September 27, 2011

Sherlock Holmes at His Finest

The Hound of the Baskervilles
Arthur Conan Doyle

I read a book once, called The Thirteenth Tale - I didn't like the book much, as far as that goes, but there was an interesting concept in one passage. The bookish young woman struggles with the tale the old woman is telling her, and she comes down with a sickness. The butler diagnoses that she has read Jane Eyre too many times and too much Jane Austen - and the traits attributed to all female characters of those stories had become increasingly prominent in her (I haven't read much of that genre, which I plan to remedy soon enough) - and he promptly prescribes lots and lots of Sherlock Holmes, to counter-balance the ideas running through her mind. 

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I bought this copy of The Hound of Baskervilles because I really like these magnificent cloth bound Penguin Classics edition series of books. I have a few of them now: Tales from 1,001 Nights, Oliver Twist, Treasure Island, Middlemarch, and the one pictured above, which I just finished reading last night, sprawled out on the carpet at the foot of my bed. 

I have read a few very short Sherlock Holmes stories (on my nook), and of course, was vaguely aware of the cultural ambiance that is Sherlock Holmes, as we all are. The writing is very straight forward. The tale is told by Watson, Holmes' famous sidekick, as a record of exactly the events that transpired. In this particular case, Watson played a big part by living with the person the case revolved around. This enabled for a bit of muti-media in the story; one chapter was a series of letters Watson had written to Holmes, describing what he notices, and another chapter is comprised of several entries from Watson's diary, though they also, don't reveal much more than exactly what happened. Of course, every loose end you could possibly think of is resolved through the adventure, and if it isn't, is in Holmes' soliloquy at the end, describing, in detail, how the events came to be in the first place, and any other particulars that otherwise didn't come out within the story. There are not many emotions simply expressed - only observed, which can make the reading a bit dry for some readers, but Sherlock Holmes, is Sherlock Holmes - so brilliant his faults must be overlooked. 

I highly recommend that everyone read some good 'ol Sherlock Holmes (doesn't have to be this book in particular). This kind of reading is always good when, like in The Thirteenth Tale, the drama in your real life is at an all time high, and you just need something to make complete unquestionable sense. 

This book also fits very neatly into the R.I.P. Reading Challenge, as a classic mystery tale. Didn't bring out the 'October' smell, and longing thoughts of snow, frost, and pumpkins, but I am glad I read it. 

September 25, 2011

Looking Back: Hemingway of the Sea

The Old Man and The Sea
Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea is a short, but beautiful and meaningful story that is told in simple, non-cluttered sentences. The story follows an elderly fisherman living in extreme poverty in Cuba. He begins by introducing a boy who used to come and fish with the old man, and still cares greatly for him. The old man taught him everything he knows. The boy’s parents made the boy stop fishing with the old man, because he was not very successful fishing on his small boat, they wanted him to fish with the fisherman with better boats and equipment. The old man hadn't been catching anything for several long days before the story begins, but he never gave up.

The story is about the day the old man goes to sea, and meets his match in a fish with a spirit and fight just like the man himself. If you are interested in picking stories apart for their literary devices (as I've been known to do every once in awhile), this one would be great a great example to start with. I'm not saying it is formulaic or predictable, but when you start looking closer at the details you can see some classic examples hidden beneath the surface. I really enjoyed this book, but then again, I pretty much love everything I've read of Hemingway's. This is a short read though, and I think everyone could find the time to slip it into their to-read lists. Like all classics though, take time to process and evaluate the material, and don't begin with judgments or ideas about the book beforehand.

If you've read it, let me know what you think in the comments!

Won my first Giveaway!

I want to thank Kate Weber from Simply Kate for hosting the Digital Scrapbooking My Memories Suite 2 Giveaway. I am super excited to get started creating some great memories in a digital format. I just recently started playing around with and editing photos and creating collages, so this is a great next step for me. It is super easy to browse, buy, and download new material, and the price is right for new sets (not to mention the amount of material to select from!). I will probably play around a bit with the software, and revamp my blog page with some images from there, so look for that in the next few weeks!

Thanks again, Kate! You can find her blog page here.

September 23, 2011

Book Club Book: A Novel of Temptation

The Devil and Miss Prym
Paulo Coelho
Narrated By: Linda Emond
Fable (Allegory)/Fiction
To Buy (Paperback): AmazonBarnes & Noble

     If you are not familiar with Paulo Coelho's novels, he writes allegorically. He paints you a picture of a story, but behind the story, there is so much MORE. The Devil and Miss Prym is a song. At first, perhaps you are taken with the melody of the chorus, then you begin to understand the lyrics, and apply the feeling to your own life, before long, the tiny nuances of the arrangement of the instrumental moves you. That's my brilliant metaphor for the experience that is this book.

Paulo Coelho (Pronounced in my audio book as co-el-ee-oh) is Brazilian. He is one of the most successful authors in the world, publishing books in over 70 languages, and selling over 100 million copies. I've read two of his books and started a third: The Alchemist, the novel of wisdom; The Devil and Miss Prym, the novel of temptation; The Zahir, the novel of obsession. The first two I adored, the last, I could not even finish (couldn't get engaged in the story, I will try to read it again in the future).

Coelho is driven by plot rather than characterization, similar to Stephen King. In The Devil and Miss Prym, a stranger visits a remote village with several bars of gold, which he shows to a local village girl. The thing is, he's lost his faith in human-kind, and is trying to prove to himself something about the nature of humanity. He tells the girl to tell the villagers that if they break one of the ten commandments - thou shall not kill - he will give them the gold, which they need to bring their small village back to life. He would then conclude that all people have an evil nature. Seeing another possibility, he the girl that if she decided to steal the gold, also breaking one of the commandments, he would conclude that only some people have an evil nature. He was convinced that only one of those two scenarios could possibly happen, and declared he would lose faith in life if the village folk stayed virtuous and resisted the temptation.

I have never read a book more perfect for in-depth-book-club-discussion than this one. The story is packed with philosophy and moral and even religious dilemmas. It has a nice aire of symmetry, and you won't believe what happens in the small community. I highly recommend this book to anyone. Dig for the bigger picture philosophical and psychological meanings behind some of the characters and reactions. This is a book about the raw human nature we all have buried at various depths within us. 

September 19, 2011

The Saga Continues....

The Drawing of the Three
Stephen King

All right Guys and Dolls, I just finished the second installment of The Dark Tower Series, The Drawing of the Three. Since my last review followed this same series, and I let my Stephen King power crush shine a little too brightly before, I'll just highlight the differences here. 

This is a better book than The Gunslinger, but it would not have been half as good without the foundation of the first novel. This book is probably twice as long, and has three or four times as much action (and characters for that matter). Instead of only hints of other worlds, we get to visit them in this book, look around, and get into trouble (of course!), before having to make a hasty escape. There are still a great many loose ends to tie up, but now the tribulation (team of three...that's what it means, right?)  has been formed, and they are ready to embark on the next leg of the journey. A young man, Eddie, who has broken his various dependencies and has joined The Gunslinger as a quasi-brother-in-arms; a young black woman, Odetta - 'Detta, who has struggled with serious self-identity issues and finally comes into her own. And Roland - The original Gunslinger, disciplined, focused, and totally bad-ass.

I can see the strategic placement of these first two books when I take a wide view the series told in a dozen volumes. The first, the leader, the foundation, the spark of interest. The second, the gathering of a team, growing familiarity with characters, budding-taste-of-action, and reiteration of the true goal, not just survival, but The Tower.

After reading the first two books of this series, basically in a row, I've decided to take a break from it. It will probably be a few months before I read the next Dark Tower book, but I do plan on reading the entire series...before I die (morbid?). 

This book is going to count towards my R.I.P. Challenge, even though I was technically already reading it when I signed up for the challenge. I think it ties in nicely with a thriller/dark/chilling mood (probably should have read it closer to Halloween), and it was written by the Horror king himself. 

I haven't quite decided what my next book will be for this challenge, but you'll see the review soon enough!

September 18, 2011

The Last Fantasy Cowboy...

The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I
Stephen King

I love Stephen King. He has written so many books, and though I’ve read only five of them, I haven’t even made a dent in his life’s work. His writing is honest, and realistic, but what I love most about him, is how many people can say this: “I’m not a reader, but I read [The Green Mile, The Stand, The Shawshank Redemption, etc.], and I think I might go pick up another book, cause that wasn’t too bad, you know.” This is also why I love J. K. Rowling (the Harry Potter series inspired millions of kids to read, a love that has stuck in some, but that all will undoubtedly remember, besides that I love Harry Potter regardless of that).

Also, On Writing- ‘nuff said (if you love to write, like meee).

The Gunslinger is the first installment of a series called The Dark Tower. This series, initially inspired by The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, was to be King’s epic fantasy/western/adventure tale and one of the longest fiction works of its kind….ever; according to what he tells us in his intro, which was written for a re-released version of the Gunslinger, slightly revised to fit the later installments of the series more neatly.

The story is told in third person, though we follow one man, and are able to delve into his memories. This man is the last gunslinger, a highly revered position that is inherited as well as earned (if they cannot beat their teacher in a fight, and there is only one chance, they are exiled for life). As in many of King’s stories, it feels like you are looking at a world bigger than the one you are actually reading about…and I’m not sure how to capture that feeling in words. It’s skillful writing, to put it most simply.
The Gunslinger is in the middle of the pursuit of a man in black, who is a known sorcerer, and sworn enemy of the pursuer. The Gunslinger remembers a town he recently passed through as he travels a wasteland of a desert. He comes across a boy, who travels with him, and eventually, through trials of character, they meet the man in black. The story ends in a conversation about the perspective and scope of time and space, which is incredibly humbling and great to read. It leaves you on the cusp of the grand adventure, that may or may not actually begin in the next installment, but that won’t keep me from reading it. It is apparent that Stephen knew he was creating a long series of books from the very beginning. The Gunslinger doesn’t cover much ground by itself, in terms of the story. 

Because of these reasons, this book alone is not a masterpiece. Perhaps the progression of the epic will turn it into a stunning success, and this novel surely sets the foundation for something great. If you are in it for the long haul, certainly pick this one up, I have a feeling it will be rewarding in the end.

Have any of you read the entire Dark Tower series? What did you think? How about the King of Horror in general?

September 17, 2011

Paper Pushin, or E-Readin'?

E-Readers: Do you, or don't you?

A lot of readers I know insist they would hate reading electronically. Their argument is usually the same: I would miss the feel of a book in my hands. How can you justify turning a page with the touch of a button?

I can relate.

Books are my passion. Not just reading them, not completely. I love holding books. I love turning the pages. I love the smell of brand new books, and really old books. I love the different styles of publication. I love paperbacks with dust jacket flaps. I love a book you can hold by the spine and the pages flop back-and-forth. I love smooth pages, thick pages, and 'hand-ripped' pages, wafer-thin pages, and even the 'standard' publication pages that you find in mass market paperbacks. I love buying books. I love having books. I love looking at my books on my shelves. I love sleeping with a book (or several) on my nightstand. I love carrying a book in my purse, everywhere I go. I love books any way I can get them. I think you get the picture.

This did not stop me from buying my first e-reader last July (2010). After doing a little bit of research, I settled on the Nook. Most of these reasons are impertinent now, since there are so many styles to choose from, and the two leading companies (Amazon Kindle, and B&N Nook) have adapted each others features to grab the others clientele.

I read seven books the first week. I devoured everything I could get my (virtual) hands on. This got expensive pretty fast. One thing I've noticed since purchasing the Nook, the free book selection isn't great (unless you enjoy serial romance series, and pretty much nothing else). Also, the Nook store is comparatively more expensive than the Kindle store. Both things to keep in mind, if you are trying to decide which to go for.

Feeling a page in your hand versus turning pages with a touch of a finger does not keep a funny book from being funny or a serious book from being serious. A story is still a story -the magic of reading is drawing you OUT of your surroundings and INTO the setting the author assigns you. While you may feel better carrying a paperback with a cute cover with you to class/work/a coffee shop, the story remains the same. Sure, the atmosphere in which you read can determine, in a small way, what you bring from it, but only in mood, in emphasizing the similarity between your situation and the situation of what you are reading. It's like reading a book like Out Stealing Horses while there is a foot of fresh snow outside, and and a backdrop of forest trees. Like reading Marley & Me with your own dog sprawled out next to you, or begging you to play. Don't you know what I mean? This feeling doesn't change because of what you are holding in your hand.

I've read many books on my Nook that I've loved enough to purchase a paperback copy to add to my shelves. What I love about having my Nook, is the portability. I always have a book in my purse. Sometimes I have several books in my purse. For instance, right now: a small collection of poetry, a Stephen King novel I've almost finished, AND my Nook (with an unlimited amount of books on it). The only reason I have that Stephen King book as a physical book is because I found it at a thrift store for two dollars (and it's old and has color pictures and I love it!), otherwise I would have it on my Nook. The convenience of buying books from your home and immediately being able to read them is so awesome...sometimes I go a little overboard and buy more than I can read, but that is true of my physical books also, so...I guess it's just a trait of mine :-) Also, having a Nook, or any e-reader, does not prevent you from buying physical books. You can still go to the thrift shop and find untold treasures on the shelves. You can still go to a local bookstore and peruse the shelves and sit and read and drink coffee and lose yourself in the books there. You can still go to the library (usually you can even check out virtual books on your e-reader to read, though I haven't figured out how to on mine yet). You can still do everything you do now with books, having an e-reader is just like having a bonus book. A book with blank pages, that fill themselves in with the story of your choosing. I love mine.

Other cool features:
-Like any electronic gadget now-a-days, you are able to customize, make it your own. You can choose font type, size, and screen savers. You can download music to it, to play as you read, or without reading. You can buy any number of cases to keep it damage free, and stylish. I even made a beaded 'bookmark' that wraps around my case and rests on the 'spine'. Very fun.
-Organize your books into shelves. Keep all your classics in the same place. Have a lot of books from one author that keep clogging up your library? Shelve them together to keep them organized.
-Share books with your friends! If you have friends with a Nook (I think the Kindle now has the share feature as well, but they didn't used to), you are able to share books with them. This is only possible on 'lendme' books, which I think have to do with the publishing rights, but there are quite a few of them that are compatible (probably close to half of the books I have are lendme's). You can only lend/receive one book at a time, and you can keep it for two weeks. If you lent a book, you are not able to read it at the same time, just like if you had really lent a book to a friend.

I've had the first generation Nook for a year and a half, and just decided it was time to upgrade to the new Nook. I didn't know that much about it at first, and sort of wrote-off getting a new e-reader since everyone was all coming out with 'tablets', which are back lighted, completely defeating the purpose of having a designated electronic book, whose major selling point is a non-eye-straining screen. Then, I saw the new design - a new e-ink Nook - New and Improved (and square and cute). This time, there is no bothering with a reading screen and separate navigating screen. The e-ink screen IS the touchscreen, and a promise of no 'flashing' page turns (which you get used to, but sounds like a great improvement). I can't wait to receive my new Nook, and keep all of my beloved stories in my purse to take with me everywhere :-)

Do any of you have a Nook?
We can be Nookies :-)  - (Nook Buddies, sharing books and whatnot)

Note: I am not being compensated by any company. This is my genuine opinion of e-readers and the Nook.

September 16, 2011

All of Science, one little-bitty Table

The Disappearing Spoon
Sam Kean
Non-Fiction-History of the Periodic Table

Let me start off with a disclaimer: I do not often read non-fiction. I'm a story loving kind of girl, I like beginnings, conflicts, revelations, and resolutions. Non-fiction isn't really like that. The author can have a great sense of humor and be extremely knowledgeable about the material (and this one is), but by about three quarters the way in, man, it starts dragging. This is a personal taste, and it is true of every non-fiction book I've ever read, just sayin'.

The periodic table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it's also a treasure trove of passion, adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating tales follow all the elements on the table as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, conflict, the arts, medicine, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them. The Disappearing Spoon masterfully fuses science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, discovery, and alchemy, from the big bang though the end of time.

I was intrigued by the concept of this book since it's hardcover release in 2010, but I wasn't willing to dish out the $25 bucks to get it, so I held out for paperback. From the description on the back (above) I almost expected a series of separate short stories documenting anecdotes of each element that would intrigue a reader and hold literary merit, but it's just a typical novel-esque non-fiction book. It is told in a series of chapters, each dealing with several elements and usually a shared subject matter.

If you are interested in reading this book, but don't have much of a science background (as I, myself, do not), don't worry. Kean explains everything. If you pick up on things quickly, you will understand everything that happens in this book. Myself, I got a little iffy around the 'going nuclear' portion of chemistry...the radiation and nuclear reactions. That's not to say Kean didn't explain it, my brain just wasn't completely invested as I read over those sections. But unless you took lots of chemistry or physics (even biology or astronomy) classes, prepare to learn something when you pick this one up.

I really enjoyed this book. Probably what interested me the most was the chapter on the universe, the disbursement of elements in the world, and the scientific processes of finding out things you'd think are absolutely impossible. I loved how in depth Kean got into everything. For example, he not only figured out the longest word ever printed, he also found the theoretically longest word ever, and counted the letters and pairs of letters to note their occurrences. This guy did some serious research. In every chapter there is at least five other books referenced in the back of the book, in case you're looking for more information about a particular subject, just to read for fun. 

One thing I thought was interesting about this book: it's about the history of the periodic table, the author even describes his annoyance that science textbooks everywhere have all clung to one version (shape) of the table, and yet in this book, the ONLY periodic table published anywhere in it, is a very simple version of the traditional 'castle' table, and it is in the very back of the book after even the index.

I mentioned before getting bored in the second half of this book. This isn't because The Disappearing Spoon wasn't just as interesting and informational as the first half, but because of my conditioning as a fiction junkie, I kept expecting some sort of a climax or even just a bit of a falling off of information, but the truth is, history isn't like that; it's always happening, we are always creating it, and always analyzing it and learning from it.

This book is an excellent addition to every library, if only because what it says is the truth. Any time in your life you can pick up this book, look for a certain element you are interested in, and learn many of it's properties in an interesting way. This book fueled a conversation with my boyfriend that lasted the entire trip to Denver (an hour and a half), one of those I'll-be-thinking-about-this-for-days-trying-to-solve-the-mystery-of-the-universe conversations that make life so sweet. This book would also make a great gift. Perhaps not everyone is all that interested in science, but I think there are great benefits in learning about how the world around you works, how WE work, for that matter. If you've never read a non-fiction book, this wouldn't be a bad one to start on, if you hold some interest in the subject. That is the thing about non-fiction though, if you don't care about what you're reading about, you might as well stop, because it's just going to be more of the same...the whole time, until it's all told. I have three other non-fiction books on my shelves waiting to be read, but I may wait awhile before pulling them down.

September 14, 2011

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril

Challenge Time!!

I stumbled across a magnificent challenge today browsing blogs, which I intend to embrace. It is an autumn challenge encouraging people to read Gothic, mystery, suspense, thriller, horror, or supernatural books of any kind or length, to fully indulge our inner all hallows eve spirit as the temperatures cool and the leaves begin to fall and eventually crumble. I'm looking forward to autumn this year more than years previous for some reason, and I am already reading The Drawing of the Three by horror/suspense/supernatural nobility Stephen King. (You can even read with a group, or watch a scary movie!)

Oh, and also, the image to promote the challenge is totally wicked:

You can find information on the challenge here.

So, you will see my  name listed among those participating, and the reviews you will find here will correspond with the genres promoted in the challenge. I encourage all of you to get active and embrace the spirit of the coming season.

September 13, 2011

A Real American Classic

I have been putting this review off, because I'm not sure I can do the book justice. Nothing will compare to reading it and discovering the magic of it yourself. I'll try anyway...

To Kill A Mockingbird
Harper Lee
Literary Fiction/American Classic
To Order: Amazon - Barnes & Noble

As Americans, lessons of Slavery, Segregation, the Great Depression, and the Justice System have been in the curriculum every year (in some form or another) of our education. We learned about slave ships, separate white & black drinking fountains, and Rosa Parks, soup kitchens, southern cotton pickin’, and the civil war; but after all, they were only school lessons. We had drooping eyelids, cramps, and boy problems, we were passing notes, doodling, and making jokes. We knew it had happened, but the people, they weren’t real to us, the places far away (in time and geographically). This is one of the reasons I love literature; it can transport us to other times, into lives and civilities of the past. To Kill A Mockingbird is a great example of this credo.

To Kill A Mockingbird is told through the eyes of a child, Scout Finch. She looks up to her brother, Jem, more than anyone in the world, while her father the lawyer, Atticus Finch, comes in a close second. They live in a close-knit southern community where everyone knows everyone's business. It is a slow, rather passionate time. The novel is a memory of Scout's, revealed to us through a series of summers, until finally wrapping up in a most unexpected way.

Harper Lee created a beautifully layered book. On the one hand, it is a story of the innocence and whimsey of being a child in the summertime: spending every day with the same few pals, believing legends and expanding them into your own run-wild imaginations, ice cold lemonade, and books of adventure. This aspect of the story reminds me so much of my own childhood, growing up with two brothers and a neigborhood full of children our age; very much like Lord of the Flies, we create a mini-society on our own. Nothing can compare to those experiences anywhere for rest of your life, but reading this book awakens those memories so deeply and happily engrained into your being, and lets you accept, and even adore, a juvinille narrator.

As the book progresses, the innocence fades, if only a bit by little bit, and we are introduced to the 'adult' concernes that surround the children. Scout and Jem's father, Atticus (how many people or pets in the world do you think have been named after Atticus Finch? I know two.), is asked to take a legal case that is causing an uproar within the community. He knows, and even explains to his children, that he would simply not be able to live with himself if he did not accept the case. It's a morally and emotionally trying situation for the whole town; everyone feels the overtone of darkness hovering over them, surrounding and suffocating, and it brings out the worst in some. Throughout the duration of the case and trial, the Finch children are awakened to the world of adults, lies, senseless hatred, and justice - and through their eyes, we are able look upon these social and political situations with new eyes, the eyes of the child that still lives within each and every one of us.

Every American must read this book. It is drenched in our history as a nation, and as a people. It is beautiful and painful and bare-bones brutal truth. It's books like these, that have the power to change the world.