Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Thursday, December 31, 2009

December '09 Recap

Aah, the end of another year ... how the time does fly. It will be REALLY hard trying to write 2010 rather than 2009 (and dare I admit that I actually wrote 2007 on a check the other day?!)

I recapped my reading year back in November when I celebrated my birthday so you won't see any huge year-end recaps here this month. Instead I've got my regular monthly recap ... and I must say, I'm rather pleased with it this month.

Books - 8 (2,025 pages)

Audio Books - 1
(15 hours)
  • Affinity by Sarah Waters - 15 hours - VERY atmospheric, a great gothic novel

Other Stats
  • Kiddo & I did a Mom & Son Book Club post about A Christmas Carol. Now we're back to reading The Titan's Curse, book 3 in the Percy Jackson series; we'd put it aside for Christmas but now we're ready to continue.
  • I wrote about two book & movie combinations: Moll Flanders and Julie & Julia.
  • My TBR list gained 5 titles this month and Kiddo's gained 1. (But that isn't really an accurate statistic. I count books as added to the TBR only after I post about them on Friday Finds ... and considering that I have 10 more books to post about, well, you see what I mean.)
  • I'm currently listening to an audio of Isak Dineson's biography; she's the author of Out of Africa. I've got the movie (which I LOVE) and the book checked out from the library and I'm only waiting to finish the biography before diving into both of them.
  • I've got a great reading plan for 2010 and I'm really hoping to stick to it. I've left myself plenty of room for flexibility (I hope!) so I'm optimistic that I'll meet my goals for the year. At least, I'm keeping my fingers crossed....

2009 is almost gone, 2010 is just about here ... wow, that was certainly fast. I wish all of you a wonderful time celebrating tonight, and a safe and happy 2010!

Bill Bryson's African Diary

Bill Bryson's African Diary
by Bill Bryson
53 pages

This book was not on my radar at all, yet I just had to read it when I found it yesterday. I've been listening to the biography of Isak Dinesen, author of OUT OF AFRICA, and it has put me in the mood to watch the movie again and to read the book. So while I was at the library yesterday I decided to look for a copy of OUT OF AFRICA. Lo and behold, this Bill Bryson book was shelved right next to it. A Bryson book I'd never heard of, that was very short, and had to do with Africa? SCORE!

The book is a very brief chronicle of a trip Bryson took in 2002 with CARE International, a relief organization, to tour their projects in Kenya. The trip included a stop at a camp for refugees from Somalia, visits with women who are part of CARE's micro-lending program, a tour of a model farm, and a trip to see a community well installed by CARE. There was some sightseeing thrown in as well, including a trip to Karen Blixen's farm (that's the same Karen from OUT OF AFRICA, who wrote under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen).

Bryson's account is a blend of his trademark humor and clear compassion for the people he meets. It is an uplifting look at what poverty-stricken people can do when they are given even just a little assistance.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger
by Sarah Waters
463 pages

*** About the Book ***

It is just a few years after the end of WWII in England and society is in a state of flux. The Ayres family, formerly part of the high society that has all but disappeared from the countryside, struggles to hang on to their ancestral home, Hundreds Hall. But the three family members each have their own issues to deal with, and with only two servants to assist them it is impossible to keep the house and grounds in good condition. Doctor Faraday, a man of the lower class who had to work hard to earn his position, is called to Hundreds to treat one of the servants and so begins his association with the Ayres family.

But Hundreds Hall is not the only thing falling apart; the family seems to be doing the same, each in his or her own way. Is it mental illness, affecting each family member suddenly, or is it, as one of the servants suspects, that there is a "bad thing" infecting the house?

*** Why I Read It ***

I've had this book on my TBR list since I saw it mentioned on The Book Page. When it was chosen at the book club book for the Jan. 12 edition of That's How I Blog, I figured now was the perfect time to read it. I was extra excited because I'd just enjoyed another Waters book, AFFINITY, and was looking forward to reading more by her.

*** My Thoughts ***

This is a GOOD BOOK! I'm really coming to appreciate Waters' writing style. Her descriptions are very evocative; I can see the details of a scene very clearly as she describes it. I don't think I've read anything set in this time period before but Waters seemed to really capture the era: the sense of change, the aftermath of war, the modern vs. the traditional, and all of that crammed together in the English countryside. In addition, she took the prevailing sense of societal upheaval and turned it into the backdrop for what is essentially a gothic tale. VERY cool.

The story kept me on edge, constantly wondering what was going to happen, how things were going to be resolved. Things happen that make you wonder about the characters sanity and about the existence of a ghost, but you are never sure what to think.

As I got close to the end of the book I was extremely anxious to find out "the truth" about everything so I ended up staying up until 1am to read the final pages. Imagine my shock when there was no "solution"! I guess I should have remembered that this book was compared to THE TURN OF THE SCREW, a story notorious for it's ambiguous ending. I'll admit that I was really frustrated with this at first, but only because I didn't expect it; the longer I gave it to "settle in" the better I adjusted. In the end I can say that I completely enjoyed every part of this book. YAY!

*** Your Thoughts ***

If you've read this one or plan to shortly, try to tune in to the That's How I Blog show on Jan. 12 at 8pm EST to discuss it - it will be the topic of the 20-Minute Book Club near the end of the show. If you can't join in live, you can always listen to the recording at a later date.

And here are some other reviews in case you'd like differing viewpoints:
So ... what say you? Is this a book you'd like to read? Why or why not? If you have read it, will you be joining in on the discussion on Jan. 12th? I'd love to know who else plans to participate!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Best Book Club Books of 2009

I am seriously behind in sharing this with all of you, but here goes!

Flashlight Worthy Books asked 10 bloggers - including me - to come up with a list of the most discussable yet overlooked books published in 2009. We did a really good job if I do say so myself. You can check out our Best Book Club Books List at this link: You'll have to go check out that link to see which book I suggested.

And if you like lists be sure to check out Flashlight Worthy Books' other lists, like ...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Books & Movies: Moll Flanders

I recently caught most of the movie MOLL FLANDERS on TV and I have to say, I was shocked. If I had not been familiar with the book I'd have said it was a lovely movie, but since I DO know the story, all I can say is "HUH? Say WHAT?!"

When I mentioned this on Twitter, Raych tweeted back saying, "I know, right? It's like the reverse of plagiarism, where they keep the content but change the title." I couldn't agree more! It's like there were two different plots, one for the book and one for the movie.

Here are a few of the things that happened in the movie, with my recollections of the book following:
  • Moll is put out of her first home because she encourages the young ladies of the house to visit the poor neighborhoods, and while there they are assaulted and raped. (In the book, she has an affair with the young man of the family and I think she gets pregnant, and must leave the house.)
  • She steps into the life of a prostitute willingly, is rescued by a man who falls in love with her, and eventually on her own again once he dies. (I don't remember for sure how it happened but she DID meet a man who loved her and they were happy together until his death.)
  • The very first time she steals something it is almost an accident and she is captured right away. (Moll actually had a very successful career as a thief which lasted many years.)
  • Her former evil Madame "rescues" her only to force her back into service as a whore and bring her to the Caribbean with her. (Moll had a pretty good relationship with her Madame and thought of her almost as a mother; and if I remember correctly, she moves to America of her own free will.)
  • Moll has only one child, with the man she loved, and has promised never to abandon her. (Moll has LOTS of children and abandons just about all of them through the years.)
  • When she is shipped off to the Caribbean, she is unable to get to her baby before the ship sails, and she is heartbroken. When the ship sinks, the Madame dies and she takes over her identity, living the high life in the Caribbean. Later she sends a friend to find her child and he does, although it takes years. They are reunited and live happily ever after. (I honestly don't remember how the book ends, but it is NOTHING like this ... nothing at all.)
So, yes, NOTHING like the book AT ALL. Hmpf.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Julie and Julia: A Movie To Wrap By

Just a quick note to say that I watched Julie and Julia Tuesday night and LOVED it. And this from the gal (me!) who thought it would be a stupid movie!

Having read Julia Child's MY LIFE IN FRANCE, I really appreciated the Julia sections (Meryl Streep did an EXCELLENT job as Julia Child!). And being a blogger, I really appreciated the blogging parts of Julie's story. The fact that I am not a very good cook myself - like Julie is at the beginning - made it even more enjoyable. I was seriously laughing out loud MANY times.

I only watched this because I had some credit-on-account at's video on demand site. You can get $4.00 in free movies through the promo they have going on right now (click here for details), and this movie only cost $2.99 to watch. It was the perfect complement to my marathon of Christmas wrapping - light, fun, and a movie that kept me smiling as my hand cramped around the scissors and my last roll of tape ran out.

So ... what did YOU watch or listen to as you wrapped gifts this year?

And in case you haven't seen the movie, here's the trailer:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Language of Bees

The Language of Bees
by Laurie R. King
432 pages
the 9th Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes book

*** About the Book ***

This 9th book in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series finds our investigative duo returning home from a lengthy trip abroad (most of which is covered in the previous 3 books). Upon arrival they are greeted with two mysteries: one of Holmes's beehives has gone mad and Holmes's long-lost son has appeared on their doorstep. As the story progresses, Russell finds herself alone in her efforts to discover the solution to both mysteries.

*** Why I Read It ***

I picked up the first book in this series somewhat by accident, at the prompting of a local indie bookseller. I loved the series so much that I read the next 7 books in one month. I was thrilled when I won a copy of the latest book (this one) just after it was released; I had planned to buy it anyway, so it was a win-win for me! I've had it sitting on my shelf since late Spring, and figured that now was the time to get it read.

*** My Thoughts ***

When I heard this book was going to include Holmes's son, I immediately had to figure out who that son was. According to King, the son is the product of Holmes's relationship with Irene Adler, a character introduced in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short story A Scandal in Bohemia. Back in August I picked up an audio version of several Holmes stories which included Scandal; unfortunately I found that it was a radio dramatization and not technically an audio book so I returned it to the library. I did, however, listen to Scandal first so I would be familiar with the story. I found that it helped to have that background; it wasn't absolutely necessary, but it was good for me.

Although I did enjoy this book it was not one of my favorites in the series. I felt like it meandered at the beginning and got off to a slow start. It did pick up about halfway through though, and the pace was excellent after that. As always, King continues to develop the characters of Russell and Holmes in unexpected ways, and I definitely enjoyed the new aspects of their personalities in this book.

I do have one complaint that I hope someone can help me out with. If you've read the book, please let me know how you see the bee mystery relating to the other main mystery. For the life of me, I don't see how they relate nor why the bee mystery is so important. The only connection I can make is the theme of "madness", but I'm not sure that's what I'm supposed to be seeing here. If you have any thoughts on this, please let me know!

*** Your Thoughts ***

In addition to the question I've asked you in the paragraph above, I also want to know who out there is a Mary Russell fan. Have you read any of the series? What did you think of it?

I've not been able to find any reviews of this book by bloggers I know ... if I missed yours please let me know and I'll add it here.

And finally, here's a book trailer for you to check out. Actually, it is the author reading excerpts of the book along with video from the places she's describing. It's rather long, but if you are interested in this book then you'll enjoy it.

The Language of Bees from Laurie R. King on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mom & Son Book Club #14: A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol: Special Edition
by Charles Dickens
additional material by Stephen Skelton

124 pages

original story published in 1843

I am thrilled to say that I read this entire short story to Kiddo in the original (old-fashioned language and all) and that we both loved it - yay!

*** My Thoughts ***

I remember loving this book when I read it years ago, and I've been wanting to read it to Kiddo for quite some time. I made it one of my goals this holiday season so I'm doubly thrilled to have met that goal AND enjoyed the whole process.

We took about two weeks to read this book despite the very short length. That's because we've been so busy with Kiddo's surgery and the holidays that time kept getting away from us. Plus I had to stop often in my reading to explain things to Kiddo; Dickens is one wordy guy and although Kiddo was paying close attention, he didn't always understand what was going on. So my reading pace was slower than usual but we did finally make it to the end.

(As a side note, my mother-in-law offered me her copy of the book which was rewritten to be more accessible to children. I didn't take it, because I wanted Kiddo to be exposed to the original. And I'm so glad that I stuck with it. In the end, Kiddo said that the old-fashioned language didn't bother him at all and that he really enjoyed the story.)

My opinion? "I love this story and I think everyone should read it at least once. It will restore your faith in humanity and help you keep the Christmas spirit all year round."

Kiddo's opinion? "I liked it!"

*** Mom & Son Book Club Questions ***

Did you like this book? Yes, but there were good parts and bad parts. [Mom's note: After much discussion, I realized the "bad" parts were those times when he was really bothered by the characters' actions.]

What was your favorite part? When Scrooge gave Bob Cratchitt a raise. And when Tiny Tim said "God bless us, every one." [Mom's note: Kiddo also pointed out that in the Mickey version, Scrooge makes Bob his partner, but that it doesn't happen in the book. Kiddo wasn't happy about that or that Scrooge didn't bring toys to the Cratchitt house, as those are his favorite parts of Mickey's A Christmas Carol.]

What was your least favorite part? When the people stole Scrooge's stuff after he died - that was so mean! [Mom's note: Kiddo was REALLY bothered by this whole section. It was worse for him than the creepiness of the Spirit of Christmas Future or of Scrooge being dead.]

Would you recommend this book to your friends? No, because it might scare them and they might not understand it. Did it scare you? No. Did you understand it? Yes. So you're saying that you're smarter than all your friends? [Here Kiddo started smirking slightly.] Well, a little ...

*** Other Thoughts ***

One of the reasons I wanted to read this with Kiddo was to prepare him for the Disney version that is in theaters now. He loves Mickey's A Christmas Carol, but I'd heard that the Jim Carey version was a bit more intense and I wanted to be sure he wouldn't be scared by the images that go with the Ghost of Christmas Future. Now that we've read it, we're ready to see the film. I just hope there is time before - or right after - Christmas!

*** About This Version ***

The version of the book I read is pictured above and is a new release this year. It includes a TON of annotations that illustrate Dickens' many Biblical references in the story. It also includes discussion questions that could be used with a Bible study group or for family discussion.

In reading this book to Kiddo, I chose to read him the story only. After we finished the story, I went back and read all the annotations and discussion questions on my own. I LOVED the annotations! In fact, I wish I'd read them before reading the story to Kiddo; they would have helped me to explain some of the sections better. And although I didn't use the discussion questions, I can see that they would be a great basis for a fun and insightful group discussion of this book.

Here's a video that shows you some of the pages inside and give you a better idea of what this version of the book is all about.

Thank you to the publicist for sending me a copy of this book; I was planning to read this story during December anyway, so the book arrived at the perfect time. And this version was a real treat, one that has gained a place in my permanent collection.

*** Your Thoughts ***

I KNOW that many of you have read this ... so where are all your posts?! I certainly can't find them. Here are two reviews that I DID find:
  • Wordsmithonia read it for the 1st time and really appreciated Scrooge's character, more so than in the movie versions.
  • Library Dad also appreciated the written version more than the Hollywood versions.
I'd love you include yours here - just link to it in the comments!

Monday, December 21, 2009

TBR 2010 Challenge

This is a challenge that makes perfect sense for every blogger out there; the goal is to actually read 12 books from your TBR list!

The rules, according to MizB's Reading Challenges, are:
** Pick 12 books – one for each month of the year - that you’ve been wanting to read (that have been on your “To Be Read” list) for 6 months or longer, but haven’t gotten around to.

** OPTIONAL: Create a list of 12 “Alternates” (books you could substitute for your challenge books, given that a particular one doesn’t grab you at the time)

** Then, starting January 1, read one of these books from your list each month, ending December 31. )

(for more information, please read the challenge FAQs)

By the end of the year you should’ve knocked 12 books off of your TBR list! (of course, if you’re anything like me, you’ll have added *at LEAST* 12 more to the ever-growing pile by then! LOL).

The good news is, though, that you’ll be making some progress! ;o)

Additional rules/guidelines for this challenge:

* the challenge is to read 12 TBR books in 12 months — you can read those all in one month if you want, or one a month, or however you wanna do it.
* you should have a list posted somewhere for others to see
* you CANNOT change your list after January 1st, of the current year!!!
* you can create an Alternates list of MAXIMUM 12 books, if you want, in order to have options to choose from (you can read these in place of books on your original list).
* audiobooks and e-books ARE allowed
* re-reads are NOT allowed, as they aren’t TRUE “TBRs”
* you CAN overlap with other challenges
* OPTIONAL: you can join the Yahoo! Group created for participants of the TBR Challenge, if you want to have a place to keep your list, or just to share with others about how you’re doing!
I can't decide on 12 books so I'm just combining my original picks and my alternates into one big list. And in my case, these are all books that I already possess. I'll read at least 12 from this list in 2010.
  1. A History of Celibacy, by Elizabeth Abbott
  2. Mistress of the Vatican, by Eleanor Herman
  3. A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
  4. Ireland: A Novel, by Frank Delany
  5. The Toss of a Lemon, by Padma Viswanathan
  6. Vivaldi's Virgins, by Barbara Quick
  7. The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections, by Tom Brokaw
  8. The Book Lovers Cookbook, by Shaunda Kennedy Wenger
  9. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi
  10. Consumption, by Kevin Patterson
  11. The Last Gentleman Adventurer: Coming of Age in the Arctic, by Edward Beauclerk Maurice
  12. Time Bandit, by the Hillstrand Brothers
  13. Steve & Me, by Terri Irwin
  14. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
  15. Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival, by Norman Ollestad
  16. The Last Town on Earth, by Thomas Mullen
  17. Silver, by Edward Chupak
  18. The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
  19. The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic, by Gay Salisbury & Laney Salisbury
  20. Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum, by Richard Fortey
  21. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  22. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
  23. Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft, by Thor Heyerdahl
  24. When We Were Gods: A Novel of Cleopatra, by Colin Falconer

Are you up for this challenge?!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

That's How I Blog 20-Minute Book Club Challenge

Remember when I told you about Nicole's Blog Talk Radio Show "That's How I Blog!"? Well, I left out the fact that there is a reading challenge associated with it!

Details of the challenge can be found at this link but the basic idea is to commit to read a certain number of books that will be featured on the show during 2010. The list of books is here but it only shows the first few months worth of books at this point; as new guests are scheduled, their book choices will be added to the list.

I decided to participate at the Aluminum Level. Here in the USA we pronounce that word "al-OO-min-um" but over in the UK they say "al-oo-MIN-ium" ... which sounds much better, so that's what I'm going to call it. The AluMINium Level is a commitment of 4 books, to read and to call in to discuss during the show.

Here's my list so far:
  1. The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters - for January 12th show
  2. The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan - for my show on Feb. 9 (yes, I'm cheating by counting this book - you all just hush!)
  3. Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri - for March 9th show
  4. to be decided when more books are posted
Of course, if there are some really great books posted later on in the year I'll definitely bump myself up to the next commitment level, the Silver Level (13 books).

Participating in this challenge - and the discussion portion of the show - is like being in another book club, and I LOVE it.

Are you joining this challenge? Which books are you planning to read so far?

Friday, December 18, 2009


by Euripides
20 typed pages, via
first produced in 431 BC

translated from Greek

*** About the Play ***

This is one of those classic Greek tragedies that many of us learned about in school. Before the play begins, Medea had fled her homeland with her new husband, Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts fame, the guy who stole the Golden Fleece), killing her brother in order to save Jason. The couple has settled in a new land where Jason has befriended the king. Now Jason announces that he is divorcing Medea so he can marry the king's daughter. The play itself tells the story of Medea's reaction to this announcement and what she does in retaliation.

*** Why I Read It ***

As a child I had a gorgeously illustrated book of the women of Greek mythology. The illustrations all showed these women in all their physical glory, well-toned muscles and curves clearly visible and accented by their scanty clothing. I wish I knew more about that book - I'd love to have it again now! Anyway, Medea gave me the creeps. The fact that she killed her brother and later her children was horrifying to me; I would skip over her story every time I looked through the book. As an adult, I wanted to revisit Medea and see what the fuss was all about. I chose to read this play now because it fits perfectly into the Really Old Classics Challenge that I'm co-hosting.

*** My Thoughts ***

I'm sure you've heard that old saying, "Beware the wrath of a woman scorned." That could have been written about Medea! This gal doesn't take anything lying down; she takes some gruesome vengeance on those who have wronged her. Not that I approved of what she does, but she definitely gets her point across. Oh, and Jason, who I loved in the old movie, is a real jerk!

If you are looking for an easy dip into the Really Old Classics, this play might be a good place to start. I expected it to be difficult to read but it was not at all. I read it over a few days during my lunch break at work, but it could easily be read in one sitting - and would probably be even easier to understand that way.

The version I read through Project Gutenberg included lots of footnotes to better explain both the story and the translation. If you are interested in comparing translations, the footnotes do some of that as well.

But ... this is a REALLY SHORT play! It was easy to read, despite the language and the format, but it is REALLY SHORT. It felt to me like it should be one Act or maybe even one Scene of a longer play. I wanted to learn more about Medea, about the reasons for her actions, and the results, and her backstory, but this play didn't give me what I wanted.

Which leads me to a question for all of you ...

*** Your Thoughts ***

Do you know of any books that relate Medea's complete story? Of course I realize I could find it in an anthology of myths, but I'd really rather read a novel about it. Do you have any suggestions?

The only other person I know who has reviewed this is Rebecca Reads - am I missing anyone else?!

*** In the Movies ***

Medea featured in the 1963 version of Jason and the Argonauts ...

Have you seen that movie? I love it!

I haven't seen the 2000 version ...

I wonder how Medea is portrayed in that one?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My Favorite Reads: Swimming to Antarctica

Today I'd like to tell you about Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer, by Lynne Cox.
It is August 7, 1987, and I am swimming across the Bering Sea. I am somewhere near – or across – the U.S.-Soviet border. The water stings. It’s icy cold. My face feels as if it has been shot full of novocaine and it’s separating from my skull. It’s as if I’m swimming naked into a blizzard. My hands are numb, and they ache deep down through the bone. I can’t tell if they are pulling any water. They feel as though they are becoming detached from my body. I look down at them through the ash-colored water: they are splotchy and bluish white; they are the hands of a dead person. I take a tight, nervous breath. Suddenly it occurs to me that my life is escaping through my hands.
That is the very first sentence of the book - way to get the reader's attention, no? I read this book a few years ago, I think just before I started blogging, and I still remember parts of it very, VERY clearly.

I'm not into sports memoirs but I do have a fascination with the Polar regions, which is why I picked up this book. Lynne is an open-water, long-distance swimmer who has a "thing" for swimming in extremely cold water. It is simply amazing the things that she puts her body through BY CHOICE; I can't imagine being FORCED to do those things, letting alone volunteering.

The book chronicles her swimming career from the age of 9 when she chooses to stay in the freezing pool to swim while her teammates opt for 2 hours of calisthenics out of the water. Her first open water swim was from the San Diego shoreline over to Catalina Island; if I recall, she was a young teen at the time.

I found this book utterly fascinating. I loved reading about Lynne's training, her reasons for swimming, the research on hypothermia she helped with, and the amazing swims she completed. I'm definitely NOT inspired to do anything like this myself, but I loved reading about it all the same, and I think many of you would enjoy it as well.

My Favorite Reads is hosted by At Home With Books every Thursday. If you'd like to share a book that you read pre-blogging, please join in!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cleopatra's Daughter

Cleopatra's Daughter
by Michelle Moran
448 pages

*** About the Book ***

After Octavian defeated the forces of Marc Antony at Alexandria, and after Marc Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, Octavian took their 11-year-old twins Selene and Alexander with him back to Rome. He sent them to his sister's household, where she raised them beside her own children, while Octavian used them to bolster his own position with the Senate and the people. The twins grow up amid the intrigue of the ruling family of Rome, torn between their hatred of Octavian for his defeat of their parents and their hope that he will allow them to return to Egypt. They experience young adulthood as Romans, going to school, participating in festivals, watching as their friends are married off. And all this is set to the background of the mystery of the Red Eagle, a man who is anonymously pushing for the end of slavery in the Roman Empire and threatening Octavian's authority.

*** Why I Read It***

I've been hearing great things about Michelle Moran's books for quite a while so I was thrilled when she offered me a copy of this book to review. This is the first of her books I've had the chance to read.

*** My Thoughts ***

If this is any indication of the quality of Michelle Moran's other books, then I am in for a treat when I pick them up. This book was well written, interesting, packed with historical detail, the characters had depth, and I really enjoyed the time I spent reading it.

I loved getting to know Selene and Alexander, and seeing things through Selene's eyes. Her memories of her parents and her home in Alexandria contrasted with her first impressions of Rome and its decidedly foreign customs in ways that were enjoyable to read. I also appreciated Selene's strength, and how the way that she was raised by Cleopatra to be intelligent and independent was in such direct opposition to the way girls in Rome were raised.

It was fun for me to read about Selene and the other children learning Homer in school. I loved my own encounters with THE ILIAD and THE ODYSSEY; what an experience it must have been to study them when they weren't yet ancient history! And to have dinner with Virgil, and hear Ovid perform in the theater - this truly was a time of great literary minds. The talent and culture Selene and her companions were exposed to was truly amazing.

I did feel that the Red Eagle subplot was a bit contrived but I haven't heard anyone else mention it and it didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the book in any significant way, so I can't really complain.

*** The Real History ***

I love it when authors include detailed historical notes that clarify what is and is not true in their historical fiction novel, and Moran's author's note is one of the best I've read.

The core of her story is based on actual, documented facts. Very few of the characters were created specifically for the story, and very few changes were made to actual historical figures to enhance the story. Selene & Alexander were, in fact, taken in by Octavian's sister, who seems to have cared for them a great deal. The Red Eagle did not exist but was based on historical events and real-life rebel leaders. I won't say more than that, as you can find the details of the true history in the author's note, and I don't want to give away any of the plot.

A Christmas Connection: It may interest you to note that Octavian, later known as Caesar Augustus, is the same guy who is mentioned in the Bible as the one who called for the census that led Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem where the baby Jesus was born. You can find the mention of Caesar in Luke 2:1.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Have you read any of Michelle Moran's other books? My Secret Santa gave me THE HERETIC QUEEN and I'm looking forward to reading that one. Are there other books about Cleopatra that you'd recommend? I have Colin Falconer's WHEN WE WERE GODS on my shelf waiting to be read right now ...

Here are some other reviews of this book that you might want to check out:
And just for fun, check out the book trailer below. I'm a fan of book trailers in general, and I thought this one was well done - what do you think?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Joining the Support Your Local Library Challenge

Aah, a challenge that isn't really a challenge! Since I get the vast majority of my books from the library anyway, this will be more of a "patting myself on the back" thing than a challenge. :) I won't be making a reading list for this one, just adding them as I pick them up.

Here are the rules according to J. Kaye:
  1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.
    --Non-Bloggers: Post your list of books in the comment section of the wrap-up post. To learn how to sign up without having a blog, click here.

  2. There are four levels:
    --The Mini – Check out and read 25 library books.
    --Just My Size – Check out and read 50 library books. [Heather's note: This is the one I'm going for!]
    --Stepping It Up – Check out and read 75 library books.
    --Super Size Me – Check out and read 100 library books.
    (Aim high. As long as you read 25 by the end of 2010, you are a winner.)

  3. Audio, Re-reads, eBooks, YA, Young Reader – any book as long as it is checked out from the library count. Checked out like with a library card, not purchased at a library sale.

  4. No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.

  5. Crossovers from other reading challenges count.

  6. Challenge begins January 1st thru December, 2010.

  7. When you sign up under Mr. Linky, put the direct link to your post where your library books will be listed. Include the URL to this post so that other viewers can find this fun challenge. If you’d prefer to put your list in the sidebar of your blog, please leave your viewers the link to the sign up page. Again, so viewers can join the challenge too.

So ... is anyone else joining this one?!

Audiobook Challenge - woohoo!

There is a buzz of controversy around audio books in the book blogosphere. Some bloggers love them, some hate them, some think they are "cheating", and there are a myriad of other opinions. As for me, I LOVE AUDIO BOOKS! Needless to say I was thrilled when I learned about this challenge. I guess I really shouldn't call it a challenge though, since it will be ridiculously easy for me ...

Here are the rules according to Royal Reviews:
  1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.
    --Non-Bloggers: Include your information in the comment section.

  2. There are four levels:
    -- Curious – Listen to 3 Audio Books.
    -- Fascinated – Listen to 6 Audio Books.
    -- Addicted – Listen to 12 Audio Books.
    -- Obsessed – Listen to 20 Audio Books. [Heather's note: I'm going for it!!!]

  3. Audio books only.

  4. You can list your books in advance or just put them in a wrap up post. If you list them, feel free to change them as the mood takes you. [Heather note: No list for me - I like to be random.]

  5. Challenge begins January 1st thru December, 2010. Only books started on January 1st count towards this challenge.

Are you an audio book lover? Be sure to join this challenge if you are!

a quick Kiddo update

Just popping in to let you know that Kiddo has surgery today (12/15) to remove the current feeding tube and put in a smaller, more easy-to-use tube. The surgery is an out-patient procedure so HOPEFULLY it won't be all that painful. The plan is to head home once Kiddo's wakes up from anesthesia and - if all goes well - spend the rest of the day relaxing and decorating the Christmas tree.

Prayers and good thoughts are both much appreciated.

I've got some challenge sign-up posts scheduled for today, but I won't actually be around; hopefully all will be back to normal tomorrow and I'll have a chance to reply to comments and read all your posts.

Monday, December 14, 2009


by Sarah Waters
audio book: 15 hours

*** About the Book ***

It is the late 1800s in England and Margaret Prior is almost recovered from a lengthy "illness" (today we'd call it suicidal depression). To help her think about others rather than herself, her doctor encourages her to be a "lady visitor" to the female prisoners at Millbank Prison nearby. On her first visit she meets a number of the inmates but is strangely drawn to one in particular, Selena Dawes. Dawes, as she is called in prison, is a Spiritualist who is known for making spirits appear in the flesh at her seances. Over the course of the next few months a friendship develops between the two women ... but is it more than a friendship? Is it ... an affinity?

A note on the cover images: Neither of those shown here match the version I listened to; these both make sense based on the book. Unfortunately, my version had a woman lounging in a sheet with her hair all tousled, looking like a prostitute. Definitely not in line with the book at all.

*** Why I Read It ***

I heard about this book in a review at Out of the Blue earlier this year and it caught my attention. When I was looking for a new audio book for my commute, this was available at the library so I checked it out.

*** My Thoughts ***

This story is told in two formats. The main story is told from Margaret's point of view through the journal she keeps. Nothing is told as it happens; the reader only learns things as Margaret records them in her journal. The other part of the story, which occurs a few years before, is told from Selena's point of view, mostly through the book of receipts she keeps for the money "gifted" to her by her "friends" who attend her seances. This format worked well for me. I was drawn into Margaret's story but Selena's parts kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what each tidbit of information might mean.

This is a gothic novel in the truest sense of the word. There are seances and spirits and "magic" and hidden love and oppression and a definite creepiness factor woven throughout. And I LOVED it.

*** About the Audio Book ***

This is a VERY well done audio book. I was completely drawn into the story in a way that I don't think would have happened had I read it. The narrator was Juanita McMahon; I've not listened to her before but I will definitely look for her work again. There is a great deal of "he said" and "she said" repeated over and over in the book but McMahon never let that grow tiresome as it could easily have. Rather she modified her voice in very small ways to indicate who was speaking, even though the "dialogue" was all contained in Margaret's journal. Then there were the parts that were particularly gothic in nature and those actually made my skin crawl to listen to. Not that they were "scary" at all, it's just that the narrator infused her words with the creepy mood so well. I'm not sure I'm making a lot of sense here but just trust me when I say that the audio version is fabulous.

*** Your Thoughts ***

So far I've found two other reviews of this book, both of which say good things about it. If you've reviewed it as well I'd love to add your link here.
As for the rest of you, what do you think? Is AFFINITY something you're interesting in checking out?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

My 2009 Challenges Recap, & Questions

If you are not a reading challenge addict, you may wonder what the appeal is. (And you're probably getting sick of all the challenge sign-up posts you've seen lately as well!) I certainly wondered about it when I first started blogging. Why would I want someone/something else to structure my reading life? What I've discovered is that I love this structure ... in moderation. For me, challenges serve several purposes.
  • First, they introduce me to new books that I otherwise wouldn't be exposed to. The 1% Well Read Challenge is excellent for this.
  • Second, they help me focus on my personal reading goals. The Read Your Own Books Challenge served this purpose (or would have, if I had completed it).
  • And third, they give me a sense of accomplishment. I love signing up for challenges that include books I want to read anyway; it is so much fun to mark them off my TBR list!

I signed up for 11 reading challenges that either began or ended in 2009. I'm very goal-oriented and I like to complete what I start, so I try not to sign up for too many challenges and I try to complete every one I sign up for. I'm very proud of my challenge record this year: 8 completed, two in progress, and only one not completed.

The links take you to my end-of-challenge recaps where I list the books I read and my thoughts on that particular challenge.
  1. Stephenie Meyer Mini Challenge - completed Jan. '09
  2. '08-'09 1% Well Read Challenge - completed Feb. '09
  3. Baker Street Challenge - completed April '09
  4. Science Book Challenge - completed June '09
  5. Non-Fiction Five - completed Aug. '09
  6. World Citizen Challenge - completed Sep. '09
  7. War Through The Generations: WWII - completed Oct. '09
  8. 2009 1% Well Read Challenge - completed Oct. '09
  9. Read Your Own Books Challenge - not completed (link takes you to my original post about it) - I'm throwing in the towel on this one
  10. LOST Books Challenge - I still have 5 books to read but this doesn't end until mid 2010 (link takes you to the challenge blog)
  11. Really Old Classics Challenge - I'm co-hosting this challenge and have started my first book - I have until Feb. '10 to read at least 2 more (link takes you to the challenge blog)

As I said, I'm very pleased with the challenge reading I've done this year. Not much of it was outside of my comfort zone but some was. And more importantly, I enjoyed each of these challenges for different reasons.

So tell me ...
  • Are you a challenge-addict? A challenge-avoider? Or like me, a challenges-in-moderation person?
  • Did you participate in any of these same challenges this past year? Which was your favorite?
  • What challenge that wasn't on my list would you highly recommend?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Donate Books Locally, Be Part of a Larger Community

If you are anything like me, you have stacks and stacks of books in your home that you either will never read or have already read and don't plan to re-read. What if those books could brighten someone else's day this holiday season? Well, they can!

Online Publicist came up with a way to honor Dewey, a beloved book blogger who passed away last year, AND to help local communities at the same time. Here's an excerpt from her post:
Here's what you do:
*Gather up the books you can live without. It can be 4 books, 10 books, or 20 books!
*Find a worthy group you would like to donate your overflow books to. It can be your local library, a literacy campaign (mine will go to the literacy center I volunteer for), or overseas. There's a great list of book donation sites here on the ALA. Find a charity that speaks to you!
Complete details are at this link but the idea is simple - give some of your excess books to make someone else's day brighter.

I'm putting together a box of books to donate to my local library, a place I absolutely could not live without. I've already reviewed the library's donation policy so I know which books they will and will not accept; now all I have to do is gather the books and drop them off!

This is something that you can participate in no matter where you are in the world or how many books you have to spare - a single book given to the right person or organization could mean the world. So share the joy of reading this holiday season, in honor of Dewey, in honor of bloggers, and in honor of literacy around the world.

Happy reading to all!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Have you heard the news?

The lovely Nicole from Linus's Blanket has started a Blog Talk Radio show called "That's How I Blog" - have you heard it yet? Each week on her show she spends just over an hour chatting with a book blogger, giving all her listeners a chance to get to know that blogger better. Listeners can call in to join the discussion or socialize and post questions in the chat room. And at the end of each show Nicole and her blogger guest do a mini book club discussion. These shows are so much fun!

And guess what? I get to be a guest on her show on February 9th- how cool is that?! Yes, yes, I know it is rather far off to be announcing this but I DO have a reason. You see, the book I've chosen to discuss with Nicole on our show is THE EYE OF THE WORLD, by Robert Jordan. It is a fantastic fantasy novel and one that I've loved for years. Nicole has been wanting to read it as well, and and she even won a copy of it in a contest on my blog, so this was the perfect book for us to discuss.

I'd like to invite you to read this book and join in the discussion, and I'm telling you about it now since it is rather a long book. Is there anyone out there who'd like to join in? I'm thinking of a few of you specifically ... like all the gals who signed up for my dare a few months back (Alex, Shawna, Robin, and Susan), plus Suey and Beth F (since I know they want to read this anyway) ... but the more the merrier, so if you are interested please let me know.

I'm really excited to be a part of Nicole's exciting new venture - and I hope to have the chance to chat with many of you on my show night! You can be sure that I'll post the official details when the show date gets closer.

In the meantime, if you've missed out on any of the first few episodes of That's How I Blog you can listen to them through the player below. (If you're reading in Google Reader I think you'll have click through to my blog to see the player.) Enjoy!

Thursday, December 10, 2009


by Maggie Stiefvater
400 pages

*** About the Book ***

As a child, Grace is attacked by wolves in the woods behind her house but rescued from death by one wolf with peculiar golden eyes. In the ensuing years she sees this wolf again and again, and develops a intense connection to him. Things are not exactly as they seem however, as Grace discovers when she finds a teenage boy bleeding on her back porch ... a boy with the exact same eyes as her wolf.

*** Why I Read It ***

As I said in my review of another book yesterday, I've had a thing for wolves since I was a child. I saw Lenore's review of this book a while back and it intrigued me. In general I'm not a fan of YA books (which this is) but the plot really pulled at me so I put it on my TBR list. When it was chosen for the 20-Minute Book Club portion of a recent That's How I Blog Show, I decided to read it and join in. Unfortunately I couldn't get it from the library in time but I went ahead and read it anyway.

*** My Thoughts ***

I really enjoyed this book but I didn't LOVE it. There is a very sweet love story and definitely some excitement, however this is clearly a Young Adult book (YA is not one of my favorite genres so that is a drawback for me). I liked the author's twist on werewolf mythology; it was much more "believable" than the traditional crazed-wolfman-howling-at-the-moon thing and it gave a depth to the story that I enjoyed.

That said, I was not so drawn in to the story that I intended to read the next book in the series (called LINGER, coming in July 2010). At least, I wasn't planning to until I got to the last page of the book and realized where the story stopped. I thought I had another chapter yet to read but it was just the acknowledgements! *gasp* So now I will have to read LINGER this summer, if only to find out what happens next.

Other Thoughts ...
  • I really like the cover of this book; what do you think about it? For me, it is simple yet attractive and clearly relates to the book.
  • One thing that I found to be very unique was that the color of the font throughout the book matched the blue on the cover. It wasn't jarring enough to be distracting; rather it was appealing and eye-catching in a good way.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Are you intrigued? Please let me know!

Be sure to check out these other reviews to get a better idea of whether you'd like this book:

*** For More Fun ***

Click on this link to listen to the That's How I Blog episode featuring My Friend Amy; the last 20 minutes are dedicated to a discussion of SHIVER. If you download it you can skip ahead to time marker 1:12 where the rather amusing (and giggle-filled) book discussion begins.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mind Voyages Challenge

I mentioned in a recent review that I plan to read more Fantasy & SciFi books in the coming months, so this challenge is perfect for me.

The details, according to My Two Blessings, are as follows:

Choose a Voyage

Moon Voyage : Read at least 6 winners on the Hugo Winners List

Sling shot back to Earth: Read at least 3 winners on the Nebula Winner's List

Venus Voyage: Philip K. Dick Quest - Read at least 2 of his books

Mercury Voyage: Robert Heinlein Quest - Read at least 2 of his books

Mars Voyage: Read at least 6 winners on the Hugo List and take a side trip through the 21st century and read at least 4 nominees.

Go into Warp Drive and visit the other planets ...

Jupiter Voyage: Go side tripping 90's Style

Saturn: Go Side Tripping 80's Style

Uranus: Go Side Tripping 70's Style

Neptune Voyage: Go Side Tripping through the 50's and 60's

The I'm going to Pluto because Pluto is still a planet as far as I'm concerned Voyage: Mix it up, choose the number of books you want to read from each voyage, include some new books you pick up along the way and enjoy the ride.

The Rules are simple:
  1. The challenge will run from January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2010.
  2. Participants may join at any time.
  3. All forms of books are acceptable including e-books, audio books, etc.
  4. Re-reads are acceptable as long as they are read after January 1, 2010.
  5. Books may overlap other challenges.
  6. Create an entry post linking to this blog.
  7. You don't have to decide before hand what you will be reading.
  8. Come back and sign up with Mr. Linky in the "I'm participating post".
  9. You don't have a blog to participate.
  10. I'll be adding a post with Mr. Linky for participants to post book reviews.

I'm going for the Pluto Voyage because it gives me the most flexibility, especially regarding SciFi/Fantasy books that are not award winners. I'm committing to read 12 books but I'm not deciding now what they are. Some titles I'm considering include:
  • Dune - this would be a re-read
  • The Left Hand of Darkness
  • Ender's Game
  • Stranger in a Strange Land
  • American Gods
  • Little Brother
This challenge will be lots of fun - I hope some of you are planning to join in as well!

The Better To Hold You

The Better To Hold You
by Alisa Sheckley
305 pages

*** About the Book ***

Abra is a veterinarian living in New York City. She works at a prestigious animal hospital but her boss is a bit on the crazy side; his latest obsession is a virus that supposedly turns people into werewolves. When Abra's husband returns from a trip to Romania to study wolves, he isn't acting normal. To save her marriage she leaves her beloved job and head to the suburbs with her restless husband. As her husband's behavior spirals more and more out of control, Abra meets a local guy who seems to know more about her situation than he should. And she is inexplicably drawn to this new man in ways she shouldn't be ...

This book is urban fantasy.

NOTE: The author previously wrote under another name, Alisa Kwitney. This is her first novel under her given name, Alisa Sheckley.

*** Why I Read It ***

Back in February I read this post on and I was intrigued. I've had a thing for wolves ever since reading David Eddings BELGARIAD series 20+ years ago, and it has only been strengthened over the years by Robert Jordan's WHEEL OF TIME books. Add that to my recent fangirl crush on TWILIGHT's Jacob (*swoon*) and you can see why a wolf-themed book might appeal to me.

A month or so later I got an gift card as a present and used part of it to buy this book. It has been sitting on my shelf ever since, just waiting to be read. This month I'm trying to NOT plan my reading; I'm simply picking things from my shelf that I want to read right at that moment. That's how I picked this one up.

*** My Thoughts ***

It isn't a great book but it is an enjoyable one. Some of the plot points were rather predictable but others were refreshingly different. I had a lot of fun with it! In fact, I was so into it that I stayed up until 2am on a work night (*gasp*) to finish reading it when I had planned to be asleep before midnight. It was just the right kind of "mind candy" that I needed this past week.

I do have to point out that there is quite a bit of sex in this book. Not that it was a problem, it's just something to be aware of.

*** Your Thoughts ***

I think I'll be on a bit of a fantasy kick for a while. Does that ever happen to you? You pick up a book and realize you've been unconsciously avoiding a genre for a while and now you want to dive back into it? Which genre was it for you?

So far I haven't found any reviews of this book - share yours with me if you got one!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

November '09 Recap

I hope you all had a lovely November! Mine was packed, hence the reason I'm finally getting around to my recap this far into December. I began my new blogging year when I celebrated my birthday early in the month and let me tell you - it feels GREAT. I've rethought my reading goals for the coming year and plan to focus more on things I WANT to read rather than things I SHOULD read ... just wait until you see how much fun I'm having with my reading in December!

But back to November, here's what I read ... and I'm pretty proud of it:

Books - 9 (2,603 pages)
Audio Books - 2 (13 hours)
Other Stats
  • Two books for Mom & Son Book Club this month! YAY! We finished reading Sea of Monsters and listened to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Plus I also read the Ivy & Bean book to Kiddo, even though we didn't do an official book club post about it.
  • My TBR list gained 6 titles this month and Kiddo's gained 3.

Phew! Now that's done, I can focus on December - woohoo!

Monday, December 7, 2009

My Life in France

My Life in France
by Julia Child
302 pages

*** About the Book ***

Almost everyone in the world has at least heard of Julia Child, the author of numerous cookbooks and the first chef to have her own TV show. In this book she shares how she first became fascinated with delicious food and how she actually learned to cook. The core of this story focuses on Julia's relationship with her husband and with food during the years she lived in France.

*** Why I Read It ***

I've never been into cooking or particularly interested in Julia Child so this is not a book I'd ever planned to read. But when my book club chose it for our December read I wasn't really disappointed since I enjoy memoirs. It did take over a month to get it from my library - there were over 80 people on the wait list!

*** My Thoughts ***

Before I even start telling you about this book you simply must watch this video. It is from the late 1980s when Julia appeared on David Letterman's TV show. It is only a few minutes long but is well worth the time!

Did you watch it? I bet you were laughing. See, I TOLD you it was worth it!

Now for my review ...

I'm not sure what I expected when I picked up this book but come to find out I actually knew NOTHING about Julia Child! Did you know she was 6'2" tall? And wore a size 12 shoe? And that she was married to a man 10 years her senior? And that they made their own Valentines cards to send to friends every year (that's one on the book cover)? Okay, so those aren't really pertinent facts but they are interesting nonetheless.

This is a lovely book about a woman who found her passion (what some would call) late in life and went after it with all her heart. I so admire her for that. This isn't a fast paced adventure romp or a celebrity name-dropping extravaganza; rather it is a quiet and touching story about a woman with a wonderful appreciation for the world around her and a great sense of humor.

There was only one problem with this book; I didn't want to read it right now. Because of the long wait list at the library I got the book just 2 days before book club and spent all my spare time reading through it as quickly as possible. As I read I kept thinking that it was a lovely story and that I'd enjoy it so much more if I could choose the right time to read it.

In the end I am very glad that I read this book and I would definitely recommend it. I just wish I could have read it at a time that felt more right.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Are you a fan of Julia Child? What about other TV chefs? Personally I don't really care for cooking shows but Hubby watches them all the time, especially Gordon Ramsey. Have you ever made a recipe from one of Julia's cookbooks? How did it turn out? At my book club meeting a few gals did just that - I'll tell you about it in an upcoming post.

Here are some other reviews to help you learn more about this book:
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