reporting all things bookish

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

Selling an opinion

A few weeks ago, I entered the debate on making money off of one’s blog in a Book Blogger Confession (see post here:…-off-your-blog/). For me book blogging is a hobby, and I do not receive any financial compensation for my reviews, although I do receive copies of books in exchange for an honest opinion. I do not promise anyone a favorable review because I am not willing to compromise my opinion or my values in order to make an author feel good about their work.

So when a friend email me this article, well, let’s just say I nearly had a heart attack: Are you kidding me?! This guy was selling favorable book reviews?! Just the thought made my blood boil, and that was even before I read the article.

Believe, I know that there are people blogging that are receiving copies of books and posting amazing reviews without having read the book. But it kills me to know that people are not just not reading the book, but selling a favorable review…and that there is a legitimate market for it. I’m not sure what makes me upset, the idea that people are willing to write opinions on books they have never read, or authors that seek them out.

I am not a writer, save for this blog, and its not how I make my living. But it would seem to me that they best way to get good reviews is to write good literature, or, if really all your looking for is an audience, choose an audience, study what they read and what they like, and write to them (typing that just killed me a little on the inside). Just don’t hire people to praise your work. Have some integrity. Write something worth praising. And accept that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.



Review: A Love That Multiplies

I am not sure why I picked up A Love That Multiplies by Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar. Up until Tuesday, when I caught a 19 Kids and Counting marathon on TLC, I’ve never watched the show before, nor read their previous books. But their philosophies on children and child-rearing and their faith intrigued me, so I picked this book up.

The book is not so much a memoir, as an up-close, conversational look at the Duggar family’s daily life, and the events surrounding young Josie’s birth. Topics range from managing the home and packing for trips, to homeschooling such a large group, to taking care of bad behavior from young ones at the first incident. Interspersed between each section and story is a favorite recipe, a list of snacks, or general home management tips.

They talk a lot about their faith, which is a very central part of their lives, and I can appreciate the way that it is really shaped their decisions as a family. Michelle and Jim Bob do not just say that children are a gift from the Lord, they live their lives as a testament to that as they arrange their days to teach their children and to spend time with them. Based on this book, it would appear that although the Duggar children may have some pretty strict rules on internet usage, and they may not own the latest and greatest gadgets, the Duggar children develop practical life skills and conflict resolutions skills from incredibly early age, making them more mature than their peers.

The writing was okay, more conversational in nature which doesn’t always translate well to the page. There was also the assumption that the reader had both watched 19 Kids and Counting or read their previous book, as they made many references to the show, or referred to things they had shared in their previous book. While I can appreciate that they didn’t want to bore readers with repeated information, it tended to make things feel choppy and incomplete.

Overall, I liked the book, and I really appreciate the Duggar family and their commitment to their faith. I would recommend the book to young parents, or to those looking to a non-traditional story of those choosing to live out their faith. I give A Love That Multiplies three stars.

The Great Reader Debate: E-Reader or No E-Reader?

For a long time, I purposefully avoided this debate, running from the conversation so I didn’t have to form an opinion, but it would always catch up with me. People that knew I was ridiculously bookish would work it into a conversation, and for a long time, I couldn’t answer because I didn’t own an e-reader. It was not a luddite stand on the matter, it was simply for lack of funds…until I received a Kindle for Christmas a few years ago.

At first it wasn’t my favorite way to read. I missed turning the pages and the smell of a new book. It felt awkward to use the function to highlight passages for papers, or to search through the texts for quotes necessary for papers. But slowly, I got used to it. I could carry it easily in my backpack or purse. There were a lot of free books available, especially classics, so I could expand my library for free. And then there was the matter of shelf space- the e-reader freed up quite a bit of it.

This past February, however, I lost my Kindle at a bus stop. *Please pause for a moment of silence.* It’s been about six months without my e-reader, and I’ve found myself, at moments, longing for a Kindle Fire or an Ipad, especially when I travel. But I’ve also enjoyed the experience of reading without a screen. I like turning the pages, highlighting passages, and being able to loan my favorite books to my friends. I even like being able to swap them. And its pushed me back toward my local library. I borrow far more books than I ever have previously (at least as an adult), and I am exposed to alot of different genres because my recommendations are not simply restricted to what I’ve read before.

Given the chance to own an e-reader, I would probably go for it, but in the meantime, I will work on wearing my library card out.
What about you? Are you pro E-reader, or against?

Review: A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is my first foray into Hemingway’s writing, and my second novel this summer about World War I (my first was All Quiet on the Western Front). For those unfamiliar with the novel, it is the story of Frederick Henry, an American ambulance driver on the Italian front. It follows his increased confusion and disillusionment with the war, and his relationship with English nurse Catherine Barkley.

Written in sparse, terse, prose with script-like dialogue, it is, in some places a challenge to read. Adjectives and descriptions, when used, were mostly present in battle scenes, like the retreat at Caporetto, or when Henry was injured. They weren’t used to describe emotions or relationships, but the actual physical setting, which to some extent, makes the book jarring, but in other ways makes it completely brilliant. There is something to be said about the way that Hemingway used restraint in his writing.

Hemingway, an ambulance driver himself on the Italian front is challenged the way in which the reader viewed the war. Henry is constantly encountering individuals who honor him for his service in the war, has medals of honor and valor pressed upon him that have no meaning- he wasn’t rescuing anyone when he was injured, he was eating dinner, and yet no matter what he tells anyone, they won’t listen. The situation is  repeated when he is captured by the Italian army police, who are executing those separated from their regiment with charges of desertion. No one is listening to the explanation of the men who have been captured, they simply read  the charge and shoot them.

Henry is an increasingly rudderless and disillusioned character who is serving on the Italian front with those increasingly confused and disillusioned by the war themselves, rootless as he realizes that war is not at all what he thought, seeing the tragedy around him and desiring instead a life with Nurse Barkley. But even in that, neither can escape the realities of life and death.

Although the manner with which Hemingway writes may be off putting to some, his story is still engaging. He draws a picture, and although it is not filled in with vibrant colors and numerous details, it is still a picture. Through the pages spills his own disillusionment and confusion after the war. I give A Farewell to Arms three stars.

“Whenever I opened one, …

“Whenever I opened one, T.Ray said, “Who do you think you are, Julius Shakespeare?’ The man sincerely thought that was Shakespeare’s first name, and if you think I should have corrected him, you are ignorant about the art of survival”

From The Secret Life of Bees, p 16

Weekend Recap: Remembering useful skills

I do love the weekends, particularly when work reaches a certain level of chaos as we approach the start of fall semester and I find myself on the phone an inordinate number of hours a day. This weekend, I actually had plans on Saturday that included more than just sleeping and reading as I found myself heading to Jersey for a pool party. I spent the afternoon swimming, eating amazing food, singing along to Abba while swimming, and just enjoying spending time with people. It was actually my first time swimming all summer, and I thoroughly enjoyed it…even when I was sore the next day because I hadn’t used some of the muscles I used to tread water and swim in quite some time.

Saturday evening, because I was so close to my sister’s in Jersey, I stopped by to see her and Little Man. I showed up with ice cream, which I figured would grant me admittance even though it was a little later in the evening. It was great to see them both for a second weekend in a row and to catch up. After crashing there for the night, I headed back home on Sunday…and that’s when adventure ensued…

Coming home, I stopped by the house to change and to pick up everything I would need for church.  I park my car on a car parking lot that isn’t exactly level, and I was in a hurry, so I missed the fact that my front left tire was nearly flat. I stopped at the store on my way to church, and upon returning to the car, finally noticed that the tire was flat. The timing? Well…not impeccable.

I moved to a service station across the street to change my tire, only to discover that my jack had disappeared. So, I called a friend at 9:30 in the morning. L.D. was gracious, even though it meant me waking her up, and she not only came to my rescue with a jack, but assisted me with the process of changing the tire. Once the tire is on, and I am just about ready to go, I realized the spare needed air. Thankfully, I was parked right in front of the air machine (which I am certain has some brilliant technical name which is currently eluding me), so I was able to top of the spare.
Honestly, as annoying as it was to have to change my tire to a spare, I am incredibly thankful for the timing of  the whole ordeal. It could have happened on the Garden State Parkway, or Interstate 80 on my way home. My poor bald tire could have given out at any point in the week and I could have been put in a very difficult and possibly dangerous situation. But it deflated quietly in the parking lot as I picked up matzoh, and I actually noticed it and was able to put on the spare. I am thankful that I am safe and that I actually had the skill set to change the tire… as well as for a friend who was willing to get up early on a Sunday to help me out.


Summer Reading Challenge 2012…the countdown is on!

Well, there is a little over a week left until the end of my Summer Reading Challenge, and I thought it was time for a progress report. Those that are crossed off have been completed. Those in bold are in progress.

1. One Book Recommended By A Friend Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
2. One Book That Has Been Sitting On Your Shelf For Over A Year The Shack by Paul W. Young
3. One Book You Read A Long Time Ago And Want To ReRead Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen
4. One Book From Your To Be Read List The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
5. One Book You’ve Never Heard Of On Hitler’s Mountain by Irmagard Hunt
6. One Classic All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
7. One Book You Started But Never Finished Emma by Jane Austen
8. One New Release Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by AJ Jacobs
9. One Book That Is Outside of Your Typical Genre Poetry and Prose by Walt Whitman
10. One Chunkster (A Book That Is Over 400 Pages) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
I feel fairly confident that I can finish The Secret Life of Bees and Emma before Labor Day, but I admit, I am feeling less confident about being able to complete a monster volume of Whitman poetry, Gilead, The Shack, and a re-read of Sense & Sensibility before the end of next week. It’s just not terribly realistic of me to even try…and its doubtful I would even enjoy the books if I did.
Regardless of how things end up, I did learn some things by participating in the challenge. While I don’t consider these a justification or substitute for the fact I didn’t finish, they are still worth mentioning.
I tend to read in topical groups or series. This summer, after reading All Quiet on the Western Front, I couldn’t help but delve further into literature and history on World War I.  Although I took a course on European History in high school,  I learned very little on World War I in school, or even graduate school, in spite of the fact it would set things up for World War II would would shape modern history around the globe. It seemed that something was missing in my knowledge base, so it prompted me to read everything I can get my hands on in order to fix that.
I’ve also noticed I like series. It helps me know what’s next on my reading list and keeps things orderly.
If I am reluctant to read something, little will change my desire to read it…even posting it on a blog. I have had little to no desire to read The Shack, no many how times its been recommended to me. I even own a copy (it was a gift) and I can’t bring myself to read it. Honestly, I’ve glimpsed at it and its hard to get past the writing. I want to give it a chance…but I can’t when there is so many other things to read!
It’s easy for me to bite off more than I can chew when it comes to books. As soon as review copies started coming in, and I was getting new paperbacks from, and I was let loose in the library…well… let’s just say it all went downhill from there.
Although I refuse to give up hope just yet, I realistically report that I may not finish my Summer Reading Challenge. Check back on September 4th to check on the final reading stats.

Review: Anna Karenina

I originally started Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy in 2004 when it was taken up by Oprah’s Book Club. It was the only book I ever picked up for Oprah’s Book Club, and I didn’t get far before I decided it would be better to quit. Anna Karenina moved with me from my parent’s house, to my first apartment in Baltimore, back to their house, and later, to New York where it would be packed and unpacked, all the while collecting dust between moves. Until this summer when I decided I needed to finish it.

When I stumbled onto Five Alarm Book Reviews Anna Karenina Read Along for July, I decided I had found the perfect solution, something to keep me motivated, and an opportunity to discuss the rather thick tome. What I did not anticipate, however, is how easy it would be to fall behind. Mid-July I got behind on my reading, and never recovered, but these last  two weeks, I found myself determined to finish.

Tolstoy is a story teller, and a wildly ambitious one. The Russian novelist creates an obscene number of characters for his eight part epic novel, all with overlapping lives, and formal and informal names. It was necessary for the first half of the book to pay close attention to character names and nicknames.

The novel begins,

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

It is an appropriate opening line, as Tolstoy unfolds the story of three families, each unhappy in its own unique way- Dolly and Stiva as they deal with his infidelity, Anna and Karenin as they deal with her unfaithfulness and her continued relationship with Vronsky, and Kitty and Levin, as they navigate what was a difficult start for both of them as they seem surrounded by infidelity. The backdrop of this magnificently complicated series of stories is the changing political climate of Russia, Tolstoy’s own thoughts on religion, and Europe’s art and culture scene.

In spite of it all, I found myself drawn into Tolstoy’s storytelling, wanting to see how things played out in each of the character’s lives. Would Karenin allow the divorce? Would Anna continue to manipulate Vronsky, and everyone around her? Would Levin and Kitty live happily ever after? I had to know. And though I found myself bored at times, such as when the perspective would turn to Levin whose primary internal monologue involved farming, or when the political discussions took on too many references that I was unfamiliar with, I still read on.

Tolstoy draws the reader in with his narrative arc and complex characters. He changes the perspective and internal monologues the reader observes, giving a fuller picture of the characters relationships and interactions. And he builds the novel to such a climax and holds it that you really start to wonder if anything is going to happen. When Anna does finally take action, it was nearly impossible to believe.

Although I may not have always enjoyed the characters and found myself bored as Tolstoy sought to make a point I really didn’t care about, Anna Karenina is without an amazing piece of literature. I admire Tolstoy’s boldness and his use of narrative and change in perspective in adding depth to the story and characters.

Ode to a Reading Chair

Image taken from the official Ikea USA website.

Since graduating with my undergraduate degree, I have moved a total of six times (and no, we are not talking about how long its been since that happened). Sadly, it took me six moves to realize that one of the most important things in setting up my room, aside from space for books and a place for jewelry, is a reading nook. But once I set my sights on it, I knew it would happen.

The first thing I choose was the chair. Oh, the chair. I had always been in love with the Ikea Poang chair. I can’t explain why, except to say I found it comfortable and incredibly reasonably priced. The thing is, I didn’t want the cheapest version of the chair. You know, the $69.00 version with a cloth cover. No, I wanted a black leather chair cover and a dark wood frame. And I needed the matching footstool as well.

While I would have loved to go straight to Ikea and purchase such loveliness immediately, my budget would not have it. But that was okay, because I had a plan. It was called Craigslist. I know, some of you have reservations with Craigslist, and I understand. But for someone with my budget, its one of the best options there is and I have gotten some pretty amazing pieces of furniture at incredible prices. Eventually I found my chair- $50.00 for both the chair and the footrest in the exact coloring I wanted.

Once I had my reading chair, it was simply a matter of rearranging the furniture. I moved a lamp into that corner, placed the bookcase nearby, and installed my chair. Although I will read on the couch in the living room, at the dining room table, or pretty much anywhere where I have access to a book, my favorite place to read is in my reading chair set so neatly in the corner of my room. It elevated my room from being a functional room to being my safe haven. Quite simply, I love my reading chair!

Review: Short Straw Bride

I really wanted to like Short Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer. It had all the right elements in place: it was historical fiction, there was a little bit of suspense and intrigue, and tension between characters. And Meredith herself was just such a likable, kind character. But for me, the story fell short.

Short Straw Bride is the story of Meredith Hayes, an orphan and ward of her uncle, who is being courted for her land in a deal that would vastly please her suitor and secure her uncle’s business. On an evening out with her suitor, she overhears a plot to burn the Archer brothers off their land, and remembering an kindness by Travis Archer from her youth, she heads out to the ranch to warn them. When she is injured, and forced to stay in their home unchaperoned, her uncle insists that one of  the Archer brothers repairs her reputation by wedding her, and the brothers draw straws.

Meredith navigates a new marriage, a house full of recluse bachelors, and serious challenges to her safety with a surprising amount of grace. It is here, in the midst of these things that Witemeyer introduces the backdrop of Meredith’s faith.

As I said, Meredith is a very likable character, just not so realistic. Is it really possible that she would be forced into the position of marrying the man she fell for so very long ago, or that he would love her back? Would the family really have acted so chivalrously?

I am a huge fan of historical fiction, but I found that the context lacked in this instance. It was difficult to place historically based on the details we are provided with, which made the context, something that could have greatly enriched the story, into something quite a bit more nebulous. Concrete details added to the setting would have made it more believable and would have planted it more firmly in the category of historical fiction.

I give the Short Straw Bride two stars out of five. Witemeyer starts with a great concept, but unfortunately, it didn’t carry though for me.

*I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher for a fair and honest review.




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