Literary Blog Hop Giveaway!

lithopfeb1

Hi everyone! Guess what? As a part of the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop hosted by Judith, I’m giving away one of the five books listed below – your choice! Just fill out the form linked below the list of books eligible to win and you’ll be entered to win. Anyone can enter as long as The Book Depository ships to your address. The giveaway closes end of day February 13 and I’ll announce the winner (provided by the ever helpful random.org) on February 14. The lucky winner will be emailed and given 48 hours to respond before another winner is selected.

So which fine books are up for grabs? Five of my all-time favs that I’d love to share with fellow readers. I’ve linked to each book below via The Book Depository. That copy linked will be the exact copy won.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

9780140167771

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and for ever.

I loved this book so much. It’s one of the most well-loved books on my shelves currently – think beaten and battered spine, water stained, and filled with just the right mix of perfect book smell. Books with university settings can do no wrong!

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

9780312853235

Wow…so the book description totally gave away the twist ending! How rude! Basically, Ender lives in a future world where Earth is at war with an alien race and special children are selected to attend battle school in hopes that they will one day lead the Earth to victory. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this books since I was 14. A great option to share with the children in your life.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

9780316126670

An expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment–to oneself and to others in a baseball story that goes beyond the sport and into hearts and minds

This books comes highly recommended not just from myself, but from my entire bookclub who enjoyed this collegiate coming-of-age story so very much. See how every book includes school in some way? I swear I didn’t plan that. Will the trend continue?

Emma by Jane Austen

9780141199528

Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others.

My favorite Austen! Emma is a very flawed heroine, but one of the most delightfully human. She has so much to learn and makes so many mistakes along the way. I think this is Austen’s masterpiece.

The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

9781847492128

Containing obvious parallels with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s own lives, The Beautiful and Damned is a tragic examination of the pitfalls of greed and materialism and the transience of youth and beauty.

Some of the best literary symbolism of all time and by far my favorite Fitzgerald. The two main characters are impossible to like, but are a train wreck you can’t take your eyes off of. I think I need a reread!

Like something you saw and now want to enter? Just fill out this FORM!! (GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED. WINNER HAS BEEN SELECTED.)

Linky List:

  1. Leeswammes
  2. The Book Garden
  3. Sam Still Reading
  4. Candle Beam Book Blog
  5. Ciska’s Book Chest
  6. Too Fond
  7. Alex in Leeds
  8. Under a Gray Sky
  9. Bibliosue
  10. The Book Club Blog
  11. Fingers & Prose
  12. Lori Howell
  13. Rikki’s Teleidoscope
  14. Girl vs Bookshelf
  15. Lizzy’s Literary Life (Europe)
  16. Booklover Book Reviews
  17. The Blog of Litwits
  18. Reading World (USA/Can)
  19. Seaside Book Nook
  20. Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
  21. The Book Diva’s Reads
  22. Breieninpeking (Europe)
  23. 2606 Books and Counting
  24. Giraffe Days
  25. Lucybird’s Book Blog
  1. Roof Beam Reader
  2. The Relentless Reader
  3. Read in a Single Sitting
  4. My Diary (Malaysia)
  5. Heavenali
  6. Dolce Belezza (USA)
  7. The Misfortune of Knowing
  8. My Devotional Thoughts
  9. Nishita’s Rants and Raves
  10. Book Nympho
  11. Kaggsysbookishramblings
  12. Quixotic Magpie
  13. Lost Generation Reader
  14. BookBelle
  15. Under My Apple Tree (USA)
  16. Mondays with Mac
  17. Page Plucker

Atlanta Restaurant Review: Bone Lick BBQ

If you are anywhere near West Midtown and craving some BBQ – this is the place to go!  Bone Lick is run by the same guy responsible for P’cheen and started as a pop-up Monday night dinner in that restaurant.  Due to popularity, Bone Lick got its own home and now serves some of the yummiest BBQ in the city.  With our trusty ScoutMob deal in hand, Jimmy and I headed over that way a couple of weeks ago.

Bone Lick is located just down the street from Star Provisions/JCT Kitchen and has a rather unassuming home at the bottom of some apartments.  The big neon sign can not be missed, so don’t worry about driving by unawares!  The decor is simple and the restaurant feels a little rustic and a lot cozy.  I will say that the chairs get rather uncomfortable quickly which I suspect is to help with the turnover rate at busy times.  Did I mention there is skee ball and vintage arcade games?  Cause there are.  Awesome.  Oh, and a bar.  What more do you need?

The service was very laid back and casual, but more than sufficient.  But the main attraction here is the FOOD and boy was it delicious.  I am by no means a BBQ expert, but have eaten it many times in my life and this little plate of pulled pork I ordered was mighty tasty.  Such a great smoky flavor and so juicy.  YUM.  Jimmy’s brisket was also a hit with a gorgeous red smoke ring surrounding every piece.  Better yet, I ate the leftovers for two days and they retained their flavor wonderfully.  Our appetizers included housemade fried pickles and boiled peanuts.  The pickles had the best crunch and the peanuts were nicely cooked, but lacked a bit of seasoning.  If you like non-salty boiled peanuts, you’ll love these guys.

Jimmy’s award for best food of the night goes to the jalapeno mac and cheese.  He loved this stuff unnaturally which is odd since he’s not a mac and cheese fan.  This variation on a classic is lightly creamy with just a hint of the jalapeno flavor throughout.  It’s not overly spicy, but just a little heat infused which means my aversion to spicy food didn’t affect my love of this customer favorite.  My tater tots were nothing to write home about, but the texas toast is done with a fun mixture of spices that was a welcome surprise.

Prices are reasonable; portion size is excellent.  We’ll definitely be back!

Atlanta Restaurant Review: Mary Mac’s Tea Room

Ah, Southern food.  How I do so very much love you – at least when you come out of my mother’s kitchen.  But alas, most restaurants fall short of my mother’s brilliance and I’ve never found that go-to comfort food spot.  Would Mary Mac’s come to the rescue?

The restaurant is an Atlanta staple and somewhere I urge all visitors to check out.  Even the Dali Lama has dined at this most Southern of establishments!  The decor is somewhat dated, but you can enjoy browsing through the wall-of-fame photos taken of all the famous people who have visited.

I’m going to dock the restaurant a couple of points on service solely because of the hostess who seated us.  She was obviously in a pissy mood and wanted nothing to do with customers.  She brought us into a dining room and just stood there while we had to guess which table we were supposed to sit at and then threw our menus at us.  Wow.  But then we were rescued by our server who was fantastic and super helpful.  So things turned around quickly.

People will tell you to order the fried chicken and I’m not going to argue with those people, but I ordered the cubed steak with brown gravy.  Cubed steak with gravy is my most favorite meal of all time EVER.  My mom cooked this for me instead of baking a birthday cake.  Served with lima beans and mashed potatoes, all mixed together, is my idea of heaven on earth.  Mary Mac’s didn’t have lima beans, but did have butter peas which are just as yummy.  And they didn’t have mashed potatoes – WHAT?  So I substituted cheese grits and hoped for the best.

The sides were awesome.  Loved the peas and grits – both were a bit under seasoned but a little salt cured this travesty.  The cubed steak wasn’t so lucky.  Try as I might, the salt just couldn’t save this particular serving of beef.  The steak itself was tough and filled with grizzle.  I wasn’t able to cut it with my fork which is a huge no-no.  Plus, the gravy had a chalky flavor, so obviously the flour mixture wasn’t done properly.  I believe the gravy was missing milk or cream.  My mom makes this dish with milk gravy which works well.  Perhaps Mary Mac’s should do the same.

So, I’m still on the lookout for my perfect Southern comfort food outside my mom’s kitchen.  Jimmy did enjoy his chicken liver and onions – saying that the liver was a bit over salty but still managed to retain a lovely liver flavor.  He was less impressed with his turnip greens and sweet potato souffle.  He also liked the batter on his order of fried okra.  We both agreed that the prices were fair so we’ll probably go back at some point, and this time I’ll order the fried chicken!

(Picture courtesy of restaurant’s website)

I Finished a Book!

Seriously, that’s all I have today.  And I can’t even blog about the book until after my book club discussion.  Maybe I can try to finish another one this week!  Blogger FAIL!

Hope everyone is having a fabulous Sunday!

At the Cinema: Haywire and Man on a Ledge

Watched these films Sunday night and you can probably guess that Jimmy got to pick our selections!  I do enjoy a good action film from time to time so I tend to go in with an open mind.  I’m just often left disappointed due to lack of story.

First, we watched Haywire, a high-action, rescue-operation-gone-wrong spy movie.  And if that sounds fun to you, then you’ll probably enjoy this film.  It stars newcomer and MMA star (mixed martial arts), Gina Carano, who doesn’t appear to be the world’s greatest actress, but has the awesome ability to kick major bad guy ass.  It’s refreshing to see a powerful, female action hero and would suggest the movie on that basis alone.  The supporting cast is also shiny – Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum – so there’s plenty of eye candy.  Unfortunately, the story falls a bit flat, the third act is kind of lame, the story has plot holes galore, and the acting can be rather stoic at times.  So give it a watch, but make sure to have no expectations.

Man on a Ledge definitely won the award for most entertaining movie of the night.  Sam Worthington claims to be falsely accused of stealing hella expensive diamond, escapes prison, and perches his cute butt on the ledge of the Roosevelt Hotel in NYC to prove his innocence.  Fun concept.  Elizabeth Banks plays the negotiator trying to literally ‘talk him off the ledge’ and I love her!  Another kick ass female role so we were 2 for 2 on the night.  Granted, the plotting of this film is outrageous, but the emotions behind the crazy are genuine.  I love heist movies and this one has some fun heist-y moments between a bickering girlfriend/boyfriend that lends the movie some comedic relief to break the tension.  So many people gave this movie bad marks, but I enjoyed it as did Jimmy.  We had lowered expectations which probably helped, but would watch this again – even the terribly cheesy ending.

Final verdict (Skip, Rent, Buy):

Haywire:  Rent

Man on a Ledge:  Rent/Buy – if it’s your thing!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I’m writing this post a little ‘cold’ and unprepared because I’m unexpectedly going to see The Avengers tonight!  To say I’m excited is a ridiculous understatement.  I’m a Joss Whedon super fangirl.  As far as Perks is concerned, I’ve had a month to soak in the after reading funk and have come out on the side of – not a a huge fan.  And I’m entirely unapologetic about this unpopular opinion. (Spoilers below)

Chbosky’s debut novel presents itself as the universal tale of awkward teenagedom, especially that first year of high school. It was published in 1999 and follows Charlie as he writes letters to a ‘friend’ describing his freshman experiences as the ‘wallflower’.  Going in, I had reservations and expectations.  So many friends have lauded this book for its emotional revelations and ability to capture some truth of adolescence.  People who I trust have explained how the book saved their lives or got them through those turbulent years.  So. Much. Hype.  I avoided it like the plague despite the book being published during my freshman/sophomore years of high school.  I continued to avoid it during college and most of my twenties.

To put my expectations into perspective, I feared I’d feel about Charlie the way I now feel about Esther from The Bell Jar.  Reading The Bell Jar in college felt life altering.  She and I were the same person with the same problems.  I felt so much in common with her that I began to fear I was bat shit crazy and would end up with my own head in an oven (I know I’m mixing up Esther with Sylvia here, pretend it’s for effect).  But upon a reread a couple of years ago – in my late twenties – my perspective had completely changed.  All I wanted to do was shake the shiz out of Esther and yell at her that all this shit won’t matter in 10 years.  What if I was too far removed from high school to relate to Charlie?  What if I had missed my chance?

But my fears were misguided.  I liked Charlie from page one.  I enjoyed his voice, loved the execution of the epistolary storytelling, and found myself in several of his thoughts.  One particular feeling really registered with me even as an adult – the idea that you could be happy and miserable at the same time.  I happily flew through the first 100 pages before I began to get uncomfortable.  Something was off about Charlie – and not just in an awkward 15 year old way.  His emotional responses to things were not normal.  I put the book down and got in bed, ruminating on what could be Charlie’s real problem.  When I awoke, I felt positive that he was autistic and read the rest of the novel under that belief until all is revealed in the end.  And even though he’s not autistic, he is the victim of sexual abuse/molestation which leaves him physically, emotionally, and mentally crippled.  I was enraged.

Not at Charlie or his particular story.  I still adored Charlie and was so happy I had gotten to know him.  Instead, I was mad at all the people who explained how much they related to Charlie’s life and all the marketers who touted this novel as a ‘universal’ teenage story.  Are you kidding me?  What is universal about being sexually molested unless you have actually been molested?  For those kids who have unfortunately experienced this kind of trauma, then yes, this book is ‘universal’ and probably so incredibly cathartic to read.  But for the rest of us who were simply awkward wallflowers in high school, band geeks, sci-fi nerds, etc. – how can we possibly pretend to relate to Charlie?  How disrespectful to the truth of his life and his experiences.

I just got really angry.  I knew kids who had gone through that kind of ordeal early in their life.  Or who were autistic.  And to walk up to them and say – hey, I know just what you’re going through because being a teenager sucks and sometimes I feel so sad I can’t even cry – what a holy fucking mess.

Again, I’m angry at the readers – not the book, not Charlie, and not Stephen Chbosky.

My second and far more minor problem with Perks is the misleading title and idea of what being a ‘wallflower’ is.  Charlie is not a wallflower.  He approaches Sam and her brother to befriend them, he tells Sam he likes her, and he has a handful of friends he spends lots of time with.  How is this being a wallflower?  I don’t even consider myself a true wallflower and I didn’t have the nerve to tell my crush I liked him or randomly befriend strangers all of a sudden at football games.  And just because you aren’t the most popular kid at school or have the biggest social circle doesn’t make you a wallflower either.  I had a handful of awesome friends – we weren’t popular; we weren’t unpopular – and most of my high school experiences were great.

And then there’s Sam.  When Charlie admits to liking her, she explains that he must not feel that away about her and that she doesn’t return his feelings.  And God Bless the boy, he respects what she says and remains her friend – doing his best to support her and her boyfriend.  When said boyfriend is revealed to be a total cheating douche, Sam has the nerve to berate Charlie for not immediately rushing in and claiming Sam as his own.  God forbid he just give her some space.  I mean, she has already told him she doesn’t like him.  And then to say he lacks the ability to take action and that if he likes her he should just ignore what she said and take her as his own anyway.  EXCUSE ME?  What lesson does this teach teenage boys?  Girls are stupid, don’t know what they want, never mean what they say, don’t want to be respected – and this is the kicker – No. Means. Yes.  Chbosky, what were you thinking?  Maybe we’re just supposed to chalk it up to teenage stupidity and lack of life experiences.  Sam and Charlie obviously still have much to learn.  But for a book that seems to be so validating to its young audience, I just think this path might have frightening affects on a teenage psyche that hasn’t reached full maturity yet.

Has anyone else read this and think I’m way over-thinking things?  I absolutely could be.  Did I entirely miss the point?  Please let me know.  Perks was my bookclub’s April selection, but our discussion won’t take place until the end of May so I’d love your thoughts.  I firgured I’d cool down the longer I was separated from the novel, but that hasn’t happened.  I don’t know why, but this book has affected me more than any other this year.  And garnered the longest post known to man.  Kudos if you made it all the way through!

Book View: Austenland by Shannon Hale

Title: Austenland
Author: Shannon Hale
Pages: 208 (paperback edition)
Genre: Chick Lit/Austen spin-off
Original Publication Date:  May 29, 2007
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Source: Kindle

You might have noticed the slight change in post title – I’ve decided to rename my ‘reviews’ to ‘views’.  A sort of blogging nickname, if you will.  Why?  One of my main goals of 2012 is to stop taking things so seriously (including myself) and just try to have more fun.  So why not start here?  So long uptight Reviews and hello whimsical Views!  Feel free to mock me in the comments.  Basically, just hoping to keep things conversational in the 2012 because reading is meant to be fun – at least outside of school!

Ok…enough already and on with the view!  Austenland is one of those Pride and Prejudice spin-offs (or professional fanfiction) that I so dutifully avoid.  You see, I’m an Austen purist.  Elizabeth Bennet is so close to my idea of a perfect character that I cringe when anyone tries to rework her.  FOR SHAME!  Earlier this year I gave Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a little read (I mean, who doesn’t like zombies right?) and came away seething in anger.  So what convinced me to give Ms. Hale a shot?  Very simple:  Kindle Daily Deal for which I’m a complete sucker.  Also, I’ve dedicated December to reading whatever floats my boats since I’m way past my reading goals for the year.

Austenland follows Jane (shocker!), a thirty-something New Yorker, on a trip to England bequeathed to her by a dearly departed insanely rich Aunt.  She’s been booked as a guest at an English resort of sorts that caters to women obsessed with all things Austen – think of it as a huge role playing game for the Darcy obsessed upper class.  And for a woman who has sworn off men because no one could ever possibly live up to the incredibly sexy Fitzwilliam Darcy (as portrayed by Colin Firth in the 1993 BBC miniseries), Jane is the perfect nut…er…vacationer.

Essentially, Hale has written chick lit for Austen fans.  As with all chick lit, the entertainment lies in the journey, not the ending (since they all tend to end the same way).  And Austenland’s journey begins on rocky footing.  I had a hard time relating to Jane on any plane existent on planet Earth.  Who is ashamed to love Pride and Prejudice – so much so that they hide their dvds in a potted plant?  Also, who can’t have a normal relationship because of a fictional turn-of- the-19th-century man?  Crazy people who should be committed come to mind.  So Jane and I did not get off to a good start, but rather surprisingly, we finally hit it off once she reaches Pembroke Park and recognizes the cray-cray that lives inside, coming to her senses and learning to enjoy her life as it exists in actuality.

I do applaud Ms. Hale for remembering that fans of Austen are often intelligent women who can enjoy the entertainment value of good chick lit without wholly abandoning their literary tastes.  She writes a really brilliant moment in Austenland where Jane discovers her behaviors often mimic those of Darcy more than Elizabeth Bennet’s.  A great gender switch and blending of gender identity – highly ironic in a genre so tooled towards women.  If only there had been more of these brilliant little revelations.

All in all, there’s nothing award winning or knock your socks off about Austenland.  Jane suffers as a relatable protagonist and often comes off as a caricature of Austen fans. But if you love the BBC’s P&P, you’ll probably find something to enjoy here – if not, go ahead and skip it.  The story is filled with cliches down to the quintessential airport chase scene at the end.  You’d be much better off finding a few hours to settle down with the P&P dvds, as long as you promise not to hide them in any household greenery!

I would like to add that many people seem to enjoy Hale’s middle grade and young adult fiction.  So perhaps those of you interested in her writing should begin there!

Up next:  I’ve just begun Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell.  A huge chunkster novel that I have no hope of finishing before the new year.  However, I’ve also just begun my first audiobook from audible.com – Delirium by Lauren Oliver that I’m quite enjoying thus far.  For the January book club discussion, I finished reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern last night and can’t wait to discuss it with everyone (a little hint…I adored it!).

Happy Monday!