Sunday, February 26, 2012

Blogging, interrupted.....

This is just a quick post to apologize for not posting much lately ..... nothing awful going on, just extra-busy at work right now, and completely pooped by the time I get home.

However, I have been reading a lot, including re-reading all 3 of the Hunger Games books (because I just couldn't help myself after re-reading the first one).   And now, have 2 books I'm in the middle of, so I plan on posting very, very soon.   And I should have some new Wordless Wednesday posts starting in March, as well.

So, in the meantime, here is a very cute bunny photo (not my bunnies, but someone's very cute bunnies).  And stay tuned for a review post soon!! 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads): Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants portrayed in Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, Margaret Powell’s classic memoir of her time in service, Below Stairs, is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman who, though she served in the great houses of England, never stopped aiming high. Powell first arrived at the servants' entrance of one of those great houses in the 1920s.  As a kitchen maid – the lowest of the low – she entered an entirely new world; one of stoves to be blacked, vegetables to be scrubbed, mistresses to be appeased, and bootlaces to be ironed. Work started at 5.30am and went on until after dark. It was a far cry from her childhood on the beaches of Hove, where money and food were scarce, but warmth and laughter never were. Yet from the gentleman with a penchant for stroking the housemaids’ curlers, to raucous tea-dances with errand boys, to the heartbreaking story of Agnes the pregnant under-parlormaid, fired for being seduced by her mistress’s nephew, Margaret’s tales of her time in service are told with wit, warmth, and a sharp eye for the prejudices of her situation. Margaret Powell's true story of a life spent in service is a fascinating “downstairs” portrait of the glittering, long-gone worlds behind the closed doors of Downton Abbey and 165 Eaton Place.

And here's what I thought:  This book's full title is: Below Stairs: The classic kitchen maid's memoir that inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey.   I am going to admit right now: I have not watched Downton Abbey yet.  I didn't start at the beginning, and I know if I try to watch now, I'll be hopelessly confused ----- so I'm waiting for Season 1 to become available from my library (I'm about #15 on the holds list for it).  However, I did grow up watching episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs, so I'm quite familiar with that series.

Anyway ---- as you can tell from the summary, this is a memoir of a woman who worked in service, beginning as a kitchen maid and working her way up to the position of cook.  Reading this book is very much like listening to someone sit and tell you stories.  The author has a very straightforward style, where she is just telling you about her life.  It's very entertaining -- she has a good sense of humor about things, but at the same time, she doesn't soften things; it's clear that what she did was hard work, both as a kitchen maid, but also as a cook.

She came from a large family, and entered service at the age of 15, in the 1920s.  I found it fascinating to read about all of the duties she was expected to do, with little or no guidance (she explains, for example, how to blacklead the kitchen grate and how no one explained how to do this at first).  I will say, the one thing that I thought more than once while reading this book was that I will never, ever again complain about the housework I do.  In comparison to what Margaret did every day as part of her duties, the amount I do seems pretty paltry.  The sheer amount of work that she did was pretty astounding -- and it really makes me appreciate all that domestic servants did in their work.   It also made me appreciate things I take completely for granted, like my vacuum, my dishwasher, my dual-fuel range and oven, etc.

I think that's the one thing that I kept thinking about when I was reading this book, other than really enjoying the insights into life below stairs: that I really did appreciate all that the women and men who were in domestic service did.  I know a lot of what they did was taken for granted by their employers, but typically, these servants were the ones who really kept things running smoothly -- and I appreciate how much hard work that took.

I found this a completely engaging and fascinating read.  I'm planning on not only watching Downtown Abbey at some point, but I'm going to re-watch Manor House, a PBS program where women and men in 2002 went and lived as they would at a manor home in the 1900s in Britain.  One family was chosen to be the wealthy employers, and others signed up to be servants --  it's a really interesting view into what life was like, on both sides of the coin.

First lines:  I was born in 1907 in Hove, the second child of a family of seven.  My earliest recollection is that other children seemed to be better off than we were.  But our parents cared so much for us.

Thoughts on the cover:  I like it, although I wish it was a photo of the author, because I was curious about what she looked like.  However, I liked that it showed a woman in a uniform that looks like the one the author describes at one point.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pure by Julianna Baggott

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  We know you are here, our brothers and sisters . . .
Pressia barely remembers the Detonations or much about life during the Before. In her sleeping cabinet behind the rubble of an old barbershop where she lives with her grandfather, she thinks about what is lost-how the world went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and mothers . . . to ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies. And now, at an age when everyone is required to turn themselves over to the militia to either be trained as a soldier or, if they are too damaged and weak, to be used as live targets, Pressia can no longer pretend to be small. Pressia is on the run.
Burn a Pure and Breathe the Ash . . .
There are those who escaped the apocalypse unmarked. Pures. They are tucked safely inside the Dome that protects their healthy, superior bodies. Yet Partridge, whose father is one of the most influential men in the Dome, feels isolated and lonely. Different. He thinks about loss-maybe just because his family is broken; his father is emotionally distant; his brother killed himself; and his mother never made it inside their shelter. Or maybe it's his claustrophobia: his feeling that this Dome has become a swaddling of intensely rigid order. So when a slipped phrase suggests his mother might still be alive, Partridge risks his life to leave the Dome to find her.
When Pressia meets Partridge, their worlds shatter all over again.

And here's what I thought:  You know, I am pretty sure I will not be able to do justice to this book in this review.  That might sound like a strange thing to say, but I have come to realize, after reading a few reviews on other blogs, it's clear that I'm probably not going to be able to do as good of a job.   So, I'll keep this brief, and give you links to two of the reviews I saw recently that were really well written  (Lit Addicted Brit and The Book Smugglers)

I think this is a book that readers will either really love, or really dislike.  I really liked this book.  In fact, I liked it so much that I stayed up way to late to finish it (guaranteeing I'd be drinking an extra soda the next day at work to keep my eyes open), and when I got to the end and discovered it was "Book #1", felt like throwing it because I couldn't believe I was going to have to wait to find out what happened next.

As you can see from the above summary, this book takes place after a cataclysmic event, and where some people have been able to escape into a Dome, which protects them from the harmful effects.  Those effects on the rest of the population are pretty horrendous --- people are fused to different things, or each other, when the Detonations hit.   I think this is one of the things that set this book apart for me, from different post-apocalyptic books I've read: that the survivors and the environment have been completely changed in such a way that in some instances, they have been combined.  There is a horror element to this that really had me pausing at points just because I was trying to imagine what this would look like.   I liked that --- I like being completely horrified by something in a book because it's so fantastically awful and fascinating at the same time.   

The characters in this book really ranged from likeable to unlikeable for me --- I liked Pressia, but didn't always like Partridge .... but that was okay, because I found them interesting.  Perfect?  No.  But interesting?  Yes.   And there are some oddball characters thrown in there as well, where I wasn't sure why they were there or what they had to do with the story.   However, I don't always need there to be a reason for someone; sometimes, it's enough just to encounter someone and leave it at that (after all, everyone we meet in our daily life doesn't have a huge, lasting impact). 

I think what I probably liked the most about this book was the writing.  The author does a good job with describing the people, the setting, etc. in a way that I could imagine those things clearly.  I never felt like her writing was overwrought, or that the dialogue was weird (a pet peeve of mine is when people speak in such a way that it's completely unbelievable).   I felt like the author created this awful, fascinating world and I just couldn't help but turn the pages (even if I had to pause occasionally to just take it all in).  Some things were a little predictable, but then something else would be revealed and completely blow my mind -- and I liked being kept off balance like that.

So, I'm going to leave it at that.  For me, this book had the right combination of pacing (at times, a bit slow, but I was okay with that), interesting characters, a storyline that kept my attention, and an overall idea that I found interesting (the whole elite small group of survivors versus the large group of scarred survivors who are rebelling).   This won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I think it's a fine addition to the newest wave of dystopian books, and a story that I think would appeal to adults and older teens.   Personally, I really enjoyed this book and now can't wait for the next installment.

First lines:  There was a low droning overhead a week or so after the Detonations; time was hard to track.  The skies were buckling with dark banks of blackened cloud, the air thick with ash and dust.  If it was a plane or an airship of some sort, we never knew because the sky was so clotted.  But I might have seen a metal underbelly, some dull shine of a hull dipping down for a moment, then gone.  We couldn't yet see the Dome either.  Now bright on the hill, it was only a dusky glow in the distance.  It seems to hover over the earth, orb-like, a lit bobble, unattached.

Thoughts on the cover:  Perfect.  Eye-catching and completely relevant to the story, it's what I consider to be an excellent job of the cover art matching the book, and also selling the book (it draws the eye, making you pick it up .... and then the synopsis inside the cover does the rest).

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Truth About Us by Dalene Flannigan

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads) :  What happens when the past catches up to the present and the truth surfaces? Three women, roommates back in college, find their lives forever altered when one of them feels compelled to confess the secret sin of their past. 

And whose truth is it? 

'The Truth About Us' weaves the past and the present in a page-turner that explores the shifting quality of truth, and the cost of secrets. 

And here's what I thought:   I have to admit, I wound up liking this book a lot more than I thought I was going to.  Not that I didn't think I was going to like the book .... but I found that I was eagerly reading it, and whipping through parts of it because I couldn't stand to not know what was going to happen next.

As you can see from the summary, this is the story of 3 women, all very different from one another, but who share an awful secret.  The story is told from all three of their viewpoints (although not necessarily in first person), and alternates between them.  Grace, the first woman we meet in the story, was probably the one I liked best of the women, although I liked Erica, as well.   She has a straightforward way of thinking, and a wry sense of humor that I liked.   She is the one who tells the story in first person (which is a clue).

Erica is the next one we meet.  She's married, and has just discovered her husband has been unfaithful.  What I found interesting about Erica is that she's very private, but her inner thoughts are definitely revealing -- and intriguing.   I won't say that I liked her 100% of the time, but actually, when she's interacting with Jude, I did like her.   She has a way of using humor as a defense, deflecting some of what Jude is intent on pushing onto her.   

Jude, the third woman, is difficult to like.  At least, I found I didn't like her.  She is the roommate that was the big partier, the drinker, the one who slept around.  Now, she has found Jesus --- which is just fine, but now, she feels like she needs to confess this secret from their shared past .... and she's really, really pushy about it.   And self-righteous, which is probably the most annoying thing about her.   I understood that Jude had issues from her own past, and I had some sympathy for her ---- but her single-minded determination to do what she thinks is right, regardless of what really might be right, was kind of frustrating.

When Jude calls Erica to talk to her about their shared secret, it's clear this is something big.   "...that's when Erica felt it; the shift, the veer of deviating balance, the visceral recognition that nothing would ever be the same again.  If the day had not been ruptured enough, here was the big bang." (p 11)

And then, the story really picks up.   There is a bit of back-and-forth as we learn about what happened in the past, and then what is happening now --- and as we get closer to Jude revealing the secret, the tension really builds.

And I think I'll leave it at that.  This isn't a very long book -- it's 204 pages.   However, there's a lot in this story.   There's the relationship between the three women -- their past relationship as roommates, and their present lives that are now intersecting.  There's the issue of Erica and her husband and what's going to happen to their marriage.   It's about keeping secrets, and how that can change people.    There were parts that weren't easy to read ..... there are a few pretty ugly things in this book, but I felt they weren't blown out of proportion, or didn't make sense to be in the story.

I liked how the author wrote these three women, and the story.  These characters were so clear that I instantly felt like I knew them.   I liked the pace, and how I wasn't sure what was going to happen.  I also liked how I didn't like Jude -- but I couldn't not read about her (kind of like when your eye is drawn to something really ugly or awful).   I was glad that the author didn't make it so that Jude completely controlled everything.   In fact, at one point, when Erica stands up to her, I was cheering (inside, quietly).   

I don't know if this is a story all readers will like, so I'd encourage you to look at the other reviews on GoodReads.  I was reminded of what I liked in Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride, another book about 3 very different women who know each other in college, and whose lives intersect again.     

First sentences:  I used to feel embarrassed, no, unworthy of my name, Grace.  I'm tall, nearly five feet, ten inches and I have thick legs.  When I was eight years old, standing in the kitchen making two more rum and cokes -- three ice cubes, rum to this line, coke to here - I overheard my mother slur that I took after my father.

Thoughts on the cover:  Well suited to the story, with the three images, and the water.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Monday, February 6, 2012

Book Blogger Confessions ..... on deadlines

Now that it's Monday, it's time for another Book Blogger Confessions, a meme co-hosted by For What It's Worth, along with Tiger from All-Consuming Media on the 1st and 3rd Monday of every month, to discuss some of the challenges that are unique to book bloggers.

This Monday's question is: Deadlines for reviewing and blogging. Do you set them? How do you keep them? What do you do if you can't meet a deadline?

I will admit, shamefully, that I have sometimes blown past a promised deadline.  As hard as I try, it has happened, and I always feel awful about it.   

I don't really like deadlines the most of the time, and if I'm asked to give a review, I will give a general idea of when my review will appear.  Usually, I need about 2-3 weeks.  However, I so ask the author/publisher (whoever has requested the review) if they have a specific date, or date range in mind.  If they do, I mark it in my calendar and I try to make sure I have the book read and my review written before that date.

But does this always work?  Um.... no.   Like many bloggers, I have a full-time job.  And a husband.  And a life outside reading and blogging.   That means that sometimes, I don't get in as much reading time as I would like, or I don't get my review written on time.   But, I do my best.

For blogging, I try to keep on a somewhat regular schedule --- Monday memes like this one help keep me on track.  I try to post a book review 1-2 times per week, usually on Mondays or Fridays.  I do keep my Wednesdays open for Wordless Wednesdays, and my Sundays open for an occasional post, as well.   This works better with my work schedule, and I've found it's easier when I have a pattern to follow.

I'm looking forward to seeing what other bloggers have to say on this topic.   Have a great Monday (and week)!

Friday, February 3, 2012

TGIF and Book Appeal

We've reached end of another week (yay!!!) --- and that means, among other things, it's TGIF at GReads!
Today's question is:   Book Appeal:   When you're browsing GoodReads, the library, or another blogger's reviews, what grabs your attention to make you want to read it?

I get a lot of my books from my library, so when I'm browsing the new book section, unusual-sounding titles will catch my eye.   I also keep my eye out for books I've been meaning to read (and keep forgetting to grab), or a familiar author.   Cover art sometimes does make me pick up a book, but not always (mostly because there isn't enough room on our displays to put the books with their covers facing out -- so I'm looking mostly at the spines).    The one book that did catch my eye this week is Caitlin's Kiernan's newest (that book's catching everyone's eye right now -- see image below).

When I'm looking at books on GoodReads and blogs, an interesting-sounding summary and review will make me want to pick up the book.   I've seen reviews on blogs for books that I don't think I would have chosen, but the reviewer made it sound interesting --- and it's great to then discover a new book that I probably wouldn't have known about.

Have a great Friday, everyone!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  King Solomon's Mines (1885) is a popular novel by the Victorian adventure writer & fabulist, Sir Henry Rider Haggard. It tells of a search of an unexplored region of Africa by a group of adventurers led by Allan Quatermain for the missing brother of one of the party. It is the 1st English fictional adventure novel set in Africa, & is considered to be the genesis of the Lost World literary genre. 

And here's what I thought:   This is the first book in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Challenge hosted by Booking in Heels.  I had never read this book, although I was a bit familiar with what it was about --- and while it wasn't the kind of book I would normally pick up for a read, it was pretty interesting.

Written in 1885, this is an adventure novel that takes place in Africa, a country the author was quite familiar with.   Haggard's writing style is pretty descriptive, and it's clear that he had knowledge of Africa, and hunting, and African culture.    Quatermain's voice throughout the story is quite clear --- in fact, I could practically hear him narrating this book (and I think this could be an interesting audiobook, depending on who was reading it).    Haggard also has a bit of humor coming through in the story, especially when he's describing one of the other characters, Captain John Good, R.N.    Good is one of those men who seems to maintain his clean appearance and good manners, no matter what the situation.  He is described as such: "There he sat upon a leather bag, looking just as though he had come in from  a comfortable day's shooting in a civilized country, absolutely clean, tidy, and well-dressed.  He had on a shooting suit of brown tweed, with a hat to match, and neat gaiters.  He was, as usual, beautifully shaven, his eyeglasses and his false teeth appeared to be in perfect order. and altogether he was the neatest man I ever had to do with in the wilderness."  (p. 269 my edition).   Those false teeth make a significant appearance later in the story.

This book reminded me a bit of an Indiana Jones adventure (except with hunting), and to be sure, there is a lot of action going on here, and a bit of mystery, as well.  Hunting isn't really my thing, however, so I admit the parts where Quatermain is hunting elephants (and some other animals) were ones I skimmed a bit.  But, I enjoyed other parts quite a bit --- which I was surprised by.  I suppose I was thinking this would be a "men, men, men" book, and it was --- but the Indiana Jones-esque feel and pace made it an enjoyable read.  I don't know if this is a book I'll re-read again, but I appreciate it for what it was when it was written, and feel it's a classic for good reason.

For more about the author, Wikipedia has a goodarticle.
First sentences: It is a curious thing that at my age - fifty-five last birthday - I should find myself taking up a pen to try and write a history.  I wonder what sort of a history it will be when I have done it, if I ever come to the end of the trip!  I have done a good many things in my life, which seems a long one to me, owing to my having begun so young, perhaps.  At an age when other boys are at school I was earning my living as a trader in the old Colony.  I have been trading, hunting, fighting, or mining ever since.
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