Monday, May 31, 2010

Booking Through Thursday - Bedside

Last week's Booking Through Thursday question was all about the books at your bedside. (As usual I'm late to the party.)

What books do you have next to your bed right now? How about other places in the house? What are you reading?

Oh my! This is a "moment of truth" question for me. You see my eyes are bigger than my reading time when it comes to books I want to read and the stack by my bed is always way too ambitious. Especially since many of the book are library books and come with an "expiration date". This question is going to force me to face my bedside pile and realize I need to give up and return some of these books to the library. Ugh!

Here is the list of the books that on stacked on the floor next to my bed, on my bedside table, sitting next to me as I type and in my book bag waiting to be returned to the library.

On the floor:

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (recommended by a friend)

Tinkers by Paul Harding (2010 Pulitzer winner, June book club selection)

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (new book by favorite author, though doesn't sound all that interesting. Might need to go back)

Based on Availability by Alix Strauss (to be reviewed for TLC Book Tour sometime in mid-June)

Chelsea, Chelsea Bang, Bang by Chelsea Handler (gift from daughter who loves Chelsea)

Shakespeare's Face by Stephanie Nolen (impulse buy from library book sale. I love everything Shakespeare and this NF book about a possible early portrait of Shakespeare has me intrigued)

On the bedside table:

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir (love Weir's biographies. Moved this to top of list after seeing Robin Hood)

Next to me (waiting to be read as soon as I drag myself away from the computer):

Unfinished Desires by Gail Godwin (excellent so far. Just wish I would pick it up already!)

In the book bag:

Geisha by Jodi Cobb (great photos of modern geisha. A topic that intrigues me)

Dear George and Other Stories by Helen Simpson (contains fabulous story - Heavy Weather- about the difficulties of raising small children. Really spoke to me)

Waiting for me to make the time to write a book review:

The Leisure Seekers by Michael Zadoorian (funny, heartwarming and full of truths. Stay tuned)

Holy moly, I'm exhausted just thinking about it. How about you what's on your bedside table, stacked on the floor or in your book bag?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Musing Mondays

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about movies based on books…

What happens when you see a movie based on a book/story, especially one you’ve not read? Do you feel the need to track it down and read it?

I love Musing Monday questions that I can sink my teeth into. And this is one of them. My quick answer is "it depends". If the movie is based on a book that I wasn't interested in reading in the first place (ie: The Devil Wears Prada), then I do not feel the need to go out and read it. If, on the other hand, the book is one that I've been wanting to read, I almost always read it BEFORE I see the movie (I can't think of an example of this right now). Usually the storyline loses something in translation from book to film and I like to enjoy the original first. Many times I have already read the book long before it is made into a film. If that is the case, I judge the movie on its own merits, because I can no longer remember the details of the book and therefore can not be disappointed that the movie is not true to the original story (ie Memoirs of a Geisha, The Time Travelers Wife and The Lovely Bones). And some times when I see a movie that piques my interest, I will do a little research on the topic/person after I see an intriguing movie (ie Robin Hood). Hence, my original answer - "it depends".

How about you? Do you enjoy movies that have been made from books? Do you seek them out? Avoid them like the plague? Watch the movie first or read the book first? I'd love to hear your take. You can also write your own Musing Monday post and link up at the Just One More Page.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Review: Little Bee by Chris Cleave

This is the hardest book review I've ever written. I'm actually kind of afraid to write it. Why? Because here is what it says on the inside book jacket:

We don't want to tell
WHAT HAPPENS in this book.

It is a truly SPECIAL STORY
and we don't want to spoil it.

NEVERTHELESS, you need to know
enough to buy it, so we will
just say this:

It then goes on to give a very brief summary of the story and then is says this:

Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds.

Wow, if that doesn't grab your attention, I'm not sure what will. Actually, I do know. When two friends, whose opinions I trust recommended the book to me, I decided to find out what the big mystery was for myself. And you know what, I have absolutely no idea. None! I'm worried that maybe I missed something. I was expecting some sort of Sixth Sense or The Others type of story. You know, something that if you tell others it ruins the story for them. And I did not find that to be the case. So I'm confused. And a little bit afraid to write a review that includes a summary. What if I just missed something?

So, be warned, I am going to summarize the story in the next few paragraphs. So don't read them, if you are worried about being spoiled simply be learning the basic plot of the story. But before I do that, just let me say this - I think the publisher/editor/author/whoever did this book a big disservice by writing that blurb. I felt disappointed and a little cheated when the story did not live up to it's "promise" (for lack of a better word), . I found myself forming my opinion of Little Bee based on the fact that it didn't deliver a big surprise, instead of on the merits of the story itself. When I took a step back and tried to objectively evaluate the story (which was very hard, I might add), I realized it's actually a pretty good story. But I didn't feel that way upon finishing it. Instead I felt frustrated, tricked and confused. So, if the topic of the story interests you, by all means, read it. But if you are tempted to read it to be wowed by some clever plot device, I'd say don't waste your time.

OK, my summary is coming up now. So you may want to stop reading now.

Little Bee
by Chris Cleave tells the story of Sarah O'Rourke a British journalist and Little Bee a 14 year old Nigerian girl whose village is the scene of terrible violence due to the discovery of oil there. Sarah and her husband Andrew travel to Nigeria for a vacation and while on the beach, they encounter Little Bee and her sister, Nkiruka. The sisters are running away from the violence in their village. This encounter will have far reaching ramifications for all involved.

The story picks up two years later when Little Bee is released from a detention center in Britain and finds her way to Sarah and Andrew's home in the English countryside. Much of the story deals with the slow uncovering of the facts of what happened on the beach and of Little Bee's experiences during the intervening two years.

The strength of Little Bee lies in the story of Little Bee's life in her Nigerian village and how different life can be in more volatile parts of the world. It's not something most of us here in America can even fathom. And that is exactly what happens to Sarah and Andrew. They are forced to confront the reality of Little Bee's life and deal with their own impotence in the face of this great injustice. And on these merits, Little Bee is a good story. Cleave does a good job of slowly unveiling the story to keep reader interest high. It reads almost like a suspense novel. It is a quick read and in parts it is a page turner. I have such mixed feelings about this book due to my unmet expectations. But when think about Little Bee objectively, it really is a good story.
Have any of you read Little Bee? What are your thoughts? Did I miss something?

I would give Little Bee 3 STARS - I liked it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Booking and Musing

It's a book meme feast here today. As you all know, there are few bookish memes I sometimes participate in - depending on my interest in the question or topic. It just so happens that this week I'm interested in both the Booking Through Thursday and Musing Mondays topics. So today it's a two for one. Lucky you, right? (I'll take that as a "yes".)

Booking Through Thursday: Are your book choices influenced by friends and family? Do their recommendations carry weight for you? Or do you choose your books solely by what you want to read?

This is a great question and one I'm asked fairly often. (Or at least I'm asked where I find the books that I choose to read.) The answer is twofold. First, I definitely listen to the recommendations of my friends and coworkers (my family members rarely recommend books to me). Many of my friends/coworkers have the same taste in books and I always research any book that they recommend.

But the second part of my answer is that after I research a book, I will only read it if it truly seems interesting to me. I don't read books just because someone recommends them or because they are the latest "hot" book. I have to be interested in the story. However, I will make an occasional exception. There are a couple of friends whose opinion I trust so much that if they say I simply MUST read a book, even after I've decided the topic is not of interest, I will do it. That is how I read the simply divine Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I have never regretted reading that book.

How about you? How do you decide what books to read?

Musing Mondays: Do you have to carve out time in your day for reading (due to work and other obligations), or does your reading just happen naturally?

I don't "carve out" a specific time for reading. Reading is something that happens very organically for me. I am never without a book and I fit in little bits of reading throughout the day. It is very rare for me to carve out a large block of time specifically to read. I read the newspaper while I eat breakfast, I read a few pages of whatever book I'm reading during lunch, I read while waiting for appointments, I sometimes read in the evenings during the commercials of my favorite shows, or while sitting at the kitchen table if my kids have monopolized the TV. The time that I have designated as reading time, is right before bed. I can not go to sleep without reading for at least 20 minutes. Most times I don't remember a single word that I read the next morning and I have to reread those pages, but reading in bed is my sleeping pill. That is the only time I "carve out" specifically for reading.

How about you? When do you do your reading?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book Review: The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin

The Queen of Palmyra
takes place in 1963 in small-town Millwood, Mississippi. The story is told through the eyes of 11 year old Florence Forrest, the daughter of Win, a down on his luck burial insurance salesman and Martha, the neighborhood "cake lady" who has a taste for bootlegged booze. Like the rest of the south during the turbulent 60's, Millwood is a town racked with racial tension and the white population doesn't mix with the blacks in the "Shake Rag" section of town - except when the residents of Shake Rag come to their homes to cook, clean and care for their children.

It is through Florence's innocent and sometimes bewildered eyes that the reader sees the events of the summer of 1963 unfold -from the mysterious box that her dad has her carry up from the basement before he leaves for evening "meetings", her wild nighttime rides into Shake Rag with her mother on bootleg runs, to the save haven of her grandmother's house and the reluctant, yet strangely comforting presence of her grandmother's black maid, Zenie - Florence slowly begins to piece together the truth of what is happening within her town and within her own family.

It is also during the course of that fateful summer that Florence witnesses the implosion of her parents marriage and the increasing unease and violence between the black and white residents of tiny Millwood. An unease she does not understand and a violence she can not comprehend.

Minrose Gwin does an amazing job of evoking the atmosphere of a small, middle class town during the early 1960's. Florence's voice is at once innocent and wise and Gwin has done a great job telling the story through the eyes of an innocent and idealistic 11 year old. It is hard not to make comparisons between Florence and Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Another comparison that comes to mind immediately upon starting to read The Queen of Palmyra is to Kathryn Stockett's fabulous book The Help. Both stories take place in the same general time and place, but The Queen of Palmyra is a grittier story. It is told from the point of view, not of a privileged young woman who is expected to marry and continue the racial segregation in her own home (as in The Help), but from the eyes of a less privileged and neglected child whose parents are more intimately involved in the lives of residents of the black community. It's a similar story told through a different, more raw, lens. The Queen of Palmyra is a book well worth reading and would be a great choice for a book club.

I would give The Queen of Palmyra 4 STARS - I really liked it.

This review is part of the TLC book tour. I was given a copy of the book by the publisher, but received no compensation for my review. And as always, my review of The Queen of Palmyra is my honest opinion of the book. If you'd like to hear more, Minrose Gwin will be on Blog Talk Radio with Book Club Girl on Monday, May 17th at 4pm EST.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Last week I told you all about my wondeful week Home Alone. One of the things I did was to spend an afternoon strolling around the grounds and gardens of Blithewold Mansion in nearby Bristol, RI. The mansion was built in 1908 (to replace the original which was built in the mid 1890s and burned down in 1906), by coal magnate Augustus Van Wickle and his wife Bessie. When their daughter, Marjorie, died in 1976 she donated the mansion and its 33 acres to the public. Bessie and Marjorie were skilled horticulturists and the grounds/gardens are beyond fabulous. Not to mention Blithewold is situated on the lovely Narragansett Bay. Here are some photos I took that day to give you a feel for the place. I can't wait to go back with a picnic lunch and a book and spend a little more time just relaxing.

Front of the mansion

View from the Side Porch

A Quiet Spot to Read

Path Through the Garden

Lily Pond

Hidden Bench near the Water

Back of the House (view from the water)

Side Porch and Reading Spot

Fountain Statue
Reading by the water


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