Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best Books of 2011 ~ the year in review

2011 was a very good year us and our family: good health, no job loss, and much to look forward to in 2012.

I joined (6) challenges in 2011 and was able to complete them all (posted on left side bar).

I was trying to figure out why I read (46) fewer books in 2011 - 121 in  (2011) and 167 in (2010)?? I quickly remembered how I became addicted to the Scrabble App on my iPhone about mid-year. I have played over 2,500 games since, with (2164 wins and 401 losses). I have had fun with this alternate form of mental stimulation so I really can't complain.

I've been having fun reading all of your posts about your favorite reads of 2011, and have added a few more books to my must read list as a result.  I've been going back and forth with my own favorites for a week or so now and still keep coming up with (at least the same top 5).  Here's my top picks:

Favorite Fiction
  1. A Kind of Intimacy; Jenn Ashworth - Annie is a whacky gal, who I found endearing in a bizarre sort of way. At times I pitied her, and her desperate attempts for love and acceptance. The story is dark and addictive. An unforgettable birds-eye view of the dark side of a fractured mind.
  2. A Good Hard Look; Ann Napolitano -  a fictionalized version of the life of the late author Flannery O'Connor. An at times heart-wrenching story, which changes everyone, as they quickly understand what the author meant when she said, "the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."  This book made my go out and purchase all of Flannery O'Connor's books. Loved it.
  3. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake; Jenny Wingfield -  A richly detailed account of good and evil in 1950s Arkansas. It's both heart-breaking and uplifting; simple wonderful.
  4. 11/22/63; Stephen King - Having been born in the early 50's, reading this novel was like a blast from the past. Whether it was the music references, the vehicles, or the laughable price of gasoline, every detail from that period seemed authentic. It's one of those books that if you allow yourself to suspend belief and just go along for the ride, I think you'll agree it was worth your time. 
  5. Of Mice and Men; John Steinbeck -  The story of two drifters, Lennie, a mentally challenged, gentle giant, and George, the man who looks after Lennie. Heart-breaking but wonderful.
  6.  Sing You Home; Jodi Picoult - Having read all of Picoult's novels, this one --her 18th, is probably her most controversial yet. A powerful story about what constitutes a family, and why committed gay couples should be seen no differently from straight couples when it comes to marriage and raising a family.
  7. The Elegance of the Hedgehog; Muriel Barbery -  The Elegance of the Hedgehog is truly a beautiful novel about life, and about looking for the beauty in every person you meet. It gave me so much to think about. It's not the type of story with lots of action, it more philisophical, but don't let that scare you. It's a wonderful character study that examines not only what makes the main characters tick, but it is also a deep exploration of all that surrounds us in the world we live in. 
  8. State of Wonder; Ann Patchett -  Pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Marina Singh sets off into the Amazon jungle to find the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under somewhat mysterious circumstances.Beautiful writing, page turning plot.
  9. How to Read the Air; Dinaw Mengestu -  A wonderful story about the immigrant experience. The writing is beautiful and detailed and the story intimate. If you love introspective stories,  this one gets high marks in that area. 
  10.  The Easter Parade; Richard Yates - This book too deals with the disenchantment of everyday life, and the longing for something more....the illusive butterfly, that if found, would make our life just perfect. The people in this novel drink too much, make bad choices in relationships and live their lives afraid to share how they really feel. It's wonderful.
 Other Favorites (non fiction and childrens)

Have you posted your 2011 favorites yet?

Happy Reading in 2012! Readers Rock!

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; Stieg Larsson

Author:  Stieg Larsson
Publication Year: 2009
Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
Edition: trade
Source: Purchased
Setting: Sweden
Date Completed: 12/28/2011 
Rating: 4/5
Recommend: yes

After falling for a clever hoax, financial journalist, Mikael Blomkvist is convicted of libel. Not only does he face a three month prison sentence, but his career in jeopardy as well.  Soon after, Henrik Vanger, an elderly, semi-retired executive of a prominent Swedish company hires him to investigate the disappearance of his great niece Harriet, who disappeared 36 years earlier at the age of 14.  Initially, Henrik asks him to write about the history of the Vanger family, but is clear that Blomkvist's real purpose will be to solve this decades-old case.  Henrik has been obsessed with having this case solved before he dies.  There has been no trace of her in all these years and it's assumed she is dead. However, every year on his birthday, he receives a mysterious gift of a pressed flower, like the ones his great-niece used to give him.

As Blomkvist begins to dig into the Vanger history, he hires the smart, highly talented, Lisbeth Salander to help with the investigation. She looks like a punk-rocker, and she is both tough and brilliant, with a talent for computer hacking. She's also heavily-tattooed and antisocial. 

For me, this novel started off extremely slow first (150+ pages), and I couldn't understand what all the hype was about. The translation from Swedish wasn't always smooth either, and there are several subplots, but I was determined to finish it as we are planning to see the movie (today).  Once the story got off the ground,  it had me quickly turning the pages.  Each time one mystery seems solved, another one surfaces. The setting is Sweden, and the atmosphere always felt dark and cold -- perfect for this story. The character development, especially of the two main characters was fantastic.  Lisbeth was a fantastic character, even though she could be a downer at times. Blomkvist was the perfect compliment to her, in my opinion. I felt like I was inside their mind at times.

Those who haven't read this one yet, should be aware that there are a couple of disturbing incidents of rape and other abuse against women. The story is definitely graphic at times.  If you aren't too disturbed as you read, by the end of this novel, I believe most readers will be anxious to read the (2) books which follow: The Girl Who Plays With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Have you read this one? What did you think?

We saw the American version of the movie this afternoon, and we thought it was great.  The graphic, sexual violence made me cringe. Despite that it was a terrific movie.  I am now anxious to read books 2, and 3.

Hugs from Pearl; Paul Schmid

Title: Hugs From Pearl
Author and Illustrator:  Paul Schmid 
Publication Year: 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins 
Edition: Hardcover 
Source: Amazon Vine 
Date Completed: 12/29/2011 
Rating: 3/5 
Recommend: not sure

Hugs From Pearl is a story for very young children. It's about a porcupine who is not happy with who she is, so she tries to change to please others.  She loves to hug, but when she hugs her classmates at the Wildwood school, they always yell, "ouch" and end up needing a bandaid after each hug -- those quills hurt! 

She tries long baths to soften her quills, she puts pin cushions on her quills, and nothing does the trick. One day she takes a special rose covered pillowcase of her moms, takes a pair of scissors to it and and she uses it as a dress to cover her quills -- problem solved.

I have to say that I sort of scratched my head after reading this book as I'm not sure it sends the right message to young children: trying to change who you are to please others, and also taking things that don't belong to you and using a pair of scissors on them??

The illustrations are simple, but cute (black and white with splotches of pink), and the pages are pastels (light blue and mint green). 

All in all I have to say that although it is a cute book, it is not one that would go on the favorites shelf to be read over and over again. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Accident; Linwood Barclay

Title: The Accident
Author:  Linwood Barclay
Publication Year: 2011
Publisher: Bantam
Edition: eBook/Kindle (and audio)
Source: Net Galley and Library
Setting: Connecticut
Date Completed: 12/23/2011 
Rating: 4/5
Recommend: yes

The Accident is a fast paced thriller that drew me into the story from the very first chapter.

The story is set in the small town of Milford, Connecticut, where Glen Barber, his wife Sheila, and 8-year old daughter Kelly live.  Glen is local building contractor, and because of the economy, his business is barely making it.  Early on in the story, when Sheila is late returning home from an evening class she has been taking, Glen grows concerned.  His concerns are warranted when he learns that Sheila has been killed in a car crash.  However, upon investigation, Glen learns that Sheila, never attended class that evening, and was driving drunk. She parked her car on a highway ramp, and the car was hit by another with Sheila still inside. Nothing makes sense.  Sheila was only a social drinker, and would have never driven drunk.

Not long after, one of Sheila's friends also ends up dead, then little Kelly, overhears a strange phone conversation while playing hide and seek at her friend's house.  When the mother realizes Kelly witnessed the conversation she becomes highly concerned about a secret being exposed.

Could this have anything to do with Kelly's mom's accident?  Bit by bit the reader learns that desperate people do desperate things, and even previously stable individuals can see their lives spiral out of control, when they engage in risky behaviors.

Although a bit far-fetched at times, The Accident, was a fast read and an engaging thriller.

I read the eBook and listened to the audio version. The audio was read by Peter Berkrot who did a great job.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Three Bedrooms in Manhattan; Georges Simenon

Title: Three Bedrooms in Manhattan
Author:  Georges Simenon
Publication Year: 1946 (this ed 2003)
Publisher: NYRB Classics
Edition: trade
Source: Purchased
Setting: New York
Date Completed: 12/20/2011 
Rating: 3.5/5
Recommend: yes

Three Bedrooms in Manhattan, first published in 1946, and is a short, introspective novel about two lonely people.

Francios Combe is a 48-year old French actor. After seventeen years of marriage, he's newly divorced, -- his wife left him for an actor half his age. He's a sad sap, living in a rundown place in New York,  a man looking for human connection.

"On this chilly October morning, he was a man who had cut all threads, a man approaching fifty, without ties to anything--not to family, profession, country, himself, and definitely not to home.  His only connection was to a complete stranger, a woman sleeping in his room in a seedy hotel."

Kay Miller is another lonely, lost soul who had spent a few years in Swiss sanatorium.  She was married to a Hungarian Ambassador, and has since been around the block a few times. She has a daughter that lives with an aunt.

"She wasn't beautiful or irresistible, as she thought she was. Her body, like her face was marked by life."

Francios and Kay meet in a diner, two lonely people starved for some human connection.  " Two wandering creatures, set apart on the surface of the globe, lost in the thousand identical streets of a city like New York."

The story is narrated by Francios, and it follows him and Kay as they wander the streets of New York, observing the world around them. They wander to and from various bars, stop for food, and end most evenings with a hop in the sack.  He is highly critical of her and at times even abusive, yet when the two are apart, they find they need to be together.  The writing is straight forward, yet manages to carry some punches.  The novel is only about 170 pages, was easy to read, by in the end it left me with a somewhat empty feeling.

This Belgium born author has written some 200 stories, many of which have served as inspiration for various movies and television shows. This is my first read by this author, and I most likely will try another one by him in the future.

Waiting on Wednesday ~ The Affair; Alicia Clifford

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we are eagerly anticipating! Want to participate? Post your own WOW entry on your blog, and leave your link at Breaking the Spine. My pick:

March 13, 2012 - St. Martin's Press
"All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  —Leo Tolstoy
As a writer, Celia Bayley’s insights into the ways of the human heart made her famous. And why not? She had married a handsome war hero and produced three successful children. Yet, as her family gathers for her funeral, the diaries and notebooks and letters she left behind paint a very different picture, one that shocks those who loved her and will force them to confront the difficult conflicts in their own lives.

A life torn by secrets is revealed. The husband she adored had deceived her early in their marriage and broken her heart, though they persevered as a family. Then, years later while on a trip with friends, she meets a man for whom she feels a passion she never believed possible. In one brief moment, her whole life is turned inside out.

Utterly compelling and beautifully written, The Affair makes vividly real the agonizing choice one woman must make. Powerful and moving, the novel is about marriage, families, and the definition of happiness.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros

Every Tuesday, I'll be posting the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book I decided to read based on the opening paragraph (s). Feel free to grab the banner and play along. This week's "intro" is from: The Sense of an Ending; Julian Barnes

"I remember, in no particular order:

-- shiny inner wrist;
--steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it;
--gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall house;
--a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams;
--another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface;
--bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door.

The last isn't something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn't always the same as what you have witnessed." 

What do you think? Worth continuing? (I am very intrigued and anxious to pick this up again later today).

Monday, December 26, 2011

December 26 - my laziest day of 2011!

Was anyone else feeling lazy today?  (I didn't even participate in Mailbox Monday this week....sigh..) Heck, I didn't even turn on my computer until now -- you see how lazy I've been. We honestly did nothing but lounge around the house today: watching: Get Shorty (very funny) and Law and Order episodes again and again, took a nap and ate leftovers.

Preparing for Christmas was much easier this year as the few gifts that were purchased were easy, and even the food preparation was simpler, as everyone brought something.  We always manage to have too much food. I mean seriously, can (6) people possible eat: an apple pie (gone-my husband ate almost the whole pie), (4lb) cheesecake (1/2 gone), chocolate cream pie (1/2 left), pistachio cake (1/2 left) -- Fortunately, family enjoys dessert leftover as much as the real food.

The best part about Christmas was being together (all of us) - isn't that the perfect gift?  Hope your holiday was wonderful as well. 

I am so excited because I got out of work on December 23rd and we don't go back until January 3rd. It's all paid as well without having to use vacation time). One of the perks of working in an academic environment.  I know the week will fly by, but I do have hopes of finishing: Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, so we can see the movie.. --not loving the book, but it's okay I'm over 1/2 way through.  I also want to read Sense of an Ending; Barnes (Kindle Library Loan).  Other plans include selecting my top 10 list for 2011, catch up on reviews and just doing whatever or nothing I please (as the hub will be working):

Whatever your plans for the week and New Years - ENJOY!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Saturday Snapshot - Happy Holidays!

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce @ AT Home With Books.

Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.

"To all of my wonderful readers, who take time out of their busy days to stop by and check in on happenings here.......No matter what you celebrate, or even if you don't celebrate at all, the sentiment remains the same, Enjoy your time with family and friends. Life is so short, make the most of it. Wishing you all a happy and peaceful holiday season."

Merry Christmas! 

 Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Kwanzaa!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

11/22/63; Stephen King

Title: 11/22/63
Author:  Stephen King
Publication Year: 2011 
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Edition: eBook
Source: Purchased
Setting: Maine and Texas
Date Completed: 12/15/2011 
Rating: 5/5
Recommend: yes

I was so anxious to read this book, and I'm happy to say that I wasn't disappointed.  A hefty tome involving time-travel, this book was my daily lunch companion for over (2.5) weeks. It's Stephen King at his finest: the subject was extremely well researched, and not the horror fest of King's earliest days as an author.

The protagonist is Jake Epping, a 35-year old, divorced, English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine.  He supplements his teacher's income by also teaching GED students.  One of his assignments to the class is to write an essay about an event that had changed their lives.  However, Jake was not prepared for what one of his students, Harry Dunning handed in.  A terribly written, but shocking essay, about the October night in 1958 when his drunken father, came home, flew into a rage and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a severe leg injury that left him with a pronounced limp.  Jake is horrified at what he had read.

A short time later, Jake’s friend, Al Templeton, who owns a local diner, has seemed to age overnight. He shares a secret with Jake, about a portal to the past (1958) which is located off a backroom of the diner.  Al urges Jake to try it out, and tells him about what he was working on.  On Jake's first attempt down the rabbit-hole and back in time, his plan is to try to prevent the deaths of Harry Dunning's mother and siblings.  All does not go as planned, and every action taken to undo the past, causes a "butterfly effect" effecting the future.  When Jake returns to 2011, he sees how sick Al is, and decides to carry out Al's plan, of going back in time to (1958), with all the information currently available about JFK's assassination and work to prevent President Kennedy's death.

Jake, travels back in time, from Maine, to Florida to Dallas and then to Jodi, Texas, under his new identity as George Amberson.  He finds a job teaching school, falls in love with a woman named Sadie, and settles down in his new life and new neighborhood waiting for Lee Harvey Oswald and wife Maria to settle in as his neighbor, so that he can keep tabs on all of his moves.

Without giving away too many details about the plot, I'll just recommend that you invest the time and read it for yourself.  The characters were fully fleshed out, and the writing drew me in and made me feel like I had been transported back in time as well. Having been born in the early 50's, reading this novel was like a blast from the past. Whether it was the music references, the vehicles, or the laughable price of gasoline, every detail from that period seemed authentic. It's one of those books that if you allow yourself to suspend belief and just go along for the ride, I think you'll agree it was worth your time.

Waiting on Wednesday

 Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we are eagerly anticipating! Want to participate? Post your own WOW entry on your blog, and leave your link at Breaking the Spine. My pick:

 The Land of Decoration; Grace McCleen
Henry Holt Co - March 2012

A mesmerizing debut about a young girl whose steadfast belief and imagination bring everything she once held dear into treacherous balance

In Grace McCleen's harrowing, powerful debut, she introduces an unforgettable heroine in ten-year-old Judith McPherson, a young believer who sees the world with the clear Eyes of Faith. Persecuted at school for her beliefs and struggling with her distant, devout father at home, young Judith finds solace and connection in a model in miniature of the Promised Land that she has constructed in her room from collected discarded scraps—the Land of Decoration. Where others might see rubbish, Judith sees possibility and divinity in even the strangest traces left behind. As ominous forces disrupt the peace in her and Father's modest lives—a strike threatens her father's factory job, and the taunting at school slips into dangerous territory—Judith makes a miracle in the Land of Decoration that solidifies her blossoming convictions. She is God's chosen instrument. But the heady consequences of her newfound power are difficult to control and may threaten the very foundations of her world.

With its intensely taut storytelling and crystalline prose, The Land of Decoration is a gripping, psychologically complex story of good and evil, belonging and isolation, which casts new and startling light on how far we'll go to protect the things we love most.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros

Every Tuesday, I'll be posting the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book I decided to read based on the opening paragraph (s). Feel free to grab the banner and play along. This week's "intro" is from a review copy, so please realize that the final copy could be different.

 The Accident; Linwood Barclay

" Their names were Edna Bauder and Pam Steigerwald, and they were grade school teachers from Butler, Pennsylvania, and they had never been to New York before in their entire lives.  New York was hardly the other side of the planet, but when you lived in Butler, almost everything seemed that way.  As Pam's fortieth birthday approached, her friend Edna said you're going to have a birthday weekend you are never, ever going to forget, and on that count she turned out to be absolutely right."

What do you think? I have book an eGalley and the audio version, and let me say, this thriller is addictive so far.

(Overview - in case you want to know a bit more)
In this mesmerizing thriller by acclaimed author Linwood Barclay, a typical American community descends into darkness, as an ordinary man is swept into one of the most violent mysteries of modern life.

It’s the new normal at the Garber household in Connecticut: Glen, a contractor, has seen his business shaken by the housing crisis, and now his wife, Sheila, is taking a business course at night to increase her chances of landing a good-paying job.
But she should have been home by now.

Waiting for Sheila’s return, with their eight-year-old daughter sleeping soundly, Glen soon finds his worst fears confirmed: Sheila and two others have been killed in a car accident. Adding to the tragedy, the police claim Sheila was responsible.
Glen knows it’s impossible; he knew his wife and she would never do such a thing. When he investigates, Glen begins to uncover layers of lawlessness beneath the placid surface of their suburb, secret after dangerous secret behind the closed doors.

Propelled into a vortex of corruption and illegal activity, pursued by mysterious killers, and confronted by threats from neighbors he thought he knew, Glen must take his own desperate measures and go to terrifying new places in himself to avenge his wife and protect his child.

Bold and timely, with the shocking twists and startling insights that have become trademarks of this new master of domestic suspense, The Accident is a riveting triumph, a book that moves at a breathless pace to a climax no one will see coming.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Elegance of the Hedgehog; Muriel Barbery

Title: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Author:  Muriel Barbery
Publication Year: 2009
Publisher: Highbridge Audio
Edition: audio and eBook
Reader: Barbara Rosenblat and Cassandra Morris (very good)
Source: Library
Date Completed: 12/17/2011 
Rating: 5/5
Recommend: yes (loved it)

A story which started out slow, but quickly changed to something wonderful. It's a novel that ultimately left me with a warm, fuzzy, hopeful feeling -- I loved this book!  The central theme of the story explores whether, " life has meaning".

The story is told from the POV of (2) central characters: Madame Renee Michel, is a 50-something widow, and, a concierge for 27-years, of a ritzy apartment building in Paris, where the story takes place. She's very bright (but doesn't show it), has a prickly personality, a poor self-image, yet she is a woman with depth: she finds beauty in flowers, especially the Camellia. She has a love of the simple lives led by the Japanese people, the arts and great literature. She isn't fond of the stuffy people she encounters day in and day out in her job as concierge. She lives a somewhat solitary existence with her cat, Leo (after Tolstoy), and views herself as insignificant.

Paloma Josse, is a 12 year-old, super smart wiz kid. She's extremely introspective, and lives in the same building with her her wealthy parents: a politician father and clueless snobby mother, as well as an older sister who is studying at the Sorbonne. She detests her family and all that they find important. Paloma is a keen observer who sees the world and life as lacking any meaning, and as a result she has vowed to kill herself before her 13th birthday.  She's very philosophical, and has decided to keep a notebook which she calls "Profound Thoughts".  Paloma and Renee have much in common, although neither realize it. They both love jasmine tea and all things Japanese. In fact Renee thinks, if she had a daughter she would be just like Paloma.  Paloma, in turn, thinks Renee, has "the elegance of a hedgehog".

Monsieur Kakuro Ozu is one of the wealthy residents who moves into the same building. He's a Japanese film maker; a distinguished, gentle and kind man who appreciates the arts. He is an extremely keen observor of human behavior, and it isn't long before he is able to ferret out the fact that there is more to Renee and Paloma than what their cool exterior reveals.  Before long the three develop a strong friendship, and are enmeshed in discussions of life's ironies and absurdities, which help each work through their issues.

I loved this book! I found myself not wanting it to end. The audio book was beautiful, but I also ended up picking up the print version as there was so much beauty expressed, that I wanted to experience it in print as well. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is truly a beautiful novel about life, and about looking for the beauty in every person you meet. It gave me so much to think about.  It's not the type of story with lots of action, it more philisophical, but don't let that scare you. It's a wonderful character study that examines not only what makes the main characters tick, but it is also a deep exploration of all that surrounds us in the world we live in.


Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia of  A Girl and Her Books and the December host is Let Them Read Books.  Here's what arrived last week. Hope you had a good week as well.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fuddles; Frans Vischer

Title: Fuddles
Author and Illustrator:  Frans Vischer
Publication Year: 2011 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Edition: Hardcover
Source: Library 
Date Completed: 12/16/2011 
Rating: 5/5 
Recommend: yes 
Fuddles is a fat and pampered indoor cat who one day realizes that his should have more excitement than just, eating sleeping and using his litter box. He wants to go outdoors. Human mom says "no", and he can't understand why -- no one has ever said "no" to Fuddles.  Determined to go out, he brushes up on his jumping, hunting, and claw sharpening skills --indoors, and one day sneaks out of the house.  He quickly learns that he is too fat to hunt, the bird bath is filthy (and now so is he). He also gets chased by an angry dog, he gets lost and has trouble finding his way home, but one day hears his worried owner calling his name.  Fuddles, quickly realizes that pamper cats really do need to be indoors, and is happy to be back home.
The illustrations are awesome, and the story teaches children a lesson, about indoor cats belonging indoors, and that moms really do know best. It is a very cute story and highly recommended.

Cat in the Manger; Michael Foreman

Title: Cat in the Manger
Author and Illustrator:  Michael Foreman 
Publication Year: 2001 
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company 
Edition: Hardcover
Source: Library 
Date Completed: 12/16/2011 
Rating: 4/5 
Recommend: yes 

A charming Christmas story told from a barn cat’s point of view. The cat, who lives in a barn with other animals, is all prepared to curl up in a warm spot for the night when some unexpected visitors arrive and need a place to stay.  Although initially the animals seem a bit upset by their routine being disturbed, they soon all come together to experience the wonderful event that is about to take place that night.  Complete with three "masters" (kings), camels, and an array of other barnyard animals, Cat in the Manager, is a charming story about the Nativity, yet it never mentions, Mary, Joseph or Baby Jesus by name. 

The watercolor illustrations were lovely; a unique take on the Nativity told from the perspective of a cat.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Snapshot

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce @ AT Home With Books.

Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.
I loved this winter arrangement when I saw it. 
The ornamental cabbage makes it pop!
What do you think?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Anatomy of a Disappearance; Hisham Matar

Title: Anatomy of a Disappearance
Author:  Hisham Matar
Publication Year: 2011 
Publisher: Dial Press (Random House)
Edition: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Date Completed: 12/10/2011 
Rating: 4/5
Recommend: yes

"There are times when my father's absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest.  Other times I can barely recall the exact features of his face and must bring out the photographs I keep in the old drawer of my bedside table.  There has not been a day since his sudden and mysterious vanishing that I have not been searching for him, looking in the most unlikely places.  Everything and everyone, existence itself, has become an evocation, a possibility for resemblance. Perhaps this is what is meant by that brief and now almost archaic word: elegy." begins the semi-autobiographical novel by Hisham Matar, whose own father, a Libyan dissident was captured by Qaddafi's men and imprisoned. The story, in some ways was similar to the author's debut book, In the Country of Men, a story which I enjoyed. In that story, a young boy is trying to understand his father's secret activities and subsequent disappearance in a country experiencing political unrest.

In Anatomy of a Disappearance, Nuri is a fourteen-year old boy of privilege from an unidentified country. His life is about to change significantly when his mother dies, presumably of an overdose. Two years later, Nuri and his father, spot a beautiful young girl on the beach. Nuri thinks she is beautiful, and so does his father. While Nuri is shipped off to boarding school, his father ends up marrying the beautiful Mona. This causes Nuri much sadness and resentment, he feels lonely and lost.  He silently wishes that his father, Kamal,  an advisor to the King, would just "disappear", and soon after he gets his silent wish --his father is abducted.

The novel is a somewhat quiet introspective story,  about the sadness that resolves from Nuri's unresolved loss, in this case the disappearance of Nuri's father.  I liked the flow of this novel, and the writing was vivid and descriptive as well. Specific details like ones about the beautiful Mona with her silky hair and yellow bikini stick with me even now.  The intro paragraph about a young sensitive boy's deep sense of loss, was particularly touching, especially sense he was never able to form a close relationship with his father prior to his disappearance. Even in the end Nuri never gives up hope that his father might return. The one thing I that left me wanting more was the fact we never really learn what happened to Nuri's mother or father.  Despite this, it is still a worthy read.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday ~ Cold Light; Jenn Ashworth

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we are eagerly anticipating! Want to participate? Post your own WOW entry on your blog, and leave your link at Breaking the Spine. My pick is by Jenn Ashworth . (I adored her book, A Kind of Intimacy).

William Morrow - March 2012

(about the book) -
I'm sitting on my couch, watching the local news. There's Chloe's parents, the mayor, the hangers on, all grouped round the pond for the ceremony. It's ten years since Chloe and Carl drowned, and they've finally chosen a memorial - a stupid summerhouse. The mayor has a spade decked out in pink and white ribbon, and he's started to dig. 

You can tell from their faces that something has gone wrong. But I'm the one who knows straightaway that the mayor has found a body. And I know who it is.

This is the tale of three fourteen-year-old girls and a volatile combination of lies, jealousy and perversion that ends in tragedy. Except the tragedy is even darker and more tangled than their tight-knit community has been persuaded to believe.

Blackly funny and with a surreal edge to its portrait of a northern English town, Jenn Ashworth's gripping novel captures the intensity of girls' friendships and the dangers they face in a predatory adult world they think they can handle. And it shows just how far that world is willing to let sentiment get in the way of the truth.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros

Every Tuesday, I'll be posting the opening paragraph (maybe two) of a book I decided to read based on the opening paragraph (s). Feel free to grab the banner and play along. This week's "intro" is from a review copy, so please realize that the final copy could be different.

January 23, 2012 - WW Norton Co

"The first thing you must know about me is that I am colossally fat. When I knew you I was what one might call plump but I am no longer plump.  I eat what I want & furthermore I eat whatever I want.  For years I have made very little effort to reduce the amount that I eat for I have seen no cause to.  Despite this I am neither immobile nor bedridden but I do feel winded when I walk more than six or seven steps, & I do feel very shy and sort of encased in something as if I were a cello or an expensive gun.

"I have no way of knowing exactly what I weigh but I estimate that it is between five and six hundred pounds. The last time I went to a doctor's office was years ago and back then I weighed four hundred eighty pounds and they had to put me on a special scale.  The doctor looked at me & told me I was surely on a path toward early death."

Would you continue reading this one? I definitely plan to, but am curious why (even through it is and ARC) that both "and", and the ampersand..." &" were used in the first two paragraphs?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mailbox Monday

 Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia of  A Girl and Her Books and the December host is Let Them Read Books.  Here's what arrived last week. Hope you had a good week as well.

  • Eustace and Hilda; L.P. Hartley (purchased) about the book - The three books gathered together as Eustace and Hilda explore a brother and sister's lifelong relationship. Hilda, the older child, is both self-sacrificing and domineering, as puritanical as she is gorgeous; Eustace is a gentle, dreamy, pleasure-loving boy: the two siblings could hardly be more different, but they are also deeply devoted. And yet as Eustace and Hilda grow up and seek to go their separate ways in a world of power and position, money and love, their relationship is marked by increasing pain.

    L. P. Hartley's much-loved novel, the magnum opus of one of twentieth-century England's best writers, is a complex and spellbinding work: a comedy of upper-class manners; a study in the subtlest nuances of feeling; a poignant reckoning with the ironies of character and fate. Above all, it is about two people who cannot live together or apart, about the ties that bind—and break.
  • The Go-Between; L.P. Hartley (purchased) about the book - Summering with a fellow schoolboy on a great English estate, Leo, the hero of L. P. Hartley's finest novel, encounters a world of unimagined luxury. But when his friend's beautiful older sister enlists him as the unwitting messenger in her illicit love affair, the aftershocks will be felt for years. The inspiration for the brilliant Joseph Losey/Harold Pinter film starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates, The Go-Between is a masterpiece—a richly layered, spellbinding story about past and present, naiveté and knowledge, and the mysteries of the human heart. This volume includes, for the first time ever in North America, Hartley's own introduction to the novel.
  • The Girl in the Garden; Kamala Nair (paperback swap) about the book - The redemptive journey of a young woman unsure of her engagement, who revisits in memory the events of one scorching childhood summer when her beautiful yet troubled mother spirits her away from her home to an Indian village untouched by time, where she discovers in the jungle behind her ancestral house a spellbinding garden that harbors a terrifying secret.

  • The Wandering Falcon; Jamil Ahmad - (paperback swap) - about the book -
    The Wandering Falcon begins with a young couple, refugees from their tribe, who have traveled to the middle of nowhere to escape the cruel punishments meted out upon those who transgress the boundaries of marriage and family. Their son, Tor Baz, descended from both chiefs and outlaws, becomes "The Wandering Falcon," a character who travels among the tribes, over the mountains and the plains, into the towns and the tents that constitute the homes of the tribal people. The media today speak about this unimaginably remote region, a geopolitical hotbed of conspiracies, drone attacks, and conflict, but in the rich, dramatic tones of a master storyteller, this stunning, honor-bound culture is revealed from the inside.

    Jamil Ahmad has written an unforgettable portrait of a world of custom and compassion, of love and cruelty, of hardship and survival, a place fragile, unknown, and unforgiving.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Cat's Table; Michael Ondaatje

Title: The Cat's Table
Author:  Michael Ondaatje
Publication Year: 2011 
Publisher: Random House Audio
Edition: audio
Reader: author
Source: Library
Date Completed: 12/6/2011 
Rating: 4/5
Recommend: yes

The Cat's Table led me on an enjoyable voyage from Columbo (Sri Lanka) to England, aboard the Oronsay.  The story unfolds as a man thinks back on a 21-day voyage he took as a young boy. A voyage that shaped his life. Since the author himself took a similar voyage when he was a young boy, this story is believed to be in part somewhat autobiographical.

In this story, Michael, is an 11-year old boy aboard the ship who is traveling to see his mother in England; he hasn't seen her in a number of years.  He and several other colorful, underprivileged characters are delegated to a portion of the ship referred to as "The Cat's Table", at mealtime.  The area is located as far away from the "captain's table" as possible. Michael is also referred to as Mynah, because he likes to go around and spread gossip about what he learns from other travelers aboard the ship. He is not to be pitied, for he and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin, go from one exciting adventure to another. With such antics as sneaking to the first-class deck to swim in the pool and to eat better food, the boys are always up to something.

The most impressive thing about this story for me was that while I thought I might feel sorry for these boys, I did not.  What happens to them on the journey, shapes their future lives, exposing them to individuals and experiences which teach them a lot about life and human nature. Literature, jazz, performers, a prisoner in chains, and the alluring power of women are just some of the experiences that occupied their time and opened up their minds.  It was interesting to see that even though the boys go their separate ways, what they experienced together, played a part in the men that they become.

While the beginning of the story seemed somewhat choppy and disjointed, a patient reader, or listener in my case, will be rewarded with beautiful writing, at times poetic, fully developed characters and a story that comes together in the end.  There were several beautiful passage which I can no longer recall since I was listening to the audiobook, which was read by the author who did a terrific job. The scenes were easy to visualize and a good listening experience overall.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Saturday Snapshot ~ Full Moon and Black Cats

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce @ AT Home With Books.

Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.  Last night when I came home I was wondering what photo I could use today. All I had to do was look up at the sky and hope my camera would capture the somewhat eerie, night before the full moon.

 Full Moon ~ Black Cat
(and it's not even Halloween)


Thursday, December 8, 2011

2012 ~ No Willpower Here

I've always been pretty much an immediate gratification type person whether it be shopping for clothes, books, or even eating something delicious and not worrying about the calories (until later). Well the same seems true when it comes to reading challenges. For 2012, I was pretty sure I'd be going "challenge-free", but then I started thinking how much I really enjoyed the (6) I participated in in 2011, and I completed 5/6 so far and am close to completing # 6 as well.  So why not join - it feels right.

2011 Challenges -
  • 100+ Book Challenge (110/100 -  right now)
  • Reading from My Shelves ( 50/50
  • eBook Challenge (17/20)
  • Europa Challenge (5/4)
  • Audio Book Challenge (33/20)
  • RIP VI (5/4)
So why not join a few in 2012? Just a few, no pressure, ones that seem doable -- reading the kinds of books I want to read anyways in the process.

  2012 Challenge Plans:

  • 100+ Book Challenge
  • eBook Challenge (goal of 25)
  • Audio Book Challenge (goal of 25)
  • Back to Classics Challenge (Steinbeck and Dickens plans)

For a full list of 2012 Challenges Currently being promoted, visit...A Novel Challenge, or are  IN, or are you going challenge-free in 2012 ?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday ~ Coral Glynn; Peter Cameron

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we are eagerly anticipating! Want to participate? Post your own WOW entry on your blog, and leave your link at Breaking the Spine. Here's my pic:

2/28/2012 - Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Coral Glynn arrives at Hart House, an isolated manse in the English countryside, early in the very wet spring of 1950, to nurse the elderly Mrs. Hart, who is dying of cancer. Hart House is also inhabited by Mrs. Prence, the perpetually disgruntled housekeeper, and Major Clement Hart, Mrs. Hart’s war-ravaged son, who is struggling to come to terms with his latent homosexuality. When a child’s game goes violently awry in the woods surrounding Hart House, a great shadow—love, perhaps—descends upon its inhabitants. Like the misguided child’s play, other seemingly random events—a torn dress, a missing ring, a lost letter—propel Coral and Clement into the dark thicket of marriage. 

A period novel observed through a refreshingly gimlet eye, Coral Glynn explores how quickly need and desire can blossom into love, and just as quickly transform into something less categorical.  Borrowing from themes and characters prevalent in the work of mid-twentieth-century British women writers, Peter Cameron examines how we live and how we love—with his customary empathy and wit.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros

Every Tuesday, I'll be posting the opening paragraph (maybe two) of a book I decided to read based on the opening paragraph (s). Feel free to grab the banner and play along. This week's "intro" is from a book I bought last week.

Georges Simenon

"He woke up suddenly at 3:00 A.M., dead tired, got dressed, and almost went out without his tie, in slippers. coat collar turned up, like people who walk their dogs late at night or very early in the morning.  Then, when he was in the courtyard of the building, where after two months he still couldn't bring himself to feel at home, he glance upward mechanically and realized that he'd forgotten to turn out his light, but he didn't have the energy to climb back up the stairs.

What were they doing, up there in J.K.C's apartment? Was Winnie vomiting yet? Probably.  Moaning, at first softly, then more loudly, until at last she burst into an endless fit of tears."

Would you continue reading this one? It is just 158 pages.
(I'm feeling a bit like a voyeur from the intro)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Treasure Island!!! Sara Levine

Author:  Sara Levine
Publication Year: 2011 
Publisher: Europa / Tonga Books
Edition: review copy
Source: publisher
Setting: Unnamed US city
Date Completed: 11/29/2011 
Rating: 3.5/5
Recommend: depends on the reader

Treasure Island!!! is the story of an unnamed 25 year-old protagonist who is stuck in a rut. She's a young woman looking for some adventure in her life.  Thus far, this college graduate, philosophy major, has held several mindless and low paying jobs from "gift-wrap associate" in a department store to part-time clerk at the "pet library" (she calls herself, "Circulation Clerk"), a job which is short-lived and after her unauthorized purchase of a parrot named Richard for the Pet Library.  A bird when after being let go, she is stuck with, and a bird she quickly loses interest in.  Her boyfriend, Lars isn't particularly exciting either, but without a job she gives up her apartment to move in with him -- this too is short-lived. She is determined to change her life for the better, and maybe his as well.

One day her sister, Adrianna, a 3rd grade teacher, leaves the library book, Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson at her apartment.  The last time our protagonist read that book was when she was 9 years-old. She reads the book again, after all she doesn't have anything more interesting to do, and suddenly, it hits her -- she too needs to become adventuresome, like the book's hero, Jim Hawkins. She's determined to begin living her life by the core values of the original book Treasure Island: Boldness, Resolution, Independence and Horn-Blowing.

Unfortunately, her attempts to change her life by being more bold and adventurous, go from bad to worst, because one thing the protagonist lacks is introspection and self-awareness.  What follows is a series of interactions and incidents, some are quite amusing, others terribly embarrassing for those involved, but yet she never sees the effects that her actions and boldness are having on others.

While I generally enjoy stories with quirky characters, especially ones who just can't seem to get out of their own way, this lady quickly began to get on my nerves. Yes, some of the things that happened when the heroine (if you could call her that) tried to change her life,  were quite funny, although a little of her nonsense went a long way.  Although this debut novel was under 200 pages, I grew somewhat tired of her antics and the chaos she caused when she tried to get involved in everyone's business.  I'm glad I read this book, but am guessing that the reviews might be mixed on this one.

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia of  A Girl and Her Books and the December host is Let Them Read Books.  Here's what the cat mail lady left at our door.

Any new books for you last week?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Magical Christmas Horse; Mary Higgins Clark with Wendell Minor (illustrator)

Title: The Magical Christmas Horse 
Author:  Mary Higgins Clark 
Illustrator: Wendell Minor
Publication Year: 2011 
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Kids 
Edition: hardcover 
Source: sent and signed by author and illustrator 
Date Completed: 12/1/2011 
Rating: 5/5 
Recommend: yes

Do you like sweet old-fashion Christmas stories?  If so, I think you will really like this 2011 Christmas book, written by Mary Higgins Clark, and illustrated by the very talented Wendell Minor.

Eight year-old Johnny Alvern, little brother Liam and their parents live in Scottsdale, Arizona. This year Johnny's dream of returning to the home where his father was born in Connecticut comes true. His family is off to visit his grandparents for Christmas. His grandmother and grandfather live in an old cozy farm house. The holiday festivities are reminiscent of an old fashion Christmas, complete with cookies baking and a Christmas tree farm for cutting down their own tree.  The one thing Johnny remembers that will make this holiday special for his little brother is an old fashion wooden horse that Johnny recalled seeing in his grandparent's attic. However, where Johnny searches for the horse, the one he remembered seems to be in a sad state of disrepair.  Johnny isn't so sure that his brother's Christmas will be as special as he had hoped after all.

Of course, all the children's books I've ever read have seemed to have a happy ending, and this one is no exception.  It's a nice story, and a beautiful book, but what makes it so special are the gorgeous illustrations.  The colors and sketches are beautiful and reminded me of quieter and simpler times. This book is a keeper!