"I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun."

Jan 31, 2013

In honor of my week celebrating Pride and Prejudice, I think you should know exactly how much I love this book. So, I'm now confessing to the fact that I actually collect copies of Pride and Prejudice. From places I've visited, stores I've wandered through, cities I've lived... I just can't resist picking up a pretty copy whenever I see new one. Here's my collection in all of its glory:

My collection started off innocently enough. I had one or two copies of Pride and Prejudice, but I fell in love one day with a copy that just had been released. It had a new cover that was so much prettier than the one I owned, and so of course I needed to get it. And then there was another new copy, and that one was pretty, too. And it slowly evolved into a thing. I looked around one day and realized I had essentially started collecting copies of Pride and Prejudice. So I just went with it. (Pssst - doesn't that make my title practically perfect?)

Here's the thing - you know how you can love a book for reasons beyond the story inside? There's this connection with a book that ties you to the time in your life when you were reading it. Or maybe the place you were when you fell into its pagse. It's one of the reasons that I often find it hard to give books away. Not because I want to own ALL THE BOOKS (although that would be nice) but because there is an emotional attachment to the book.

Pride and Prejudice is one of the very first books I felt that connection with, and it's had a special place in my heart ever since. I won't go through my whole collection (because that would clearly be boring), but I am going to take a minute to get sentimental about some of my favorite copies.

Books have a history. A reader can travel far in the pages of a book, but a book also takes a journey and travels with its reader. When the right book comes along, the story becomes a part of its reader and comes alive in the heart. Pride and Prejudice has been one of those books for me.

My Oldest Copies
The Great Illustrated Classics Pride and Prejudice was my first experience with the book. If you aren't familiar with these versions, they are illustrated, abridged and basically re-written for children. It gave me an appetite for more - my first taste of Austen and the start of a lifelong love with her work.

I then picked out this book one day while I was at Barnes and Noble with a friend. Her mom told us that she would get us a both a book, and I believe she tried to dissuade me from picking this book because she thought it might be too difficult for me. I persisted and the rest, as they say, is history.

My Favorite Inside
The summer after my sophomore year of college, I studied abroad in Oxford, England. The classes were more difficult than I had expected, so I didn't travel nearly as much as I expected. However, I did make time to visit Bath so that I could explore the Jane Austen Museum. I find it ironic that the Austen museum is in a city she so disliked living in, but I had to visit all the same.

I picked up this copy in the gift shop, which is the version illustrated by Hugh Thomson. He was a popular and successful book illustrator in the Victorian era, and his 160 drawings were printed in a copy of Pride and Prejudice that was published in 1894. The illustrations, at the beginning of each chapter and scattered throughout the novel, are charming and delightful. Obviously mine is a reissue of the the 1894 version - not an original to that time. This is a copy that I love because of the place where I got it - and because the illustrations are amazing!

Most Sentimental Value
These may have the most unfortunate covers, but they also have the most sentimental value. My husband sometimes has to travel for his job, and he spent a few weeks in Japan at one point last year. He asked the translator with them to write down Pride and Prejudice in Japanese on a little slip of paper. He then took that slip of paper with him all over the city - visiting bookstores and trying to find me another copy for my collection. He gave me the two-volume copy when he got home, and I've never been so happy to have married a man who understands the way to my heart.

All Around Favorite
Finally, I have to end with my all-around favorite. It has the most gorgeous cover, and I could spend hours lost inside its page. It's an annotated edition, and I never realized how much fun it can be to see all the depth you never knew existed in a beloved novel. I thought it might annoy me to have annotations inside, but I actually find it fascinating. There is such a richness to learning more about things like certain phrases and customs mentioned in the book. 

So, there's a little mini-trip through my collection. While others probably don't collect Pride and Prejudice, I'd love to know if you've ever collected copies of a certain book or if there are there certain books you could never get rid of because of your attachment to them. Please tell I'm the only crazy collector out there!

"I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!"

Jan 30, 2013

Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen's Masterpiece by Susannah Fullerton

Release Date: January 2013
Publisher: Voyageur Press
Pages: 240 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Amazon)
“Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure,” Elizabeth Bennet tells Fitzwilliam Darcy in one of countless exhilarating scenes in Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenThe remembrance of Austen’s brilliant work has given its readers pleasure for 200 years and is certain to do so for centuries to come. The book is incomparable for its wit, humor, and insights into how we think and act—and how our “first impressions” (the book’s initial title) can often be remarkably off-base. 

All of these facets are explored and commemorated in Celebrating Pride and Prejudice, written by preeminent Austen scholar Susannah Fullerton. Fullerton delves into what makes Pride and Prejudice such a groundbreaking masterpiece, including the story behind its creation (the first version may have been an epistolary novel written when Austen was only twenty), its reception upon publication, and its tremendous legacy, from the many films and miniseries inspired by the book (such as the 1995 BBC miniseries starring Colin Firth) to the even more numerous “sequels,” adaptations, mash-ups (zombies and vampires and the like), and pieces of merchandise, many of them very bizarre.

Thoughts on Celebrating Pride and Prejudice
I first spotted this book on Austenprose, and I was utterly in love with the cover. From the bold turquoise color to the stunning peacock design (reminiscent of Hugh Thompson's peacock edition of Pride and Prejudice), I knew I had to get this book!

As soon as it arrived, I started flipping through the lovely pages. To give you an understanding of the scope of the contents of the book, here is everything covered (as listed in the Tables of Contents):
The Writing of Pride and PrejudiceReactions to Pride and PrejudiceThe Famous First Sentence
The Style of Pride and PrejudiceThe Heroine, Elizabeth Bennet
The Hero, Fitzwilliam Darcy
Her Relations
His Relations
Other Characters
The Translations
Illustrating and Covering Pride and PrejudiceSequels and Adaptations
Film and Theatrical Versions
Selling Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice Now and in the Future
Whew! Tired yet? Although that may seem like a random detail for me to share, I think it's important for you to know just how much Fullerton covers in her book. If there is anything negative I would say about this read, it's simply that some chapters really leave you wanting more. In covering so much, the chapters don't necessarily go in-depth on the topic.

For example, you could write an entire book focusing on film and theatrical versions of the novel so all you'll get in the chapter are a few paragraphs for each movie or play that talks about its strengths and weaknesses. There were times it felt more like summary than discussion or analysis, but it didn't really affect my love for this book. I wasn't reading this for the critical analysis - I just wanted something that celebrated the Pride and Prejudice's impact and reminded me of how much it has meant to the many readers who've come before me.

I mention my only complaint first just to get it out of the way. Besides, it's hardly what I would call a negative. This book is an incredible tribute to the influence and reach of Pride and Prejudice. And if certain chapters leave you wanting more - well, there are numerous ways to continue researching!

One of my favorite chapters was the one about reactions to Pride and Prejudice. It was so fascinating to see how the novel was received when it was first published and the journey its taken to today. For example, I learned that the novel was rather neglected during the Victorian period but was then one of the most-read novels in the trenches during WWI. It was considered therapeutic and given to soldiers during recovery. Rudyard Kipling even wrote a story called "The Janeites" about soldiers who build solidarity and even save each other because of their shared love for Jane Austen. Information like that just fascinates me.

Although it's something I know in my head, I had to stop and just soak in the realization that I love something that has been read by millions before me. This story has been cherished and loved and prized for years by people of all different walks of life. And that just floored me. Even though I knew it as a fact, it hadn't really hit me until reading this book. I've underlined things that someone in a trench in Europe has known and loved. Is there a more powerful testament to the bond created through reading? I could reach back 200 years, find someone who read this book and we'd be able to sit down and talk at length (and with passion) about these characters. I mean, my goodness.

There were numerous quotes throughout the book that really show how much research has gone into the book. While it's certainly Fullerton's tribute to the famous novel, you'll also get insight into what others have said about Austen, her characters, her writing style, and her impact on culture. I loved all these selections - many from other books or scholarly essays - because they show you just how many people still feel compelled to write about Austen.

There are full-color images throughout, which were so lovely to look at. Everything from book illustrations to movie images are scattered about the book, which made reading that much more enjoyable. After all, you can't complain about a little Colin Firth in the Darcy chapter!

It was so interesting to learn how the novel has been changed in translation, how illustrators chose to portray the characters, how publishers have packaged the book over the years, and how it has essentially spawned its own industry.

I have even more I could say about this book, I've still got plenty of notes on it, but I want to let you discover the fun on your own. If you love Pride and Prejudice, I absolutely think you'll love this book. It's a joyful homage to a novel that has found a home in millions of hearts. Fullerton is clearly writing about something she knows well and loves, and it absolutely shows on these pages. What a perfect way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the book I hold most dear!

So Quotable
"Rereading Pride and Prejudice is as necessary as listening again to favourite music or looking once more at a much-loved painting. For really no one ever reads the same Pride and Prejudice twice. A first reading alters you; by a second reading you are a slightly different person. Every subsequent reading reveals different things about you and your world. A starry-eyed teenager will find a romantic Pride and Prejudice on first perusal, but thirty years later that same reader, now a parent to five daughter, will discover a very different Pride and Prejudice on re-opening its pages. Every reading of Pride and Prejudice is a new one."

“Obstinate, headstrong girl!”

Jan 29, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Every week they post a new topic/Top Ten list and invite everyone to share their own answers. I'm so obsessed with lists!

As you know if you read my post yesterday, I'm spending all week celebrating the 200th birthday of my very favorite book. Lucky for me, today's Top Ten Tuesday topic worked perfect with a little Pride and Prejudice twist!

Top Ten Most Frustrating Characters Ever In Pride and Prejudice
* Photos from 2005 adaptation (even though the BBC mini-series is much better) because the images were a higher quality

1. Mr. Bennet - While he utters some of the novel's funniest lines, it's hard to deny that he's incredibly frustrating as a husband and father. Yes, Mrs. Bennet can be a total pain but it's kind of sad to see his complete lack of respect for his wife. He mocks her at every turn - taking great delight in finding new ways to joke at her expense. He retreats to his study in solitude and doesn't take an active role in parenting his children. He publicly humiliates one, lets another run wild... and basically shows no concern for the fate of his daughters. I may love to laugh at the things he says, but he frustrates me to no end for being so detached from his family.

2. Mrs. Bennet - On one hand, she just wants to know that her daughters will be taken care of when their father dies. So, yes, all of her meddling is rooted in a desire to provide for her children which equals marriage in that day and age. However, she's so single-minded in her focus and cares for little else. Can you even imagine how frustrating she'd be as your mother? Not to mention how embarrassing it is when she starts gossiping about your love life with everyone she meets! Oh, Mrs. Bennet... you could just shake her sometimes!

3. Mr. Collins - You know those people who just love the sound of their own voice? And who constantly feel the need to jump in with their own opinions or stories? Well, Mr. Collins pretty much puts them all to shame. He attempts humility but can't hide his belief in his own self-importance. It provides a huge dose of comedic relief, but it's completely frustrating when he won't take no for an answer. What a party pooper!

4. Charlotte Lucas - While Charlotte's choices make sense in light of her age, situation in life and the time in which she lived, it's still hard not to be frustrated with her. At the end of the day, she is practical to the core. She makes the choice that she feels that she must - no matter the cost to her personal happiness. As much as I want to understand, it's still a frustrating decision because it seems so emotionless!

5. George Wickham - What a manipulator! Like Lizzie, you're drawn in by his charm and fooled by his lies. And then the truth comes out and you're ashamed that you ever fell for his game! He's frustrating because he never learned from his mistakes and continues to do exactly as he pleases with no thought or care as to how it will impact others. Gotta watch out for those smooth-talking pretty boys!

6. Lydia Bennet - ARGH! Lydia is certainly one of the more frustrating Bennets. She has no sense of propriety and almost ruins things for all of her sisters with her thoughtlessness. She doesn't understand the gravity of her actions, and it never seems as though she learns. She's so dang frustrating in her childishness!

7. Charles Bingley - I really love Bingley! He's amiable and predisposed to like people. While that may mean he doesn't have much sass, you're still rooting for him to succeed. Except for one frustrating thing that makes you want to yell, "DUDE! You're a grown man! Make your own decision, and don't let someone else have so much of an influence over your life!" Seriously, Bingley. You can't blame Darcy for every dumb thing you do.

8. Lady Catherine de Bourgh - Holy rich snob! Talk about pretentious pain in the ass. She's the woman who thinks that money entitles her to say anything that crosses her mind, even if it's incredibly rude. Her pompous behavior and pride are seriously frustrating... although you do have to love how her own actions backfire in the end!

9. Fitzwilliam Darcy - I'm so obsessed with Darcy, but it still has to be said. This is one frustrating man! He's proud, socially awkward and rude. Darcy is the epitome of the aloof, strong and silent type. He calls Lizzie tolerable and basically insults her whole family for goodness sake! He ends up redeeming himself a thousand times over, but I've still got to put him on the list for causing many frustrations early along in the novel.

10. Elizabeth Bennet - Finally, the lovely Miss Elizabeth Bennet herself makes the list. For all of her wit and sass, girl's a pretty bad judge of character. She's easily swayed by a first impression, perceives things incorrectly on numerous occasions and is just a little bit judgmental. Yes, even my favorite literary heroine has moments where she's frustrating! But then you just love her more because it makes her seem more realistic because aren't we all frustrating now and then?

Please Note: If you haven't read Pride and Prejudice, I hope you aren't now wondering why you'd ever read a book with so many frustrating characters. Well, you know how you love your family but they also can get on your nerves more than anyone else? And how your best friend rocks except sometimes you want to shake her a little bit? You have to interpret my use of the word frustrating in that sense. These characters "frustrate" me only because of my love for them! And yes, I know they aren't real. Sigh.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged..."

Jan 28, 2013

Happy 200th Birthday, Pride and Prejudice!

On this day in 1813, Jane Austen's "light, and bright, and sparkling" second novel was published. I'm sure she had no idea that it would become one of the most popular and best loved books in English literature or that it would lead to numerous sequels and spin-offs. 

There are two books that have had the most profound impact on my love for books - shaping me into the reader I am today. One of those is Anne of Green Gables... and the other is Pride and Prejudice.

I think every reader has "that book." It's the book that causes your voice to get high, your eyes to widen and your arms to flail when asked for your opinion on it. You know, the book that you're so enthusiastic about that you almost scare other people away from reading it because your book-thusiasm is so over-the-top that you become a force of nature in your desire to share your love with everyone who asks (and even sometimes those you don't).

Pride and Prejudice has been, is and always will be "that book" for me. It would make my "if you could only have X number of books on a desert island" list every single time. And it's the book I'm most likely to re-read - just to spend a little more time with the characters I know and love so well.

On the surface, it's the story of Elizabeth Bennet. Set in 19th century England, she's the second of five daughters with a mother whose is determined to marry them all off. It's about first impressions, prejudices and pride and the affect each can have on our relationships of all kinds. But it's also so much more than that.

I recently read Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen's Masterpiece, and author Susannah Fullerton explains so much better than I ever could:
"Pride and Prejudice is an invitation: it demands to be talked about. It asks reader today, and readers to come, to enter its world, engage with its characters and issues, find answers for the questions it poses. It makes us think about friendships, about relationships with parents and siblings, about finding happiness in marriage, about demanding employers, about chance and the role it plays in human affairs [...], about clergyman and military men and their role in society, about social rankings, about self-knowledge, about... The list goes on and on. It encourages us to find role models in its finer characters, to strive for self-awareness, to learn how to cope with aggressive bosses or false friends. Human nature has not changed in 200 years and so Pride and Prejudice can still tell us what makes people tick (220)."
I'm so invested in these characters - in their choices, their attractions, their flaws and their futures. Each time I read the book, I always feel a little anxiety at all the misguided first impressions and miscommunications that take place. I know how it all turns out in the end, and I still get swept away by the story.

It's a small story about people in a place just like any other at the time. But Austen takes what may look like a rock and transforms it into a diamond. There may be differing opinions on her place in literature, but I can't think of another classic author who still has such a profound role and impact on our culture today.

Just visit the bookstore and marvel at the number of Austen-inspired books lining the shelves. Search etsy and you'll find thousands of handmade goods paying tribute to Austen, her novels, her characters and her words. There's even a new Austen movie every few years... Our culture is as obsessed with her as I am!

And while every Austen lover has their own favorite of her novels, Pride and Prejudice is mine. Persuasion comes close, but I think I'll always come back to Pride and Prejudice because of the memories I have associated with my reading of this book.

I could throw a little glitter and eat a sweet dessert to celebrate, but I want to do something even more exciting. I'm dedicating this entire week to celebrating my favorite novel! I've got something special in store for every day, and I hope you'll join in on the fun. If you've read and loved it, I hope it inspires you to revisit the novel again soon. If you've read it and didn't love it, I think I just feel sorry for you and maybe just keep that information to yourself. And if you've never read it, I hope this is the push you need to pick it up and fall head over heels in love!

Happy birthday to my favorite novel and a heartfelt thank you to the woman who brought it into the world! 

So Quotable: Tahereh Mafi

Jan 26, 2013

"I spent my life between the pages of books. In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction."
          ― Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

One HeLa of History

Jan 25, 2013

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Release Date: February 2012
Publisher: Random House | Crown
Pages: 370 pages
Source & Format: Library; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Amazon)
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells - taken without her knowledge - became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first "immortal" human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they'd weigh more than 50 million metric tons - as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb's affects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Thoughts on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
In 1951, Henrietta Lacks died from a highly aggressive form of cervical cancer. She was young, African-American and the mother of five children. And over fifty years later, she lives on in the form of HeLa. 

When she visited the hospital to be diagnosed and treated, doctors removed a tissue sample of hers and used it try and cultivate a regenerating cell line. All previous tests had failed. Until Henrietta's. For some reason, her cells multiplied beyond the scientists' wildest imagination. Her cells led to many medical advancements and breakthroughs, but her family never knew that the sample had been taken in the first place. 

Rebecca Skloot was a young student when she first heard about Henrietta, who often wasn't even identified by the correct name. Years later, she poured her heart and soul into paying tribute to this woman who had such an impact on medicine but was largely unknown in the medical community.

The result is a book that kind of makes your stomach hurt. Questions of ethics, race, and class are at the heart of Henrietta's story. It's hard to read about people being treated as less than human, as if they don't have a right to know what is happening to their bodies, and as if it's all too complicated for them to understand so why bother trying to explain.

I'd seen this book on bestseller lists and bookstore displays, but I was never tempted to pick it up. Of all the things I could do with my spare time, reading about something science-related is not something I'd usually pick. I think science is cool and awesome if you get it, but I usually just don't.

I finally got it from the library one day on a whim, and I'm really glad I did. It was an incredibly hard book to read - not because of the way it was written, but because of what it revealed about our past. Skloot does a great job at telling a story and just weaving in the science as she goes along. It's not really a science-heavy book. Instead, Skloot focuses on the characters and their history. That made this a really fascinating read! 

When ethical questions arise, I think it can sometimes be hard to think about things in the context of real life. What made this book so fascinating is that the ethical questions of informed consent and a patient's rights aren't just abstract thoughts - you're reading about real people who lived this not that long ago.

It wasn't a perfect book - there were definitely a few things that I didn't love about the way Skloot chose to tell their story. But I'm really glad I took the time to read it! It's one that will have your mind working overtime as you ponder some pretty important issues.

So Quotable
"Like I'm always telling my brothers, if you gonna go into history, you can't do it with a hate attitude. You got to remember, times was different."

If You Give A Girl a Book...

Jan 24, 2013

There is a part of me that's absolutely convinced that part of my mission in life is to make people love books. It's something that really rears its head someone says they don't like to read. Instantly, I have this strong desire to be the person who is able to find that one book that's just so perfect for them in length, genre, setting, writing style, you name it, that they then fall head over heels in love with reading.

It's like a challenge that I just can't refuse. "Oh, you don't really like to read?" [Insert probably not-so-subtle quizzing that I hope will reveal the secret book that will do the trick.] "Hmmm... you know, that sounds a lot like this book I think you'd like..."

This had led to a phenomenon in which I consider every gift-giving occasion an opportunity to give someone a book. I sit down and start thinking of a book for everyone on my Christmas list... but then I have to stop and remind myself that not everyone thinks a book is a good present. I don't gift books all the time, but I do think I'm a pretty good book gifter/recommender when I do.

I try really hard to find a book that will interest that individual - not just a book that I enjoyed. Just because I enjoyed it doesn't mean it fits everyone's reading taste! There are usually five things I like to know that can help me gift the perfect book. I don't sit there quizzing someone (awkward!), I just try to find out through multiple conversations and save the answers away in my brain for future reference.

Five Questions to Help You Gift the Perfect Book

1. What's the last book they read, and why did they read it?
In this case, I think the why is often more revealing than the what. Finding out why someone has been motivated to read in the past can help you find a book that they'll actually be motivated to read in the future.

For example, I have a friend who isn't a huge reader but always gravitates toward bestsellers. When she does take the time to read, she wants to read something that is being read by everyone else. Her motivation for reading has more to do with the desire to stay up-to-date on what is popular and being able to join in on conversations about the book. So, that lets me know that I will do best if I get her or recommend something to her that is either already a bestseller OR (and this is often even better) something that is on the cusp of being the next "it" book.

2. What's one book they really enjoyed and one they really disliked, and why?
It's probably obvious how this one can help you, but it's still something you want to know. If they hated a certain book because it didn't have a happy ending, you'll want to keep that in mind when you're picking a book for them. If they enjoyed a book because it had magic, that gives you a place to start in your search for the perfect book to give them!

3. If they watch TV, what are their two favorite TV shows?
Most people, not everyone but most, enjoy watching TV. And a person's TV show preferences can give you a great head start when it comes to picking out a book for them! It's not a genre, but it comes pretty darn close. It tells you what kind of stories they get drawn into and what characters have won their hearts. Then, you just have to find a book with similar elements (be it tone, characters, plot, etc.) and you have a higher chance of book gifting success!

4. What interests them most in a story: the plot, the writing, or the characters?
This may be hard to find out if they really don't like reading at all, but see if you can figure out which one is the most important to them when (if) they read.

For example, some people need a book with a gripping plot and a significant amount of action. Others might appreciate lyrical, evocative writing more than anything else. And then there are the people who must like and care about the characters to be invested in a book.

Ideally, you want to read a book that has all three things: good writing, interesting characters, and an exciting plot. However, you'll notice that most books will have one that's often a little stronger than the others. So, you don't want to recommend a beautifully written book (that perhaps has a slower plot) to someone who wants adventure and excitement!

5. What do they like to do in their free time?
Finding out what interests someone can help you figure out what they'd actually be interested in reading about in a book. They might love a non-fiction book about a topic the enjoy or a fiction book that includes an activity they like?

If someone is really interested in fashion, how about a biography of a fashion icon or trendsetter? If someone loves sports, what about an athlete's memoir? Maybe they love reality TV, so a celebrity-authored book would be right up their alley.

If someone loves ballet, they might enjoy a book where the main character is a dedicated ballerina. If they love the South, maybe a novel with some good ole Southern charm. Someone who likes hiking might enjoy a book with wilderness adventures.

Use your knowledge about their interests to your advantage and find them the perfect book!

- - - - - - - - - -

Gifting books is an art, not a science. These are things I consider that help me gift the perfect book, but I'll still have a miss now and then. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you just won't be able to get someone to read. 

Do you love gifting books, too? Please tell me I'm not the only one who wants to get a book for everyone on every gift-giving occasion! And what do you do if you're giving a book to someone who isn't really a reader? Have you ever asked questions like these to help you gift the perfect books? I'd love your tips for how you help someone find their book soulmate!

He Had It Coming

Jan 23, 2013

The Girls of Murder City by Douglas Perry

Release Date: August 2012
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 320 pages
Source & Format: Library; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Chicago, 1924. There was nothing surprising about men turning up dead in the Second City. Life was cheaper than a quart of illicit gin in the gangland capital of the world. But two murders that spring were special - worthy of celebration. So believed Maurine Watkins, a wanna-be playwright and a "girl reporter" for the Chicago Tribune, the city's "hanging paper." Newspaperwomen were supposed to write about clubs, cooking and clothes, but the intrepid Miss Watkins, a minister's daughter from a small town, zeroed in on murderers instead. Looking for subjects to turn into a play, she would make "Stylish Belva" Gaertner and "Beautiful Beulah" Annan - both of whom had brazenly shot down their lovers - the talk of the town. Love-struck men sent flowers to the jail and newly emancipated women sent impassioned letters to the newspapers. Soon more than a dozen women preened and strutted on "Murderesses' Row" as they awaited trial, desperate for the same attention that was being lavished on Maurine Watkins's favorites.

Thoughts on The Girls of Murder City
I'm not much of a musical buff, but I've had a soft spot for Chicago ever since I saw it in London while studying abroad. I was browsing in the library one day, spotted this cover and had to pick it up. When I realized that Chicago was based on real events (please tell me I'm not the only one who didn't know that), I knew I had to check out this book.

Chicago in the early 1920s was an interesting place. And it was even more exciting in 1924 after there was a string of murders committed by women. Beulah Annan and Bella Gaertner were at the heart of two of the most famous cases. Were they famous because they were so brutal? Not quite. They were famous because the two women were beautiful, stylish and looked like anything but murderesses. Their stories captured everyone's attention and quickly dominated the press coverage. Juries at the time were all male, and there still hadn't been any women successfully convicted of murder in Chicago. The prosecutor's wanted to make a statement, and the media wanted its sensational headline.

Maurine Watkins was the reporter from the Chicago Tribune assigned to cover both cases. Unlike many of the male reporters, Maurine wasn't fooled by the doe-eyed ladies who'd bat their eyes and proclaim their innocence. She had a sharp mind, and her articles about both cases are pointed and pack a punch.

The media sensationalized the murders, the women and the trials. But they also lost interest once the tide started to change and there were better stories to cover. Still, Maureen decided to capture it all by writing a play she called "Brave Little Woman." The characters Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly were inspired by Beulah and Belva, who actually saw the play performed live in an ironic twist. It became a musical in 1970, which is the Chicago everyone knows (and often loves) today.

I found the book even more fascinating than the play or movie because it wasn't fiction. This is really a part of Chicago's history! I don't often read non-fiction, but this is the kind I love to read. It's fast-paced and really grabs your attention. I'd definitely recommend it to fans of history, crime novels or the musical Chicago.

So Quotable
"The most beautiful women in the city were murderers."

Setting You Up for Success

Jan 22, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week they post a new topic/Top Ten list and invite everyone to share their own answers. I'm so obsessed with lists!

I had so much fun trying to think of what settings I'd like to see more of for this week's prompt. I couldn't think of much at first, but then the ideas just kept coming. I'm really interested to see what everyone else chose this week!

Top Ten Settings I'd Like to See More Of

1. Stables - I rode horses for years, and finally stopped when I just didn't have the time. However, I'll love horses (and books that are about them or include them) until the day I die. So, I want to see some books with stables. I was all about the Saddle Club books growing up - what's a girl got to do to get a grown-up version? I'm not looking for cowboys in romance novels. I want some legit stables. 

2. Australia - Every single book I've read by an Australian author has been fantastic, so I just want more of the same. The books don't have to be in the Outback, I just liked that picture. Give me more Aussies, and I'll be one happy reader!

3. College - This is the Arch at UGA (Go Dawgs!), but I don't really care what college is the setting... just give me some books with girls in college! And no sexed up YA or crazy dramatic issues books. I want normal college experiences - characters I can identify with and issues that seem real.

4. Hogwarts - You asked what setting I want more of. Well, I want more Hogwarts. A girl can dream, right?

5. Revolutionary War - I don't really care if Washington is involved, I just want to read some more books set during the Revolutionary War. I can get my fix of Civil War and World War II fiction, but my shelves are sorely lacking the American Revolution. Where can I find those books?!

6. Ballrooms - Do you know what happens in ballrooms? Romantic tension. It like oozes in ballroom scenes. You're touching and talking and then falling in love. I want more of that.

7. Oregon Trail - Dysentery, drownings, buffalo stampedes... personally, I think the Oregon Trail is just begging to be written about. Caravans of people leaving behind the familiar for a new adventure... just add in some mountain passes and river forgings and I'm a happy camper. 

8. District 12 - Oh, sorry, I just want more Peeta.

9. Safari - Having been to South Africa, I'd love to see more books set in that country. Even better, I really want some safari goodness, too. Zebras, elephants and giraffes are like three of the best animals God ever created so I'd like them to be a little more represented in books. I'm just saying.

10. Atlanta - Yes, I want more books set in Atlanta. I want to read a book and think, "Oh, I love that restaurant!" Or, "I love visiting that place!" Really, I just want Georgia to be on everyone's minds. Can we get some more literary love for the Peach State? I mean, hello, we (book) birthed Scarlett O'Hara.

Lumatere Chronicles Read-Along

Jan 21, 2013

The Background
I've been so obsessed with Melina Marchetta ever since I read Jellicoe Road last summer. I spent the first 80 or so pages really confused, but I ended up falling in love with the story, the characters and Melina's writing. A few months later, I devoured Saving Francesca and The Piper's Son. In a moment of Marchetta fangirling, I bought her two fantasy books - Finnikin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles. And they've been sitting on my Kindle ever since.

While browsing the blog world one day, I saw a comment between Magan and Lisa about reading Finnikin of the Rock. I then proceeded to inform them that I better be included. Or else. After talking with Magan, Lisa and Alexa, I've decided to host a Lumatere Chronicles Read-Along. I checked Goodreads, and I saw these books hanging out on a lot of TBR piles. Well, now's your chance to read it! Bonus: You get to join in on some fabulous bookish discussions.

The Essentials
First of all, you don't have to be a blogger to participate. Anyone and everyone is welcome! I've created a reading schedule that has us reading Finnikin of the Rock in February and Froi of the Exiles in March. I've got us finishing up the first week of April, which is clearly perfect since Quintana of Charyn (book three) will be released in the US in April. I thought it was April 9, but Amazon now says April 23. Either way, it's still perfect timing!

Every Friday, I'll post some thoughts on that week's reading. Join the discussion in whichever way suits you best - either leaving a comment with your own thoughts or writing a post on your own blog. Just leave a link to your post in the comments if you go that route so we can all come read!

Finnikin of the Rock is 399 pages, and I've got it broken down to about 100 pages a week. Froi of the Exiles is 592 pages, so I think we'll be reading closer to 120ish pages a week. I'm hoping that's a good pace for everyone! I know some people read faster and find it hard to slow down, so feel free to read ahead. Just don't post any spoilers in the weekly discussion post, pretty please.

The First Book (from Goodreads)
Finnikin of the Rock and his guardian, Sir Topher, have not been home to their beloved Lumatere for ten years. Not since the dark days when the royal family was murdered and the kingdom put under a terrible curse. But then Finnikin is summoned to meet Evanjalin, a young woman with an incredible claim: the heir to the throne of Lumatere, Prince Balthazar, is alive.

Evanjalin is determined to return home and she is the only one who can lead them to the heir. As they journey together, Finnikin is affected by her arrogance... and her hope. He begins to believe he will see his childhood friend, Prince Balthazar, again. And that their cursed people will be able to enter Lumatere and be reunited with those trapped inside. He even believes he will find his imprisoned father.

But Evanjalin is not what she seems. And the truth will test not only Finnikin's faith in her... but in himself.

The Author (From Melina's Website)
Melina Marchetta's novels have been published in eighteen countries and in seventeen languages. Melina's first novel, Looking for Alibrandi, swept the pool of literary awards for young adult fictions when it was published, winning the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year Award for Older Readers among many others.

Melina taught secondary-school English for ten years, during which time she released her second novel Saving Francesca, which won the CBCA Book of the Year Award for Older Readers, followed by On The Jellicoe Road, which won the American Library Association's Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature in 2009. Melina's next novel, Finnikin of the Rock, won the Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel, and was followed by The Piper's Son, the critically acclaimed companion novel to Saving Francesca. Melina has also written a book for younger readers, The Gorgon in the Gully, which was released in 2010. The second book in the Lumatere Chronicles, Froi of the Exiles, was published in 2011 to much international praise. The final novel in The Lumatere Chronicles, Quintana of Charyn, was released in Australia in September 2012 and will be released in the US in April 2013.

The Reading Schedule
Finnikin of the Rock Reading Schedule
Week 1 (February 3 - 8) :: To Part Two
Week 2 (February 10 - 15) :: To Chapter 18
Week 3 (February 17 - 22) :: To Part Three
Week 4 (February 24 - March 1) :: To End

Froi of the Exiles Reading Schedule
Week 1 (March 3 - 8) :: To Chapter 9
Week 2 (March 10 - 15) :: To Chapter 18
Week 3 (March 17 - 22) :: To Part Three
Week 4 (March 24 - 29) :: To Chapter 32
Week 5 (March 31 - April 5) :: To End

The Sign Up
Interested in joining? Just leave a comment below! I've never hosted a read-along before, but I'm trying to keep it simple and easy. All you have to do to participate is read with other cool book nerds and come talk about the book as you read them. What's more fun than that?! Also, use the hashtag #LumatereRA to share your thoughts on Twitter as we go along!

Blame No One. Forgive Everyone.

I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag: A Memoir of a Life Through Event - the Ones You Plan and the Ones You Don't by Jennifer Gilbert

Release Date: May 2012
Publisher: HarperCollins | Harper
Pages: 224 pages
Source & Format: Library; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
When Jennifer Gilbert was just a year out of college, a twenty-two-year-old fresh-faced young woman looking forward to a bright future, someone tried to cut her life short in the most violent way. But she survived, and not wanting this traumatic event to define her life, she buried it deep within and never spoke of it again.

She bravely launched a fabulous career in New York as an event planner, designing lavish parties and fairy-tale weddings. Determined to help others celebrate and enjoy life's greatest moments, she was convinced she'd never again feel joy herself. Yet it was these weddings, anniversaries, and holiday parties, showered with all her love and attention through those silent, scary years, that slowly brought her back to life.

Thoughts on I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag
Do you ever read a book that just brings to life some of your worst fears? This memoir was one of the hardest things I've ever read because it was so raw and scary. It was like a horror move come to life.

Jennifer Gilbert was twenty-two, living in New York and excited about her future. Then, she's attached outside her friend's apartment. She was a random victim, and it was the most gruesome kind of attack - she was stabbed over thirty times with a screwdriver. In the wake of the attack, Gilbert must face both the severe physical and mental trauma.

She had to deal with the knowledge that she was randomly chosen, that her attacker knew he didn't succeed in killing her, that her friend didn't try to help her and the way her family reacted once she moved home. I felt sick while reading it all.

But the hardest thing to read was the way Gilbert tried to move forward. She throws herself into party planning, and tries to control her body (with food and exercise) in order to cope with what's happened to her. She's straightforward as she tells her story, and I could not book the book down while I was reading this section. I thought it was incredibly brave of her to tell her story in such a public way.

In fact, there were numerous people in her life who had no idea what she's gone through. She buried everything and tried to be the opposite of a "victim." There are some powerful moments in the book as she talks about telling her story for the first time.

While it's easy to look on from the outside and think about what you'd do in a similar situation, I think you never really know until it's happened. I found Gilbert's journey compelling and touching. What stood out to me most was Gilbert's attitude - the way she didn't allow herself to be defined by her tragedy. It also was such an incredible reminder that how someone looks on the outside (having it all together, for example) isn't always a true reflection of how they feel inside. Many saw Gilbert as in-control, cold and demanding... but inside she was still hurting, broken and scarred.

And I loved her stories about learning that everyone needs to be thanked. As the boss of a very successful event planning company, she realized that there was a dynamic shift in her company culture when she learned this important lesson. I loved that chapter!

As is the case with many memoirs I've read, Gilbert wasn't always likeable. She's incredibly wealthy and lives in a complete different world from the one I'll ever find myself in. And yet, doesn't that make for a good memoir in some way? I love the idea that someone hasn't glossed themselves over, tried to improve upon their flaws, and has been brutally honest in telling their story.

Beyond just the details of her attack and how she coped immediately following, you learn about the creation of her business and rise to success. You get to follow her as she tries to open herself up to relationships and eventually falls in love. I didn't 100% connect with the sections on her business, but  still enjoyed this book as a whole.

Reading I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag was like sitting down to coffee with someone and have them tell you their life story. If you like memoirs or stories of overcoming adversity (or even are just interested event planning), this is definitely a book I'd recommend. I didn't wholeheartedly love it, but it taught me some valuable lessons that I hope I don't soon forget.

So Quotable
"If you spend your time measuring your reality against your fantasy, you're inevitable going to lose the joy of just being in that moment. This holds true for events, relationships, business, and life."

"Blame no one. Forgive everyone. Thank someone."

Stacking the Shelves {3}

Jan 20, 2013

Be sure to check what everyone else has added to their shelves over at Tynga's Reviews!

Bought for Kindle - Free:
Bought for Kindle:
  • Hallowed by Cynthia Hand - I already read this after finishing Unearthly last night and frantically needing more right away!
Bought for Kindle with Christmas Gift Card:
  • Attachments by Rainbow Rowell - Recommended by Estelle and Elena
  • Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi - Read this from the library and then had to buy a copy
  • Destroy Me by Tahereh Mafi - Why pass up the chance to read more from Tahereh?
  • Just One Day by Gayle Forman - I'm expecting on the best from this one!
  • Roar and Liv by Veronica Rossi - I've just started Under the Never Sky but bought this assuming I'm going to love this series
  • Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi - Again, just anticipating my desire to continue this series as soon as I finish the first book

From the Library:
  • Arranged by Catherine McKenzie - I've seen this as "Recommended for You" on Amazon based on my other purchases so I'm looking forward to reading it
  • Forgotten by Catherine McKenzie - Another McKenzie book on standby in case I love the first
  • The Runaway Princess by Hester Browne - I've really enjoyed Browne's books and I'm obsessed with royals so I really hope I love this!
  • Friends Like Us by Lauren Fox - Grabbed it as I was walking to check out because I liked the cover and it was blurbed by Laura Dave

You've Captured My Heart

Jan 19, 2013

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Release Date: 1948
Pages: 343 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Amazon)
I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle's walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has "captured the castle"--and the heart of the reader--in one of literature's most enchanting entertainments.

Thoughts on I Capture the Castle
Let me start by saying that this is a book to be savored. And it's already on my list of favorite books I've ever read. Not favorite of 2012... FAVORITES EVER. I'll be re-reading this book for the rest of my life. You hear that? I'll be telling you about my love for it in no uncertain terms. Now let's begin.

Cassandra Mortmain lives with her father, stepmother, sister and brother in a rundown castle in the English castle. While a castle may sound romantic, the family's poverty certainly isn't. Mr. Mortmain was a famous author, but a series of events have left him temperamental and unable to write anything. Topaz, her stepmother, is a free spirit. Modeling for painters, she longs to be someone's muse. Rose, Cassandra's older sister, just wants to marry a rich man. As a beauty, it's likely she'll be able to accomplish her goal. The younger brother, Thomas, exists but doesn't often step into the spotlight.

The book is written as Cassandra's journal, chronicling her observations and thoughts on everything going on around her. As an aspiring writer, it's delightful to watch Cassandra mature as the book progresses. It's a coming-of-age story with a narrator who reminded me of Anne from Anne of Green Gables. And that's quite a compliment because I adore Anne.

Life is rather routine for the Mortmain family until two American brothers, Simon and Neil Cotton, arrive and throw everyone into a tizzy. I knew next to nothing about this story, and I think it's best experienced that way.

Let me just say, however, that I found this book to be enchanting. Cassandra's voice is winningly naive. She charms you and disarms you with her thoughtful (and often comical) reflections. I also have to love a girl who references Pride and Prejudice rather often.

I had heard of this book, but I'd never felt compelled to read it until I found it in a little bookstore in San Francisco. Determined to buy a book while I was visiting the city, I took this home with me. And I'm oh so glad I did! I was shocked by how quickly I fell in love with this witty and memorable book. This is the kind of story and narrator that creeps into your heart and just leaves you feeling warm and glowy inside.

I can't say enough about how much I loved the writing. I wanted to savor it, to roll each word around in my head and let the descriptions come alive off the page. But the story was good, too! I wanted to race ahead and find out what was going to happen next. In my opinion, that makes for the best kind of book.

There aren't enough words to tell you how much I loved this story, this family and this world. I don't know whether to be happy I finally discovered it or to be mad I didn't find it sooner! This book won't be right for everyone, but it was the perfect read for me. I honestly think you'll probably know if you'll enjoy this book just by reading the first page.

So Quotable
"When I read a book, I put in all the imagination I can, so that it is almost like writing the book as well as reading it - or rather, it is like living it. It makes reading so much more exciting, but I don't suppose many people try to do it."

“How I wish I lived in a Jane Austen novel!” 

“Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression.” 
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