Friday, November 30, 2012

The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe

This is one of the lesser-known Ann Radcliffe books, the first I have personally read and, from what I hear, pretty representative of Radcliffe's other books. The female protagonist, Adeline, continues to get thrown into dire straits, keeps coming close to the edge of salvation, and then endures more misery before finally marrying the suitor of her choice (there were several) and partying with her friends. The book, being a Gothic novel, is sort of a blend between quaint images of the forest, sensitive musings of the main character, and creepy villainy, assassination rumors, yellowed manuscripts, and hidden skeletons (both figurative and literal).

First of all, Ann Radcliffe really deserves a lot of credit because this book was, after all, published in 1790, a time when novels were fairly new to the publishing world. She did quite a nice job at writing an interesting story with several twists and turns. To be fair, I actually really enjoyed this novel. Maybe it was because I was reading it fairly fast, but I thought it was pretty exciting. I was definitely interested in finding out what was going to happen.

But the literary critic in me (I know there's one in all of us) won't let it rest there. The book was fun, but it was also predictable. The characters lacked depth. Adeline was the quintessential damsel in distress, and the marquis was a perfectly evil villain. The character of La Motte, who at first saves Adeline but then takes part in the marquis's evil plot in order to save his own backside, was somewhat more interesting, but his character development had some inexplicable "huh?" moments.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Nerdy Non-Fiction Challenge 2013

I'm reeeeeeally excited about this challenge! I love non-fiction and I was glad to see a challenge dedicated to it! There have been lots of non-fiction books I've been wanting to read but they keep getting smothered by classics and school stuff. Now they shall have their own lofty place in my TBR pile!

The goal is to read lots of non-fiction in as many different categories as possible. Since I'm such a fan of non-fiction, I'm going to commit to the "Dork" level (7-10 books in at least 4-5 different categories) and try to go for the "Dweeb" level (11-14 books in at least 6-7 different categories). I'd like to reach the "Nerd" level (15+ books in 8+ different categories) but we'll just see how things go.

Here are a few of the books I've been wanting to read:
  • Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese
  • My Life in France by Julia Child
  • Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
  • How to Build a Dinosaur by Jack Horner
However, my true non-fiction way is to wander the stacks at the library and pick up whatever looks interesting. I'll probably pick up several biographies, maybe some history, and I've been really wanting to read a book about nutrition. I always like self-help and books and relationships. I'll definitely be reading more cookbooks. Travel books are always a must; probably some of them will include books about France for my Books on France challenge. And I can't possibly go a year without reading a few memoirs.

Anyway, this is one of the challenges I'm most excited about!

Books Read (by category):

* Health, Medicine, Fitness, Wellness
--In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan
--The Truth About Food by Jill Fullerton-Smith
* History- US, World, European, etc
--Versailles: Biography of a Palace by Tony Spawforth
--Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
* Religion, Spirituality, Philosophy
--Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott
* Technology, Engineering, Computers, etc
* Business, Finance, Management
* Sports, Adventure
* Food- Cookbooks, Cooks, Vegan Vegetarianism, etc
--A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
--Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese
* Autobiography, Biography, Memoir: 
--Julie & Julia by Julie Powell
--Night by Elie Wiesel
--My Life in France by Julia Child
--Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
--In Short by Judith Kitchen and Mary Paumier Jones (editors)
--My Lost City: Personal Essays by F. Scott Fitzgerald
* Art, Photography, Architecture
* Music, Film, TV
* Self Improvement, Self Help, How To
--The Jackrabbit Factor by Leslie Householder
* Home, Garden
* Science-Nature, Weather, Biology, Geology
* Anthropology, Archaeology
* Animals-Insects, Mammals, Dinosaurs, etc
* Family, Relationships, Parenting, Dating, Love
* Crime, Law
* Poetry, Theatre
* Politics, Government, Current Affairs
* Literary Criticism/Theory
* Cultural Studies
* Travel
* Crafts

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge for 2013

Here's my next (and possibly easiest) challenge I'll be participating in for 2013!

The challenge is simple: just read more books in 2013 than I read in 2012!

And even though I'm a new book blogger, I will actually be able to do this, because like some kind of nerd I've been keeping a list of the books I read each year since, I believe, 2010. I usually average between 25 and 30. I know; I shudder to even think such a tiny number. But 2013 will be different!

So, since I'm such a loser with book numbers, I am making a commitment for the "Breaking a sweat" level (11-15 more books) and a goal for the "I'm on fire!" level (16+ more books). I'm looking forward to this challenge! Sometimes with everything else that gets crowded into my life, I just need to read a book--any book, so long as I'm reading!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Well. Well, well, WELL.

Before I begin, I should warn you that in my experience so far, one can either say nothing about Mrs. Dalloway, or one can write a hundred pages about it. Finding a middle ground is practically impossible. I'll attempt to find the middle ground right now, but I'm just warning you, I might get carried away.

Reading this book was sort of...surreal. Probably because it was a stream of consciousness novel (I know--Captain Obvious here). I'd never actually read a stream of consciousness novel before, so it was quite a bit of of a stretch, but it was well worth it.

Going off the stream of consciousness theme, these were probably close to my thoughts as I read the first 25 pages:

"What? What? And...who? What? Where? What? And what's that...and this? And who? And what?"

Okay, you get the picture. It would have been easy to throw this book away, never to look at it again (except for the fact that I had to read it for a class--whoops). But like I said, this book was worth the mental journey.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Little Update

First of all, happy Thanksgiving! I actually wrote this two days ago and scheduled it for today because I'm busy stuffing myself with turkey and pie (as I hope you are, too--even if you aren't American/are vegetarian/don't celebrate Thanksgiving for one reason or another, I wish you turkey and pie to make your day merrier. Okay, if you're a vegetarian, I won't wish turkey on you, but I will wish pie).

Ahem. Onto more relevant things.

I have been sadly lacking in reviews for the blog, but I have lots of good reasons:

1. I have been reading, but I've been reading three different books, which each take up different amounts of my time and for some annoying reason or another, I can't seem to finish any of them.

2. I have been swamped with other school reading and homework, what with finals coming up.

3. Not only have I been doing schoolwork, I've also been visiting family and being out of town quite a bit lately.

And perhaps the most valid reason of all:

4. I am getting married in less than a month, which takes up a lot of my time and, more important, almost all my focus.

So anyway. I really have been reading, though, and I promise reviews soon. Here's just a few thoughts on the books I've been reading:

Mrs. Dalloway: A review of this will be coming shortly, since I only have about 50 pages left (and I have to finish it by Monday). It took me several pages to just be able to follow the story at all and figure out what was going on, but now that I've pushed through that initial stage, I'm really enjoying this book. I'm actually finding it sort of magical. I've also been very inspired to read more from and more about Virginia Woolf. A biography, perhaps?

Little Women: I keep mentioning this in order to sigh over the warm fuzziness of this book, and I'll gladly sigh over it a little more now. I really wish I'd given this book more attention when I was younger. Even though it goes against everything my English professors have taught me, I flatly refuse to acknowledge any faults about this book. (Well, not at this point, anyway. I'm sure I'll be happy to mention faults in my official review.) It's been just what I need, and I've been loving every minute of it.

The Romance of the Forest: I've actually been enjoying this book a lot as well, although so far I've had infuriatingly little time to read it. The characters are a little flat and uninteresting, but I'm expecting some serious action in the pages ahead... (Okay, I admit it. I actually speed-read the entire thing one afternoon a week or so ago, so I know most of the events that are going to happen. Believe it or not, this actually makes me more excited to read it and soak up the details.)

The Old Man and the Sea: Um, what? Who put that on there? Okay, so I might have started reading it in the hopes that I would finally finish this tiny book that I have never managed to finish. Well, the moral of the story is that just because a book is short and easy doesn't mean I'm actually going to read it. I think this will have to go back to the library for now... Maybe next year...

Also, I've found one or two more challenges I'm planning to sign up for for next year. So when I come back from vacation, I will have posts detailing my blogging adventures in the year to come!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Top Ten Books/Authors I'm Thankful For

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

I'm feeling awfully thankful for books this week--especially because with a break from school, I'll actually get a good chance to read those books I've been trying to finish! (Unless my family is too distracting, which is entirely possible...)

10. Jane Austen. Her books were some of the first classics I really loved, and I'm grateful she wrote plenty because it means I still have more to read! One thing I love about Austen is that she writes with a sort of veiled sarcasm that I've come to appreciate a lot more as I've gotten older.

9. William Shakespeare. Believe it or not, I started reading and loving Shakespeare when I was only 13. (I don't know how much I really understood, but I felt like I understood a lot...) I think the first play I ever read was King Lear. Since then, I have come to love Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Richard III, Hamlet, and especially Othello. (I get shivers just thinking about creeper Iago...)

8. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I read this when I was about 12 and I loved it. I have a fun edition with a soft cover that I got for Christmas. For me, this book represents everything magical about childhood.

7. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. I read this recently and I feel like I can't help mentioning it in every conversation (or blog post). This book has made me really excited to dig into more Victorian literature.

6. The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton. I read this book earlier this year and it's been one of those books that has actually changed the way I think, in just a small way. It has made me more grateful for my life and the little miracles I get to witness every day. Maybe a re-read is in order...

5. Elizabeth Gilbert. Call me a "chick lit" girl, but I really enjoy reading Gilbert. Her writing is so genuine--and hilarious! While other writers inspire me as a reader, Gilbert inspires me as a writer.

4. C.S. Lewis. I really enjoy both his fiction and his Christian apologetic writings. I think both Christians and those questioning Christianity ought to read Lewis. I really like that he isn't afraid of the hard questions, and I think too many of us are. Do we really want to ask about the seeming paradoxes of life and religion? Lewis has really helped me navigate those dark waters.

3. Stephen R. Covey. I've ended up reading a lot of self-help books for some reason (I'm not quite sure why), and Covey's books have helped me so much. Even though I haven't read them in a while, I still think about the principles. The principles in Covey's books aren't just quick fixes; they're principles for a great life in general.

2. Charles Dickens. I've only read two of his books, and practically every day I feel the pull to read more. I really want to get into Our Mutual Friend or Bleak House. I feel like I've barely scraped the tip of the iceberg, and I really can't wait to read more Dickens.

1. Victor Hugo. I've loved Les Miserables ever since I read it a few years ago, and it changed me more than any other novel I've ever read. I'm serious. I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame this year for the first time and loved it too (although not as much as Les Mis).

Oh no! I've already listed ten and I haven't even mentioned the Bronte sisters (Heathcliff! Mr. Rochester!), Gone With the Wind (Scarlett! Rhett!), To Kill a Mockingbird (Atticus! Scout!), or Hemingway, or The Great Gatsby, or The Scarlet Letter...drat. Well, I guess that's the great thing about counting your's too hard to stop!

What books/authors are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Books on France Challenge 2013

I have found the first challenge I've decided to commit to for 2013!

This challenge is being hosted by Words and Peace. Basically, you read books that are either:
a) set in France,
b) written by a French author, 
c) written in French (not Canadian French), or
d) about a French theme. 

Now, I'll be honest. Since I took my last required French class over the summer, French and I have not been the best of friends. We just needed some time away from each other. 

But when I saw this, I remembered all the good times. I remembered that deep down inside me, there is a francophile waiting to come out. And I realized that although I need a good long break from structured French classes, I still try to read the washing instructions in French on the tags on my towels, sheets, and clothes. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Looking for a good challenge...

Before this blog, I felt sort of out of place in the blogosphere, even though I had had a few other blogs and was even keeping one up. I didn't really feel like I could fit in or get to know people.

Well, one of the big reasons for starting this blog in the first place is so I can connect with more people who share my interests. Since I've started the blog, I've really made an effort to reach out and find other people who like the same books I do. I've been sorting through other blogs and finding ones I want to follow. It's been really fun!

But I'll be the first to admit that I'm quite the rookie when it comes to being part of all this. What I really want to get into is...CHALLENGES.

Now, obviously, I've sort of already joined a challenge (The Classics Club). But the Classics Club is a lot more open-ended than regular challenges, and I really want to try something else in addition.

So as the end of the year approaches, I've been looking for challenges for 2013. Finding the perfect challenge, though, is harder than it seems. I want to find something that challenges me to get out of my comfort zone, but will still be fun enough that I can keep it up for the whole year. And I want something that isn't too demanding, since I am, after all, in school. Here are the options I've been considering:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Top Ten Books I'd Want on a Deserted Island

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Here are the top ten books I would want on a deserted island...whether or not I've read them.

10. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. This book is everything I could want in a book, not to mention it's extremely long! I've been wanting to re-read it ever since I read it for the first time, so on a desert island I could really dig into it.

9. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. I can't die without reading a thick Dickens tome, you know. Sometimes I dream about the day I get to read this book...

8. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. A few days ago I wrote about being afraid of it, so I'd finally get a chance to face my fears. ...Yay.

7. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. After three ridiculously long books to keep me busy, here's a book I would read on days when I was feeling depressed about, you know, being stranded on a desert island. And I would finally get more time to finish it.

6. My Jane Austen collection. (That might be cheating, but technically it is one book...) I could re-read some of the great ones and finally get into the ones I haven't read yet (i.e., Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey).

Saturday, November 10, 2012

November Meme: Intimidating Classics

Today I'm going to answer the November meme question from The Classics Club:

What classic piece of literature intimidates you, and why? (Or, are you intimidated by the classics, and why? And has your view changed at all since you joined our club?) 

Oh, dear. There are really quite a few classics that intimidate me.

First of all, War and Peace. I know that's on basically everyone's list of intimidating classics, which might be why it intimidates me. It's not so much the length that's frightening; it's Tolstoy. I don't have a great history with Russian literature. I ended up putting down both Crime and Punishment and Anna Karenina after getting a good way through them (although the main reason was time constraints, not so much boredom). I'm not sure at all how I'll fare with War and Peace.

Second, The Divine Comedy. I know next to nothing about it, honestly, and there is just nothing that interests me about it. I'll read it someday. But who knows when that day is...

Third, pretty much anything from the modernists. I'm just starting the modernism unit in my British Literary History class, so I can't really escape it now. I'm excited and intimidated at the same time. Mrs Dalloway is sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be picked up and read, but I'm afraid I won't like it... I mean, I have read some modernist classics, of course, but I feel far from any understanding of the period.

What books intimidate you? 

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Okay. Honestly? I didn't like it. And I don't feel guilty about it one tiny bit.

I probably wouldn't even have finished it, despite the fact that it's short enough to be a novella, except I had to for a class. It served mainly as a reminder that I do not like science fiction.

I didn't like the time traveler--self-serving, self-righteous, superior, overly restless, condescending, violent, and know-it-all. I'm not sure that's really the impression Wells wanted his readers to have of the time traveler, but I couldn't see much good in him. The Eloi were basically good because they were sort of like him and he thought they were beautiful (even though they were pitiful and stupid, according to him). The Morlocks were obviously evil, because...uhhhh...because they were ugly. And because they raised other species for food. (Oh, wait. Where have I heard of that before?)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Top Ten Books I'm Most Excited to Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Today is a Top Ten Tuesday freebie and since my literary excitement is still new and fresh, I thought I'd write about books I'm excited to read! (Both from my Classics Club list and otherwise.)

10. The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe. This isn't on my list, but I need to read it for a class. I'm actually really excited about it! I'm severely deficient in pre-Victorian novels (except for Shakespeare), so I'll be glad to get one under my belt. Especially because a) it was written by a woman, and b) at the time it was written, novels were just starting to get popular. Aaaand it's a Gothic novel. It just intrigues me...

9. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. Oh, Dickens! I'm really excited to just get my teeth into this book. It's been a while since I've read a really massive novel, and I also want to get a lot more familiar with Dickens (hence my many titles by him on my list of classics). Plus, one of my professors mentions it and how wonderful it is every couple weeks, and she is one of my favorite professors (despite some horrific expectations, but that's another blog post).

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

This book has literally been on my currently-reading shelf since...February. Oh, dear. *smacks forehead* And it wasn't even long and boring. Actually, it was rather exciting, so it's kind of strange that it took me so long.

But I finally finished it! And I'm certainly glad to have done so.

In lieu of a summary of this book (since it's a non-classic), I'm going to direct you to this great video where Nancy Bilyeau gives a better explanation of it than I could:

(I apologize for the music in the's awfully ridiculous to have elevator music going on while an author explains her historical fiction thriller. Hmph.)

Anyway. There were a lot of things I liked about this book, but also a few that irked me. So here's a handy-dandy bullet list:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Importance of Being Earnest, and Taking a Sick Day

I recently re-read The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. As usual, I laughed my head off. If you haven't read this marvelous play, you should...even if you've seen the movie. It's different from the movie (as books usually are).

I was going to write a review on it, but I read in an introduction to the play that Wilde himself said it was meant to show people that they should treat trivial things seriously, and serious things trivially. I suspect that Wilde's play, though it may seem rather trivial, is actually a serious thing, and to treat it seriously would be against the author's intent.

You might be shaking your head in disbelief at me, but seriously. Wilde wanted the play to be laughed at, and although there's certainly plenty for English majors to debate over all day, I'm not sure that's what he really would have wanted. And I've already done more debating over the social issues raised in the play in my English classes, so I certainly don't want to beat the poor thing over the head with it in my blog.

Besides, I have lots of other books to think and write about today! I am taking a sick day. And let's be real--a stuffed-up head and a sore throat are a small price to pay for the chance to sit in bed all day and read.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Is it bad that I went into this book kind of expecting not to like it? I saw a film version a while back (haven't we all?) and, of course, I wasn't super impressed. I'm not really a scary-movie, ghost-story kind of girl, and that's what I expected this book to be. Spooky if read by candlelight with a thunderstorm raging outside, but otherwise, rather dull and uninspired.

This is how we all imagine Frankenstein's monster...
Well, all of you who have read Frankenstein, you'll understand my embarrassment. If you haven't read Frankenstein and think the same way about it that I, read it. Read it right now.

Frankenstein has the power to turn a sunny, cheerful neighborhood at high noon into a creepy alley with shadows lurking around every corner, which made it a perfect read for Halloween. But the book was more than that--much, much more.

The book is not about a stupid green monster with nails sticking out his neck who was created by a cackling mad scientist. (Probably needless to say for most of you, but I needed the education.) It's about human nature and the way people treat each other, and the way people see themselves.