Thursday, January 29, 2015

My last week without the library...

I've been without library books for almost a month now and it's been a surprisingly freeing experience. I tackled some of the books on my TBR shelf that I've been putting off for years, and I spent another enjoyable week rereading some of my favorite books. They weren't the ones I originally intended to reread, but because they are all books I own and don't have to return to the library, I could change my mind without feeling guilty. It's nice reading in the moment and according to your mood. Not that I want to be without library books forever. There are too many books I want to read that I don't own (way too many for me to buy). In fact, I've already put four books on hold at the library; they should be in next week.  But I've liked putting the library on hold and reading from my own shelves for a month. I just wish I could have gotten through a few more books from my TBR shelf. But there's always next year. I'm definitely going library-free again next January. Reading from your own shelves is a great way to start off the new year.

Happy Reading!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Istanbul Intrigues

During World War II, Turkey 'teemed with spies
defectors, diplomats, assassins, journalists,
and a future pope.'
Here are a few snippets from this very interesting non-fiction read by Barry Rubin (that I bought at least ten years ago but never read until now):

  • Istanbul was Germany's backdoor to the Middle East and the Allies' secret passageway into occupied Europe. It became a center of espionage and intrigue for both sides.
  • No less than seventeen foreign intelligence services operated in Turkey during the war. The stakes were high, and the measures taken were desperate.
  • Istanbul was no place for the innocent or unwary. Over 200 people made a living by wholesaling information to both sides and retailing it to journalists.
  • Diplomats of opposing sides who had been poker-playing friends until war broke out now looked through each other without a flicker of recognition.
  • Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli, a poor Italian priest who would later become Pope John XXIII, was assigned as the Vatican's legate and apostolic vicar to Istanbul's few Catholics during this time period.
  • The only way the Allies could profit from Turkey's neutrality was to use the country as a secret base for gathering intelligence and supporting European resistance movements. These missions had to be accomplished in a way that would avoid any provocation which might make the Germans attack or the Turks expel the Allies
  • "Few people realize how very difficult Turkey's position is and how dangerous a game she has been playing. ... Turkey has rendered her greatest service to the Allied cause by retaining her precious neutrality."
Happy Reading!

Friday, January 23, 2015

10 (Fun) Un-bookish Facts About Me...

  1. I live near the mountains but dream of living by the ocean.
  2. Ziplining is my new favorite "sport".
  3. One of my hobbies is creating mixed-media collage and postcard art.
  4. I've been summoned for jury duty six times in the last 15 years (which is so not random or fair!)
  5. Summer is my favorite time of year.
  6. I pretend I like my job, but if I won the lottery I'd quit tomorrow. (Not that I ever play the lottery.)
  7. While I love the idea of camping, I don't love the actuality of bugs, dirt or sleeping on the ground.
  8. Every year I watch the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the amazing kids who compete, but mostly for the even more amazing words they spell.
  9. Pancakes are my favorite breakfast food (they're not bad for dinner either), especially cream cheese or applesauce cinnamon pancakes. 
  10. Someday I'd love to travel around the world so I can finally join the Circumnavigator's Club.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Week of Rereading...

I like revisiting a book I've already read for some of the same reasons I like returning to the same beach house again and again; it's familiar. I know what to expect and I know all the best spots, so I can just relax and enjoy the experience. And with no library books currently hanging over my head, I decided to take a break from my TBR shelf and spend a few days rereading some old favorites.

I bought Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field by Melissa Nathan over a decade ago when I was going through my British chic lit phase, and I wanted to see if it was as funny as I remembered (and if I still want to keep it). Jasmin Field is a journalist who has been cast as Lizzie Bennet in a stage version of Pride and Prejudice being produced for a charity event; the director of the play is Oscar-winning actor Harry Noble, whom Jasmine finds as arrogant as he is handsome. Life imitates art when Harry finds himself unexpectedly attracted to her. (You can see where this is going, can't you?) Despite being completely predictable, this bit of romantic fluff is still fun. (But I might be ready to let it go.)

Then, being in the mood for a little more romance, I binge read three of my favorite Rosamunde Pilcher books--those deceptively simple yet beautifully written novels about two people falling in love, where the spaces between the lines and what isn't said is almost more important than what is. (As a bookish bonus, they're also all set in amazingly irresistable places like Scotland, Cornwall, and Mallorca.) My chosen threesome? Snow in April, The Day of the Storm, and Sleeping Tiger. It was like being on summer vacation...and just what I needed this week.

Happy Rereading!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bookish Art for January

Harry Brooker - The Treasure Volume

Look well to this day,
For it is life.
In its brief course lies all the realities of existence.
For yesterday is but a memory
and tomorrow only a vision.
--Sanskrit Poem

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Stoker's Manuscript

"So you wish to enter the world of the undead ... To immerse in this is to invite the undead into your life."  Mara lifted an eyebrow over her glasses in that way the fortune teller asks if you really wish to know of your days ahead.  "By the time you understand my warning," she said, "it will be too late, and they will be in your life."

I love Bram Stoker's Dracula; it's one of my favorite classics. So, when I saw the title of Royce Prouty's novel and read it's premise, I had to buy it. His main character, Joseph Barkeley, is a rare book dealer who has been hired to authenticate an original draft of Stoker's Dracula for a mysterious buyer. As part of his job, Joseph must also transport the manuscript to Castel Bran in the heart of Romania: Dracula's Castle. There, Joseph becomes tangled up in the dark secrets of his undead employer, the secrets hidden in Bram Stoker's original manuscript, and the secrets of his own past.

I think what I liked best about this novel was Joseph's own history as a Romanian orphan and his return to the country of his birth. Prouty transports you to Romania and really gives you a tour of that country and it's people -- it's bookish travel at its very best! I also liked that his vampires are in the same vein as Bram Stoker's, with a few added twists. His story is good--interesting and very readable--and his suspenseful ending would make Stoker proud.

I wish he'd included a bibliography at the end of his novel so I knew what books he read to research Bram Stoker's life. (I'm in the mood for a good biography.) Beyond that, I'm happy to have checked another book off my TBR stack.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Reading Bingo!

Check it out! It's a new bookish Bingo card from Unruly Reader. You can pick one row of squares and read for bingo, or fill all 25 squares and go for blackout. It's a fun and different way to track what you read, and it just might expand your reading horizons, too. The Unruly Reader gives explanations and suggestions for each category on her blog, as well as a printable version of the card. I love reading bingo. It's one of my favorite bookish things. And I'm excited about most of the categories on this Bingo card, although a few of them worry me a little. Like the Book of Essays and a Cult Classic. Those will be a challenge for me, but I'm still going for blackout.

So, print out a Bingo card and play along.
Happy Reading!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Tackling My First TBR:

I loved Lady Audley's Secret, Mary Elizabeth Braddon's first 'sensation' novel; it's what prompted me to buy Aurora Floyd in the first place. And that book has been languishing on my shelf ever since. I'm not sure why I've put off reading it for so long, but I thought I'd better tackle it first this year before I put it off again. (As a bookish bonus, it also fills the 'Classic with a Person's Name in the Title' category in this year's Back to the Classics Challenge.)

About the book:
Aurora Floyd is an impetuous dark-eyed beauty "who lives quickly". She's passionate and thoughtless, but not cruel or unkind; she's petted and spoiled, but she also has a generous and warm-hearted side. Everyone seems to love her even though she's not as concerned with society's conventions as she should be. "But then, if she had been faultless, she could not have been the heroine of this story." What's her greatest fault of all? Aurora Floyd has a secret: a youthful indiscretion that overshadows her relationship with her devoted father as well as with the two men who desire to marry her.
"But why did you run away from the Rue St Dominique? And where were you between the month of June in the year fifty-six and last September?"
"I cannot tell you, Talbot Bulstrode. This is my secret, which I cannot tell you."
"You cannot tell me! There is upwards of a year missing from your life; and you cannot tell me, your betrothed husband, what you did with that year?"
"I cannot."
"Then, Aurora Floyd, you can never be my wife."
She loses the first man who loves her; marries the second who adores her. And still her terrible secret darkens her otherwise happy life. Like a gathering storm, trouble comes in the form of blackmail, two new enemies, and the inopportune arrival of James Conyers, a very unwelcome old acquaintance. There's even a murder. What's a girl like Aurora to do?

I liked this novel, although through the first half of it I felt that I was always seeing Aurora through the subjective gaze of other characters, never through her own, which made it a little hard to like or dislike her, or even feel sorry for her. I liked her much better by the end. She's a pretty gutsy character, especially for the time period. (Aurora Floyd was published in 1863.) Braddon's writing is quite readable, but I found the pacing a bit uneven. At times this 459 page novel really drags (especially in the first 100 pages), but then you turn the page and suddenly find yourself speeding along. While I do think that Lady Audley's Secret is the better novel, I really enjoyed reading this one. Aurora is a one-of-a-kind character who somehow manages to obtain a happy ending to her story. I'm glad to have met her. Sometimes complicated characters are the best kind.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Back to the Classics Challenge

When I saw the categories that Karen at Books and Chocolate chose for this year's Back to the Classics Challenge I knew I had to sign up.  There are 12 different categories to choose from, but the challenge is flexible; you can read books in just six categories, or nine, or all twelve. The whole point is just to read more classics. And what could be better than that?

Here are the six categories (and the books) I'll for sure be reading this year:
A 19th Century Classic: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
A Classic by a Woman Author: The Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons
A Very Long Classic Novel: Armadale by Wilkie Collins (which is 661 pages of very small, very dense type. Gulp!)
A Classic Novella: Either The Bunner Sisters or Madame de Treymes by Edith Wharton
A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title: Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
A Classic Children's Book: The Independence of Nan by Nina Rhoades

Here are the three categories that I might read this year:
A Forgotten Classic: A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott
A Classic in Translation: Embers by Sandor Marai
A Classic Play: Henry V by Wm. Shakespeare (or maybe The Merry Wives of Windsor)

And finally, the last three categories that I probably won't get around to reading this year 
(but you never know):
A 20th Century Classic
A Humorous or Satirical Classic
A Non-fiction Classic

Aren't they great categories? Now you see why I couldn't resist signing up for this challenge.  Best of all? I actually own all the books that I've chosen...they're sitting in my TBR pile waiting for me to read them. Looks like this could finally be the year. Are you planning on reading any classics this year? If so, which ones?

Happy Reading!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

From the Y Shelf...

Author: Young, Sara
Title: My Enemy's Cradle

I knew about the Lebensborn and the Nazis' plan to create a 'Master Race' before I read this book, but I didn't know that actual Lebensborn maternity homes were set up throughout Germany. Apparently hundreds of young women came to these homes to live and give birth to their perfect babies during the war. And not just German girls. Girls from almost every western European country participated in this Lebensborn program.

Cyrla is one of those girls, but she has a secret; she's half-Jewish. In My Enemy's Cradle, Cyrla uses her Dutch cousin's, Anneke's, papers to hide in one of these Lebensborn maternity homes in order to protect herself and her unborn child from the Germans. She plans to leave the home before it's time to give birth, but during war time things rarely go as planned.

I liked Cyrla, but found her stubborn refusal to acknowledge the ugly truths of the war a bit frustrating. She continually refuses to admit the precariousness of her own situation just as she refuses to accept the probable fate of her family back in Poland. It takes her quite awhile to grow up. But overall, I found the story of the Lebensborn fascinating, and I also enjoyed the way Young writes. If you like books set during World War II, this is a good one. And another serendipitous find from the Y shelf.

Happy Reading!

P.S. While I did borrow this book from the library, I finished reading it the last week of December, so it's not cheating. The rest of my January posts will all be about books from my own shelves.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My bookish resolutions for 2015...

It's the first day of a new year ... a year that feels full of possibilities. What am I hoping for? Mostly little things. Like increasing my bird list to 150 species of birds (it currently stands at 139), and hopefully spotting my very first owl. I'd love another stamp in my passport (or maybe just a week spent at a beach instead). My friend is talking about starting a book club, which could be fun. I'm definitely planning on doing some more hiking this summer, and I'm determined to try something new (and hopefully fun) each and every month. I have a few bookish goals, too:

Read wide.
Read new.
Complete a reading challenge, or two.
Get my TBR pile below 20.
And, most importantly, Have Fun!

What are your bookish goals for 2015?
Good luck with ALL your endeavors, 
and have a Happy New Year!

P.S. I turned in my last three library books yesterday...I've officially put the library on hold and plan to read from my own bookshelves the entire month of January.

Happy Reading!