Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Book a Brighter Future

Well, friends, it's that time of year again. Macy's and RIF (Reading is Fundamental) have teamed up for another summer for Book a Brighter Future. Supporting RIF and getting books into the hands of kids that need them could not be easier. Here's the scoop:

Starting TODAY (June 30) and through the end of July (July 31) go to a Macy's store and donate $3 to RIF. The nice people at Macy's, in turn, will give you a $10 gift certificate to be used for a Macy's purchase of $50 or more. Let's review. You give $3 and you get a $10 gift certificate. That's 7 FREE dollars! 100% of the $3 you donate goes to RIF. And $1 will stay in your community to help kids locally. Another $1 will go to RIF's national program and the last $1 will support their multicultural literacy campaign.

RIF provides free books and literacy resources to children all across the country and has special outreach programs for those kids who are particularly at risk for developing reading difficulties. Their federal funding is currently in jeopardy, so this fundraising endeavor is especially important this year.

So please, shop to show you care. Go to Macy's and donate $3 to RIF. We all have summer shopping to do! Or get your back-to-school shopping done early!

And spread the word. Go to the Book a Brighter Future page for links, banners, etc. Tweet about it. Become a RIF fan on facebook and spread the word there. Tell your friends and family.

Review: Sixpence House

I'm still playing catch up to write about all of the books I've read over the past few months. So, here's another one for you.

I finished this book a month or so ago. It's a memoir by Paul Collins called Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books. I picked it up years ago because it a) it's about books and b) it primarily takes place in Wales. My mother's mother grew up in Wales and my grandparents met and married, but I didn't know much about it when I bought the book. My grandmother died when my mom was young, and we didn't have much contact with her family there. I started the book right away, but never got past a few chapters. Since then, I actually visited my grandmother's hometown of Tenby, Wales and stayed with my mom's first cousin and met a few members of her family. It was fantastic! But I did not get to visit the setting of this book. But I so want to go back and see it.

Hay-on-Wye. Sixpence House takes place in Hay-on-Wye, Wales and it sounds like a magical place. According to the author, there are 40 bookstores in Hay, but only 1,500 residents. Most of the bookstores are used and rare books. His family decide to move there and the book tells the tale of their journey and adventures along to way. Collins introduces his readers to a variety of interesting characters (residents) from Hay along the way. We also meet quite a few houses that the family thinks of buying. And finally, Collins introduces us to many near-forgotten authors and books.

To be honest, at times the book was a little slow, but overall, I did enjoy it. It makes for an interesting partial history of the book industry, and painted a lovely picture of a beautiful Welsh town. My favorite aspect of the whole book was the chapter titles. I didn't notice them until the fourth or fifth chapter, but they are very clever. You'll have to check out the book to see what I mean.

This volume is just one in my rather large collection of books about books. Do you have any favorites in that category?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Poem: Summer Stars

It's been a while since I've posted a poem, and I'm in a summery mood, so here's a great one from Carl Sandberg.

Summer Stars

BEND low again, night of summer stars.
So near you are, sky of summer stars,
So near, a long arm man can pick off stars,
Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl,
So near you are, summer stars,
So near, strumming, strumming,
So lazy and hum-strumming.

Star gazing in the summer is the best, don't you think? Are there any poems that evoke special summer memories or feelings for you? Do share!

Monday, June 28, 2010

What's on your summer reading list?

So technically, it's only a week into summer, but I feel like summer's been here for almost 2 months! The Texas heat is already oppressive, but all the extra time in the air conditioning makes for some great reading!

I don't think I'm going to make it to 25 books by the end of June (the half-way mark of my 50 books for the year goal), but I'm making great progress! And there's so much left to read.

I have a lot of books on my summer reading list. Here's a sampling:

Currently reading: I'm in the middle of 3 books right now (2 regular and 1 audio).
Marriage, A History (which reminds me of Hogwarts, A History every time I look at the cover!) by Stephanie Coontz. It's fascinating from an historical and sociological perspective. I love it!

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Awesome for inspiring writing.

My Life in France by Julia Child. So fun! Made me watch part of Julie and Julia yesterday.

And coming up:

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo-I've heard so much about it. It's time.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn-It's been sitting on my shelf for ages.

Blue Like Jazz-I've heard so many great things AND it's been sitting on my shelf forever.

There are still so many more I want to read. But I think this will be a good start for the summer. The marriage book is long and dense so I think it will take me awhile.

What's on your summer reading list? If you need more inspiration, here's a list from

Happy reading!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love- August 2010!!

Who's excited??

When do you listen to audiobooks?

For Thursday's installment of Audiobooks Week (sponsored by Devourer of Books), I am writing about when I listen to audiobooks. I already touched on this topic on Monday's post, but I will go into more detail today.

Like Katie, I started out just listening to audiobooks on long car trips. I went to college in Kentucky, and so that required two massive car trips per year. My mom and I would drive the 19 hours from Texas to Kentucky in the fall, and my dad would drive back to Texas with me at the beginning of summer. With both parents, we would listen to various audiobooks. I made the hours pass by quickly, and let us discover some very interesting reads. My dad and I listened to John Adams by David McCullough on one trip and were both delighted with it. I don't remember what others we listened to. My mom and I listened to The Namesake, Pride and Prejudice, several of the Harry Potters, and several others. We got most of these books from the library, but my dad and I occasionally bought audiobooks at Cracker Barrel, where you can sell them back at your next stop!

After I enjoyed these audiobooks so much, I started listening to them in the car when I was just around town. I loved having something so interesting to read, and it always made traffic jams and other delays so much more enjoyable. Some people say, well, I don't have a long commute, but I don't think it really matters. Even just 5 minutes in the car here and there is a enough to enjoy a book.

I also like to listen to audiobooks on CDs when I am doing something crafty around the house. It don't like to watch TV that much when I am crafting because I end up looking up to watch and get distracted from what I am doing. Plus, I think audiobooks help me to be more creative!
My next favorite time to listen is when I am falling asleep. I usually do this with my iPhone. The only problem is when I wake up 5 hours later, and it's still playing. For a few seconds, I am completely confused (and sometimes freaked out) by the random voice talking to me in a dark room. But falling asleep to the book is lovely--just like being read a bedtime story. It always takes me a long time to find the last place I remember listening to, but it's worth it.

Finally, I like to listen to audiobooks when I'm walking or working out. Music doesn't keep me interested enough when I'm really unmotivated to exercise, so I need real distraction. I either listen to audiobooks or podcasts on my iPhone. It makes the unpleasant task go much more quickly and easily.

Because of my audiobook listening habits, I get my audiobooks from two main sources: the library and iTunes. I get CDs (or my new favorite, MP3 CDs) from the library and listen in the car, or on my CD player in the house. Occasionally, I will buy an audiobook, but that's usually for a very long car trip as a special treat. I put audiobooks on my iPhone with downloads from iTunes. You can usually find deeply discounted books, and it takes me a lot longer to get through a book on my iPhone than in my car (I obviously spend a lot more time driving than exercising!) so it's worth the purchase. I've heard great things about, but I've yet to try it out. Maybe soon!

Okay, that's it for a long post! When do you listen to audiobooks? Where do you get them from? Anyone going to try an audiobook for the first time in a while? I highly recommend them!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Devil in the Junior League

Here comes another audiobook review for Audiobook Week over at Devourer of Books.

I recently listened to The Devil in the Junior League by Linda Francis Lee. It was great! It's not highly sophisticated literature, but it's fun, enjoyable, and not entirely frivolous.

It is the story of Fredericka Mercedes Hildebrand Ware, a young but powerful member of the JLWC (The Junior League of Willow Creek). Everything about her life is about wearing the right clothes, knowing the right people, and saying the right things. In a series of horrifying revelations, "Frede" finds out that her husband is leaving her and has stolen all of her money. She must do things she never thought possible in order to restore herself (and her bank account) into proper order.

Frede, though maddeningly snobby, is actually a very likable character, and does come around on a lot of things as a result of her ordeals. I was completely taken by the story, and drove around aimlessly at certain points because I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen. I was always sad when I reached my destinations in the car. The book is probably not for everyone, and it probably appealed to me specifically for a couple of reasons.

First, the location. It takes place in her hometown of Willow Creek, Texas. The town is fictional, but from various day trips throughout the story to real places like San Antonio, Austin, and Fredericksburg, it seems like it is supposed to be located somewhere in the Hill Country--probably west of San Antonio and Austin. As I am from San Antonio, currently reside in Austin, and have spent a great deal of time in the Hill Country-the places all seemed familiar to me and that was exciting. The author also mentions local Texas places like H-E-B grocery stores!

The second reason the story especially interested me was the subject matter: the Junior League. I was a member of a Junior League when I lived in Atlanta for a couple of years. I eventually quit because school was taking up too much time, but I really enjoyed it. My experience was nothing like what is described in the book, but a lot of the lingo was the same. The book held up a lot of typical Texas stereotypes about Junior Leagues and sororities. So if you're not from Texas, read it with a grain of salt. Not everyone's like that, but there is certainly a hint of truth in its pages.

Finally, the reader was phenomenal. I probably enjoyed this book more because it was an audiobook. She had a perfect Texas drawl, and made the whole southern aspect of the story really come alive.

Overall, it was the perfect story to keep me entertained in the car. I'd definitely recommend it to someone who wants a fun read, and particularly recommend checking out the audiobook version!

Has anyone read it? Do you find that you enjoy books more that take place in familiar places and have local elements in the story?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

March-an audiobook review

For the second day of Audiobook Week, I am supposed to write a review of an audiobook. As I mentioned yesterday, I don't really have a special format for reviews of audiobooks. To be honest I don't really have a set format for audiobooks in general. As I am reading more book blogs, I am beginning to wonder if I should. But that's the topic for another day's post.

It already happens that I was planning on reviewing this book this week, and I listened to it as an audiobook, so bonus! It also keeps with the Louisa May Alcott theme I started.

March is an extension of the Little Women story by author, Geraldine Brooks. She follows the father, Robin March through his trials as an Army Chaplain in the Civil War. Through a series of flashbacks, she also reinvents some of the back story of the March family. She writes of how he and Marmee met, how he lost his fortune, and how he became a chaplain. Sections are introduced from real quotations from Alcott's book, and certain familiar scenes are retold and reinterpreted from the father's perspective. Characters from the Alcott's real lives (such as Emerson and Thoreau) were present in the book as well. After reading Alcott's biography, I was easily able to pick up on parallels. Brooks has Mr. March meet his future wife in much the same way that Bronson and Abby Alcott met. And Mr. March spent time in his youth as a peddler in the South, just as Bronson did in real life.

The majority of the book is told in first person from Mr. March's perspective. At one point it switches to Marmee's voice when she goes to take care of him in the army hospital, but then it finishes from his perspective again. At first the switch was jarring, but it made for some very interesting plot developments.

It was narrated by a man, which was fitting since most of it was told from Mr. March's perspective, but it kind of made me forget at times that it was written by a woman. The narration was very fitting though, and pulled me right along with the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. It's much darker than Little Women, and clearly more for an adult audience. Brooks graphically shows the consequences of horrors such as war and slavery. For me, it ended on a very unsettling note, and sort of changed the way I thought of Mr. March, and the March family in general.

This reaction made me wonder about the concept of taking someone else's characters and further developing them. There was recently a case with J.D. Salinger when someone tried to publish a sequel to Catcher in the Rye. Salinger sued and successful held up publication. Salinger said it was a ripoff. I believe the issue was still unresolved at the time of his death. So I'm unsure of my opinion here. There are other examples of books with unauthorized sequels, such as Gone With the Wind and Pride and Prejudice. In someways it seems not quite right.

Is it stealing a character, or a clever retelling? At what point does a story become part of a culture's literary fabric, and can be retold freely? Is there a difference between retelling a story from another perspective and writing a sequel where the original left off?

Have you ever read a book that used another author's story or characters? What did you think? Does it count? Do you believe that that is what really happened to those characters? Or can only the creator determine its character's fate? I'm still very undecided...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Why Audiobooks?

I just found out that today is the start of Audiobook Week at Devourer of Books, and I'm excited to participate.

The post for the first day of Audiobook Week is supposed to answer the question, Why Audiobooks?

When I started my 50 books goal for this year, I was hesitant at first about whetheri to include audiobooks or not. But I'm now firmly of the mind that they absolutely count. Don't get me wrong, I love holding a book in my hand, and it's definitely a very different experience. But never the less, I've ingested the story in one form or another and so I now confidently add my audiobooks to the list.

I listen to audiobooks because they let me get in some quality "reading" time when I would otherwise be unable to rest for convenience, logistics, or safety's sake (Okay, I'll admit it. I have, in the past, read books at red lights. This primarily occurred on the way home from a book store with an irresistible find. There was also that time on the way to book club when I was behind. Oops!) It brings beautiful stories into my car, my kitchen, the treadmill, and beside me in the dark late at night.

Audiobooks also introduce me to some books that I might not otherwise read. I get most of my audiobooks from the library, and the audiobook selection is significantly reduced from their regular paper stash. My limited choices force me to make choices that I might skip over if given alternatives. However, I am usually pleasantly surprised. Often, a great narrator will keep me interested in a book that I might not have enjoyed if I was reading it the old-fashioned way.

I think five of my 20-something books so far this year have been audiobooks, which seems like a reasonable ratio to me. I usually mention when I've listened to a book instead of read it on my post, but I'm going to add a tag to all of those posts for ease of organizing.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Does it count? Stay tuned for tomorrow's review of a recent audiobook!

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

Last summer (wow, I cannot believe that was a year ago!), I reread Little Women, Little Men and read Jo's Boys for the first time. They were all more delightful than I remembered (or anticipated). Although they are books for young readers, they also contain themes and deeper messages that resonate well with more mature readers. If you haven't read them in a while, I highly recommend them.

My lovely sister is a huge Louisa May Alcott fan as well, and share with me this biography, which she had just finished. She was overflowing with interesting information about the Alcotts, and their neighbos, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne and other interesting American intellectuals and literary giants of the era.

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen is fascinating. It's truly a page turner. It follows the insane adventures of the Alcott family, led by their unstable, idealistic father Bronson, and sustained by their hard-working, steady mother, Abby. It's amazing to see how their lives were so intertwined with the lives of Emerson, Thoreau and other important Transcendentalists.

Reisen also illuminated what parts Alcott and her family were models for the beloved March family. After the success of the book, the sisters even took to calling themselves their corresponding March names on occasion! Reisen also outlined all of Alcott's other works. I hadn't realized she had written so much. I had read Eight Cousins and A Rose in Bloom (both magnificent-go read them!), but I wasn't familiar with much else. Thanks to this fantastic biography, I now have a whole new list to add to my "to-reads"!

If you loved Little Women as a child, an adult, or even just loved the movie, read this biography! Even if you're unfamiliar with the story, it's a thrilling tale of an eccentric family, who landed themselves in just the right place during a fascinating and important period in our nations history.

Image from

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Amish Grace

I'm back after a long silence. Maintaining momentum has been a challenge for me on this blog, but I have so many great books to write about, I hope they will keep me going for a while! I'm trying to read at least 50 books in 2010 and with a little more than a week left until the half-way point, I'm up to 22 books. I think I'm on the right track!

On to today's book. I finished Amish Grace a few months ago, and it was fantastic. I remember hearing about the Amish school shooting several years ago. Although school shootings are always tragic and terribly unnerving, this one was particularly disturbing. I thought, of all places, a placid one-room school house in Amish Country would be immune to such horror. But the communities response to the tragedy was even more remarkable. I remember hearing about how members of the community reached out to the shooter's wife and even attended his funeral. I was amazed. I remember wanting to know more about their beliefs and their views on forgiveness, but never really took the time. That is, until I came across this book years later.

I was immediately attracted to its tranquil, idyllic cover, and excited to dive right into its contents. The authors provided a lot of background into the customs and history of the Amish people, which was really helpful to understanding their reaction to the shooting. They explained that forgiveness, while not easy, was an expected reaction to any kind of wrongdoing and was rooted in what they believe Jesus taught in the Bible. The authors also addressed many of the criticisms and questions they Amish were faced with in response to their acts of forgiveness.

I highly recommend this informative and beautifully crafted book. It provides a glimpse into another culture during its most challenging time.