pacific locales where Troost and his wife lived. Lost on Planet China is about somewhere he visited. I liked Lost on Planet China better than his other two books.

I've been encouraging Evan to read it to get ready for our trip. He hasn't picked it up yet though. Maybe I should reread it too.

If you like Bill Bryson, I think you'd like J. Maarten Troost.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Top 10 of 10

Here's my 10 favorite books of 2010. There's no particular order to this list. The links are to my reviews.

Dirty Sexy Politics by Meghan McCain (memoir, politics)

Game Change
by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin (politics)

Persuasion by Jane Austen (classic)

The Mapping of Love and Death
by Jacqueline Winspear (historical fiction, mystery)

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (young adult)

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (graphic novel, memoir)

River Town by Peter Hessler (memoir, travel)

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (mystery, thriller)

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick (non-fiction)

by Kody Keplinger (young adult)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

The story of the Whiskey Robber is set against the backdrop of Hungary reeling from the fall of communism. It's such a crazy story-- from Ambrus's escape from Romania to his skill as a bank robber to his role on the hockey team that it's hard to realize it's all true. This book is a great social history of post communist Hungary, as well as a funny but sad story of a pretty good bank robber.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Gone with the Windsors

In the 1930s, King Edward fell in love with a divorcee causing a crisis in the British monarchy. The relationship was scandalous not only because she was divorced from her first husband, but also that the relationship with Edward started while she was still married to her second husband. The King could not marry a divorced woman, so Edward abdicated the throne. The title passed to George IV, who was Queen Elizabeth II's father. (How's that for a mini history lesson?)

It seemed to take forever to get through this book, but I'm glad I spent the time on it. The narrator is Maybell Brumby, a fictional friend of Wallis Simpson, who helps out and pays the way for Simpson and the King. Despite her cluelessness and cattiness, Maybell is at times a sympathetic character and seems to learn a bit in the end. Her relationships with her niece and nephew redeem her a great deal.

The story of Wallis Simpson is well known, but this book gave more insight to the relationship and to who Wallis and David, as he was known to friends, were. The book does not paint either in a flattering light.

I did wonder how their relationship may have helped bring about social change in terms of acceptance of divorce.

I think this would be a great selection for a book club as there are lots of issues to discuss: Friendship, family, cultural norms, politics, etc.