Life and Read-A-Thons

As many of you know, I spent my weekend in LA begrudgingly. Jimmy’s sister was getting married and it may have been the strangest wedding I’ve ever been to. If you follow me on twitter, you understand. Having been to LA several times now, I can honestly say it’s just not a city that impresses me at all. I’m so glad to be back home on the east coast where I belong.

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Because I was out-of-town, I missed out on the read-a-thon which had me super bummed. I spent most of Saturday staring at twitter longingly wishing I was reading alongside everyone else. I’ve vowed to take an active role in October’s event and I’m already counting down the months. To hold me over, I’m going to have my own little read-a-thon starting this morning and going through Wednesday. The Hubs will be in Louisiana so it’s the perfect time. Can’t wait to dive in!

On the job front, things have taken a slightly downhill turn. I didn’t receive my final paycheck because the company couldn’t afford to pay us. That puts an extreme financial strain on Jimmy and me. Hopefully, I’ll find another job very quickly so things won’t get out of control. The world is such an uncertain place. Glad to have an interview lined up for Thursday. I also spent a few hours this morning sending my resume out to more companies. (EDIT: Got my paycheck in the mail!!!)

In happier news, I have two packages arriving today. One is my very own copy of The Silver Linings Playbook film (YAY!) and Lauren Graham’s first novel – Someday, Someday, Maybe.

I hope everyone is having a fantastic week!

Heft by Liz Moore

14582156At the recommendation of many lovely bloggers, I listened to Heft on audio. I am now going to spew my own recommendation to those of you who haven’t experienced this wonderful book yet – audio is the way to go! Both narrators are fantastic and make their characters come to life with an ease and elegance that I’ve rarely found in the world of audio.

Heft is hard to summarize and for that reason I’m borrowing a short synopsis from Goodreads.com: A 550-pound former academic, Arthur Opp hasn’t left his house in a decade. Seventeen-year-old Kel Keller is the poor kid in a rich kids’ school striving for a baseball career. When Kel’s mother, a former student of Arthur’s, unexpectedly calls, it transforms both men’s lives.

In many ways that summary sounds dreadfully boring and was one reason I failed to read this sooner. But please don’t be dismayed. The characters in Moore’s novel are fantastic. She writes people filled with a gritty humanity that makes you yearn for a happy ending. Kel and Arthur go through so many trials and push through so many obstacles that you barely understand how they are still surviving. But they are surviving and it is spectacular.

I loved the push and pull between the two narratives – Kel’s and Arthur’s. It always felt like once man’s struggle was easing while the other’s only beginning. That waxing and waning made the flow work marvelously, but also takes you on an emotional roller coaster of epic proportions. I also particularly enjoyed having two male protagonists at such differing points in their lives. I liked how many similarities they had despite their extreme differences in situation. Liz Moore has won a fan for life. I will read everything she writes.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Heft was how easily I overcame a rather odd stigma or prejudice I have towards reading about morbidly obese people. I wasn’t even aware that such a character would turn me off until I read this synopsis. And I am embarrassed to admit that I initially cringed at this particular subject matter. I think I was just apprehensive to read a book that reflected something I find unattractive in myself (While not obese, I’ve never been the skinniest of women), but this book helped me confront my issues and learn from my own prejudices and grow. And that’s what great literature does. It offers up a mirror to confront ourselves – our ugliness and our brilliance.

Highly recommended!

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

6534328Another Classics Club choice moved over to the read column! As always, I enjoyed my time spent with Gaskell and her characters. My edition is the Penguin Clothbound and I’m in love with the green end papers. I now want something in my house that is exactly that shade of green.

Cranford is the story of Cranford. Ha! Cranford is a small town in England with a mostly female population. And as with most Victorian literature, there is a lot of society gossip, money, and class discussions. Each chapter relays a town anecdote, particularly those events which surround Miss Mattie – an old maid and a delightfully endearing lady. Our narrator, Miss Smith, is reliable, witty, and someone who adores Miss Mattie just as much as her readers.

Being that this was my third Gaskell, I was immediately comfortable with her writing style and still think she writes some of the most accessible Victorian literature. Cranford’s story isn’t deep with any symbolic meaning and is often light, funny, and just plain enjoyable to read. The tribe of female characters we get to know range from catty to completely selfless and realistically reflect the many kinds of women who exist in any town in all the world. At roughly 190 pages, Cranford is a novel you visit briefly and hope to one day return to.

What was most appealing to me was Gaskell’s humor. I smirked often at some little bit of hilarity and laughed out loud more than once at some biting turn of phrase. Gaskell is such a keen observationist (not a word, apparently) and gifted storyteller. You often believe you are looking directly through her eyes at the goings on. Her talent makes her humor all the more effortless and genuine. Plus, it never hurts to root for the happiness of a book’s main characters and to laugh alongside them in their many trials, tribulations, and joys.

I don’t think Cranford will ever be my favorite Gaskell novel, but I still enjoyed my time and reading experience. And I’m sure I’ll find myself deep within its pages in another few years when I’m feeling an itch for lighter Victorian fare. Wives and Daughters might always remain my favorite – most likely due to its luckiness at being my first Gaskell. If you haven’t read anything by Gaskell, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. Add something of hers to your classics list today!

Bonus:

Gaskell is often compared to Austen and with Cranford the comparisons ring very true.

Tuesday Talk

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I haven’t finished a book in time to post a review this week. I hope to finish three or more in the next few days so hopefully this dry spell won’t continue long. Sunday was book club and we discussed The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. I’m pleased to report that everyone really seemed to like and appreciate the novel. Some had a harder time getting into the story in the beginning, but eventually were able to overcome that obstacle.  We talked at length about the time period and what we thought of May, Ellen, and Archer. I’m just glad that everyone seemed to enjoy Wharton and I hope they give her other works a chance in the future.

Jimmy had his wisdom teeth out yesterday morning and he was the worst patient ever. He wanted to break all the rules and pretty much did which angered me off and on all day. I’m also in a state of anxiety over the disappearance of my job. I’ve applied several places and hope to hear back soon. I’m going to be putting in more applications this week. Fingers crossed that something positive happens soon!

In the meantime, I’m reading, cleaning, and hoping to spend some time in the sun this week. Friday Jimmy and I are flying to Los Angeles to attend his sister’s wedding on Saturday. It will be a busy weekend.

I’ve watched a few movies lately that I really enjoyed and want to recommend. End of Watch was such a well done and brilliantly acted cop movie. Depressing though. Gone Baby Gone was also superb – Ben Affleck is just an awesome director and Dennis Lehane provides excellent source material. But without a doubt my favorite film recently was Safety Not Guaranteed. So good. A little sci-fi, romcom indie film. Stream it on Netflix. I was smiling so hard it hurt by the end!

Tonight’s World Book Night! Have fun if you’re participating. I can’t wait!

Edith Wharton at Home by Richard Guy Wilson

13330391My second Wharton post takes a look at a non-fiction book dedicated to the house she lovingly designed and built called The Mount. Located in Lenox, Massachussetts, Wharton lived here from 1902 to 1911 when she permanently moved to France. The Mount was her first full scale house project overseen by her from the ground up. And what a beauty it is.

I love houses and interior design so I was very pleased to discover that Wharton had passions for both subjects as well. In fact, her very first published book was on the art of interior decorating. How many people knew that? I didn’t. She also wrote books on garden design and loved traveling to such places as France, Italy, and England to draw inspiration.

At Home documents Edith’s early childhood briefly before delving into her first house projects – those homes she occupied during the beginning of her marriage in Newport, RI and New York City. The novel quickly moves on to the first design ideas of The Mount and the chaos involved in building such an estate. The reader also gets quite an impression of the ‘gilded age’ with all its splendor and money. Several famous architects are discussed as well as first hand anecdotes of the society that visited Edith in her many homes.

Stepping inside The Mount once it’s finished is breathtaking. The pictures throughout the book are stunning – some literally taking my breath away. I cannot imagine living in such monstrosities and was amazed to learn that Wharton’s house was built on a rather narrow budget!! I also adored thinking of her sitting in The Mount’s corners, writing away at Ethan Frome.

I wouldn’t recommend At Home to everyone, just those of you would might really enjoy a book devoted to architecture, beauitful stately homes, and Edith Wharton. You get a real sense for who Edith was and how her passions filled her writings. The book reads very easily and didn’t feel dry a single time. The pictures are worth the rather large price tag – sometimes I would find myself just staring at them, wishing I could walk the gardens (which I totally can and plan on doing someday!). Such a gorgeous addition to my collection!

Bonus:

Hearing of Edith Wharton through the words of her great friend, Henry James.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

5246Dear Edith Wharton, I love you. My crush on you knows no bounds and I rank you right alongside Jane Austen. Ethan Frome was awesometacular. Not entirely sure how I will keep myself from living in a Wharton vacuum the rest of the reading year.

Ethan is a guy with a wife. Zeena is that wife and she is a hypocondriac. And just kind of utterly detestable. Zeena has a cousin. Mattie is young, vivacious, and without many plans for her future. She comes to live with the Fromes to help out around the house since Zeena is worthless. Ethan quickly becomes smitten. An elm tree and a sled play large roles.

Ethan Frome is more novella than novel, but still nothing short of brilliant. That ending! I just kind of sat stunned not completely understanding what had happened. So I read the last 10 pages again. And sort of squealed at the ridiculous.

As a character study, Wharton is perfection. I’ve known this some time having reading The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. But as much as I loved those longer novels, I think Ethan Frome has replaced them as my favorite. Which makes me think that Wharton might be even better as a short story writer. This amazes me. I’m crazy excited for her story collections – specifically the ghostly ones.

I recommend this gem to anyone and everyone. It’s so easy to read – give yourself a couple of hours and you’ll knock it out. I’m not sure whether the characters are likeable or even people we should feel sorry for, but I’m still thinking about them nearly 24 hours later. They’ve definitely made a dent in my blackened heart!

And if the characters aren’t enough to entice you or the crazy ending, just know that Wharton’s writing is top notch. Her ability to paint a landscape is genius particularly with so few words. You have nothing to lose here, folks, and everything to gain! Win-Win.

Bonus: 

That pickle holder or whatever it was ended up quite the symbol. Crafty little bugger.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

15507958I guess the first thing you need to know is that I inhaled Me Before You. Once I got started and through roughly 100 pages, I could not put the book down. I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning finishing that sucker, only taking minor breaks to recover from all the crying.

I’m thinking a synopsis of this story will benefit from the less is more strategy. Will Traynor is one of those douchebags who had it all – money, amazing job, blonde leggy girlfriend, and all the adventure he could stomach. His life is changed with he suffers a spinal injury and can no longer move from the chest down. He doesn’t deal well with his new life.

Louisa Clark is 26 and newly unemployed. Her trusty six year cafe job has gone away rather unexpectedly and now she has no idea what to do next. She’s desperate to find work to support her parents, grandfather, sister, and nephew. She takes on the caregiver position for a wheelchair bound man who turns out to be our charmingly snarky Will. There might also be a castle involved.

Me Before You won’t blow you away with its amazing literariness. The writing is fine if rather uninspired, but the story – so good. Moyes impressed me with her characters and her ability to make me care so freakin’ much about what happens to them. She also knocked me silly with her moral confrontations and the questions she demands you ask of yourself.

Will and Lou make such a great pair. You’ll love everything about them, even their faults of which there are many. The side characters are just as brilliant – specifically Lou’s colorful family. You’ll root for their strange little group and wish them nothing but the best page after page.

Finally, this little romance is the one I’ve been searching for – the one that has renewed my faith in love stories. I’m tempted to read Moyes’s backlog in a feverish rush. She doesn’t write an easy book – so please be warned. So many tears – an ugly cry that I haven’t cried in a long time. Her ending is difficult, layered, and will leave at least a tiny hole in your heart, but I never really yearned for a different conclusion. I loved the moral quandaries I battled with and I’m glad Moyes poses them to her readers in such an honest way. I love that the romance of this story rises above ‘cute’ to become something much more candid, serious, and realistic. Highly, highly recommended.

Bonus Points: All the British-isms! I love that you know this book takes place in England without even being told. So many times British novels are watered down and edited to Americanize them which is dumb. I’m glad Me Before You retains its accent!

The Monday Salon!

Let’s pretend I’m waving to everyone, shall we? How have y’all been? I feel as if I’ve been absent for too long from the blogging world. I know I’ve had posts pop up, but I haven’t been actively reading and commenting like I normally try to do. Life just keeps getting in the way – by making me sick over and over again. Not fun.

I think for the first time in my life allergies have actually become a thing. I have been nearly bedridden for the past week or so with aches, fevers, chills, stuffiness, and just general feel badly-ness. I’ve been sleeping non-stop and still resemble something a Mack truck ran over several times. Hoping for all this pollen to disappear soon. Like yesterday.

In worse news, my job is going to not exist soon. Yep, after finally finding something back in December, I’m going to be jobless again. Because that is my life. Filled with all the bad luck. So back to the drawing board I go. Hoping to find something by the end of May. I hate when investors back out of deals and all the new people are no longer needed. Shitty is shitty.

On the geekery front, I’ve been reading a bunch of Edith Wharton this weekend and will spend most of this week continuing that theme to prepare for Sunday’s book club meeting. I love her so much. Expect some Edith-centric posts soon. I also finished Me Before You and have things to say. Spoiler alert: I cried the ugly cry.

Might also throw up some movie reviews. Loved End of Watch and Gone Baby, Gone. Red Dawn – not so much.

And finally – Happy 4/15 any accountants who might be reading! I know that tax accountants are still going to have a rough day, but all the auditors will be partying tonight (including my husband). Time to let it down and get back to having a life!

P.S. Lots of people have been reading the blog lately and subscribing. Thanks for visiting and I’d love to hear from y’all in the comments!!

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

6936382I guess I just have a cold, dead heart because I thought this book was terrible. Pretty much everyone and their mom thinks this book was super cute and sweet. I wanted to throw it against a wall in anger. What is wrong with me? Or are other people just oblivious?

Anna Oliphant is a high school senior living the normal life in Atlanta, Georgia. She’s got an amazing best friend and a potential love interest so things are looking promising going into her final year of school. All that changes when her writer father decides he’d really like Anna to attend a boarding school in Paris so that he can sound more cultured. Anna is not happy with the decision until she meets her new set of friends, especially St. Clair – a hottie with a British accent.

The Paris setting was superb. I loved walking the streets of France along with Anna. And that’s about the only positive thing I have to say about the book. Now, I understand why young adults would find this little romance swoon-worthy. I get it. But adults? Really?

My biggest problem was that Stephanie Perkins obviously models Anna’s dad after Nicholas Sparks and lets her rage at his formulaic cancer plots shine through rather brightly. And then she goes and does the exact same thing – includes a cancer plot to add emotional depth and suffering to the character of St. Clair. REALLY?

Also, none of the characters are very well flushed out – particularly Ellie, St. Clair’s girlfriend. Yes, you read that right. St. Clair the love interest already has a girlfriend. And yes, there is cheating. I hated that we never got to know Ellie so that we never view her as a character we should sympathize. How convenient. Don’t want Anna and St. Clair to seem like dirty little cheating tramps? Make the actual girlfriend a non-entity.

Don’t get me started on the Atlanta/America-hate that Anna expresses upon her return to the States over Christmas break. Four months in France and Anna’s completely over the shitty country she used to view as home. I know I should let this go because there are probably a ton of teenagers, and hell, adults who would and do act exactly this way, but it still pissed me off. I get a little defensive about Atlanta. I like my home.

As for the romance, blah and yuck. St. Clair isn’t a great romantic lead. He’s a coward who is too afraid to break up with his girlfriend so instead emotionally and then physically cheats on her. How is that sexy? Someone please explain it to me? Several others have complained about how short he is and that shortness is not attractive. SERIOUSLY? And cheating is? Being a complete wuss has you smitten? Now I’m getting all angry and yelling. Please do not be offended if you found St. Clair attractive. I just really did not.

I think I’m getting a little burned out on YA in general so I’m going to read the exact opposite – dull adult non-fiction. Ha! I just need a palate cleanser. YA sucks me in with their shininess and pretty covers, but often fails to deliver anything other than empty entertainment – for me, that is. I’m not knocking those of you who love it. I’m just currently going through a rough patch with my own personal YA feelings. I just wish everything was on Harry Potter’s level. This is quickly turning into an entirely separate post so I’ll stop bickering now!

It by Stephen King

1131777I know many bloggers partook in the It-along a few months back and really enjoyed this novel – particularly the audio version. So way back in February I downloaded this baby and have been listening ever since. I cannot believe it took me two months to finish, but some of that time was monopolized by Vanity Fair. And before you think I didn’t enjoy the audio, please think again! The narration by Steven Weber is just as fantastic as everyone says. An Oscar worthy performance if there ever was one!

The long story short version? This epic length novel is about evil in a small town and the somewhat momentous differences between childhood and adulthood. There are two main timelines – one in 1958 following a group of children who call themselves the ‘Loser’s Club’ and one in 1985 where those children have all grown up. Every 27-ish years an evil often personified as Pennywise the Clown haunts the town of Derry, Maine, focusing on brutally murdering children. The Loser’s Club manages to escape but must come together again to fight this evil force when it reappears.

A lot more happens, trust me. 44 hours of stuff happens. There are Derry interludes where we discover tidbits of Derry’s history. But honestly, all those diverging plot lines take a major backseat to the 1958 setting where we get to know and love the Loser’s Club. Stephen King is a master of writing children. I loved each and every one of those kids which made all their horrors and fears so vivid.

Pennywise the Clown was never what scared me. I was, instead, truly terrified by the more real life violences that King doesn’t shy away from portraying. Bev’s many encounters with domestic violence – especially as she’s trying to run away from her father’s rage as a young girl. The bullying brought about by Henry and his followers. The ballshit evil that was Patrick.  Some of those moments were almost impossible to listen to because Steven Weber made them feel so real.

All that being said, It wasn’t a perfect book for me. The scene with the kiddy orgy was absolutely wrong and off-putting. I cringed throughout the whole thing and would have skipped had I not been driving. Also, long parts were extremely slow and boring (remember those Derry interludes?) and could have been edited out easily. If the book had been culled down to a much more efficient but still affecting length, I’d probably have nothing but praises to sing.

I’d still recommend to readers who enjoy the horror genre or King’s writing in general. I’ve watched the first half of the IT mini-series and wasn’t very impressed. So much was changed that I couldn’t get into it. I did like the child actors though. It was lovely seeing Jonathan Brandis again. I used to love him way back in the early 90s. Now that I have two King novels under my belt, I’m going to give him a little rest. He’s not an author I can read day in and day out without growing tired. But I’m looking forward to revisiting him soon!