Wednesday, October 31, 2012

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: Wilderness by Lance Weller

Holly at Bippity Boppity Books gave Wilderness by Lance Weller such a strong review that I knew I had to read it. I’ve been trying to use my library more, partly because I tend to READ the books I take out of the library. They have to be returned. When I buy books I tend to toss them onto the pile and who knows when they’ll ever get read. To my delight, I got my hands on a copy of Wilderness fairly quickly.

The book pieces together a narrative from the perspective of several different characters, but the main protagonist is Abel Truman, a Civil War veteran who fought for the Confederacy. He was a New Yorker by birth, but personal tragedy set him to wandering and he happened to be in the south at the time the war broke out. Moreover, he more or less believed in the southern cause. If not that, he believed in his friendships with the men he fought beside.

Thirty-five years later, living a solitary life (solitary except for his well-loved dog) in a shack on the Pacific coast, Abel comes to understand that he is dying from a slowly progressive illness. One morning he decides to return home to die and he begins the long dangerous trek, taking only a few provisions, his rifle, and his dog.

Along the way he runs into two evil men who want to steal his dog and who would have no qualms about killing him to do so. But Abel is a tough old man. And surprisingly lucky. Abel’s path crosses that of the would-be thieves more than once during the course of his journey with increasingly violent results. Other settlers and wanderers are also caught up in the crossfire. As Abel interacts with them, the reader is given deeper and deeper insight into the type of man he is.

Interspersed with the story of Abel’s current day journey are chapters detailing memories of his past–his wartime experiences. The war is what shaped him, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. And then, going even farther back, Abel is forced to dredge up thoughts of the tragic loss that preceded the war.

Wilderness is a moving story. Abel’s life is portrayed with sensitivity and depth. He’s a good man but flawed, and journeying with him is time well spent.

This is a debut novel by an author who has previously published award-winning short stories. So read it with the expectation of literary historical fiction. At times, I found the writing style overwhelmed the story–as if the point had drifted away from what was being said to how prettily it was being said, and I found myself skimming ahead to where it would get back on track again. But most of the time there is a good balance between fine writing and a compelling story-line. I had to keep reading to see where Abel was going.

Monday, October 29, 2012

BACK TO THE CLASSICS CHALLENGE: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

I was beginning to worry that I wouldn’t complete the Back-to-the-Classics Challenge this year. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is my choice for a classic set in a country that I will not realistically visit during my lifetime. The book has been on my bookshelf for many years (along with War and Peace) and I’ve always intended to read it, but I’ve been procrastinating. Not only is it long, but I’ve been afraid that it would be a slow read. To be honest, I was daunted by its Russian-ness.

Still, a challenge is a challenge. I finally picked it up and got started. And guess what? My fears were totally unfounded. The book sucked me in right from the start.

The book opens with one unhappy married couple, Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky and his wife, Dolly. Dolly has just discovered her husband’s adultery and is devastated. She doesn’t believe she can go on with her life as it is but doesn’t know how to change things either. Stepan is miserable to have been caught but doesn’t feel any actual remorse for his affair. Hoping to patch things up, he has sent for his sister, Anna Karenina, to speak with Dolly.

At the same time, another relationship is in the works. Dolly’s younger sister, Kitty, is being courted by two men, Count Vronsky and Konstantin Dmitrievitch Levin. Vronsky is a handsome young rake, a military man of sorts, considered a good catch by all the enamored women. Levin is an older, steady man. Kitty has known him for many years and is fond of him, but he’s rather dull in comparison. Vronsky flirts but has no intention of marrying. Levin is utterly devoted.

The stage is set. Anna is a beautiful, lively, married young woman who does manage to reconcile her brother and his wife. She also meets Kitty, who adores her. They all go to a ball (supposed to have been Kitty’s triumph, but that was before Anna showed up.) Anna and Vronsky (who have briefly met at the train station) meet again at the ball and all is lost. Vronsky determines to pursue her and Anna, who previously was known to all as morally upstanding, decides to fall.

Anticipating a proposal from Vronsky, Kitty refuses an offer from Levin, who then leaves town to return to his country home/farm in despair. When Vronsky leaves town soon after in pursuit of Anna, Kitty falls ill with shame and wretchedness, realizing her mistake.

The book follows these people (and others related to them) as they live their lives. It is remarkably detailed in describing the every-day events but even more so in showing the inner thoughts of the characters. Everything is analyzed. The reader is right inside their heads. And even though its nineteenth century Russia, what Anna, Kitty, Vronsky, Levin, etc. think and feel could easily be put in the heads of contemporary characters. Their angst has a universal, timeless quality. Societal shunning of an adulterous woman might not be as complete or leave a woman with the limited options that Anna faced, but a lot of the psychological pain of the breaking up of the family is likely the same. The people, the situations– everything seemed very real. It is not entirely, or even mostly Anna’s story. Levin and Kitty get equal attention as foils to Anna and Vronsky, and the beauty of their relationship provides a lovely contrast without being too frightfully preachy.

All in all, Anna Karenina is an engrossing novel, a surprisingly quick read. I think I’m going to have to try tackling War and Peace!

Sunday, October 28, 2012


The winner of my Blogoversary gift card winner is:

I've sent Meg an email. Thanks to all who entered and left encouraging comments!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Six Word Saturday


Sending Prayers to Friends Back East
I love Halloween. It's right up there with my favorite holidays. But this year it sounds too scary with this storm blowing in on the East Coast. I know the media overhypes weather, and I really hope it turns out to be a simple snowstorm without the fearsome impact that's being predicted. Still, I'm nervous for friends and family - and even more so for those who are more likely to be in the storm's path with fewer resources for riding it out.
What is Six Word Saturday?  Want to play along? All that's necessary to participate is to describe your life (or something) in a phrase using just six words. For more information, try clicking here. Feel free to explain or not explain. Add an image, a video, a song, nothing.  If you play along in your blog, please add a link to the Mr. Linky at Show My Face. (see details there and links to other participating blogs there.)

GUEST POST: Two books about Malcolm X

The latest choice for our historical fiction/history book group was The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley. I had mixed feelings about the book. I learned quite a bit about the time period and about the man. But I found it to be slow reading, particularly the first part of the book detailing his early life and criminal past. Once he was imprisoned and began his career with the Nation of Islam, the story became more compelling. While I know that we have to understand his past in order to appreciate the path of his life, I just didn’t find the way it was narrated to be all that interesting.

So, I thought it would be a good idea to read Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable for comparison. How would a different writer present the life of this important historical figure?

Here’s what happened. We got Marable’s book out of the library and my husband read it first. Meanwhile, I started Anna Karenina for the Back-to-the-Classics challenge. And as we both worked our way through our chunky books, I had an even better idea. A guest post!

I introduce to you, historian Brad Asher, (author of Cecelia and Fanny: The Remarkable Friendship Between an Escaped Slave and her Former Mistress) to discuss two books on Malcolm X.

Sue asked me to guest blog because I read both The Autobiography of Malcolm X for our history book group and then followed it up immediately with the 2010 biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable. So I have been immersed in Malcolm X for the last few weeks, even watching on YouTube some of his old speeches and the 1959 documentary, "The Hate that Hate Produced," which first brought him wide attention outside the African American community. Despite my immersion, though, I wonder if a middle-class white guy has anything useful to say about Malcolm X.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, of course, is a modern classic, widely assigned in college classrooms to this day. It tells the story of Malcolm’s redemption from a life of criminality and drug abuse to national and international prominence as a spokesman for the ghetto-ized poor blacks of America’s northern cities. While Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders were fighting legal segregation in the Jim Crow South, Malcolm and other like-minded leaders were fighting structural racism and racist exploitation in the urban North. The vehicle for Malcolm’s redemption was the Nation of Islam, a cult-like religious and social movement led by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, who was viewed as a divine messenger sent by Allah to the black masses of America.

From the vantage point of 2012, it is hard to read the Autobiography and not notice the wacky theology of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm’s retrograde views on women, his blanket condemnations of whites as "devils," and his offhand dismissals of civil rights leaders like King. The things that are so important in Malcolm’s life story and his ideology—his emphasis on black pride, black self-help, black self-respect—are in the 21st century ingrained in many aspects of American culture. It can be difficult—for whites, at least—to remember what a cultural shock such sentiments were in the early 1960s.

That’s where I found Marable’s book so helpful. He is not uncritical of Malcolm or the Nation of Islam, but he puts Malcolm’s story in the context of the larger currents of civil-rights history and African American history. Whereas Malcolm’s eventual break with the Nation has a slightly incongruous feeling in the Autobiography, given all that’s come before, Marable is able to integrate the break into the larger story of Malcolm’s evolution as an activist, a leader, and a Muslim. Marable also makes clear that American culture’s domestication of Malcolm—the tendency to view him as someone who was moving toward the civil rights mainstream by the time of his assassination—is a misreading of the man’s life and legacy.

I don’t think I would have enjoyed Marable as much if I hadn’t read the Autobiography, but I also think I "get" the Autobiography better as a result of Marable’s book.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


It's hard for me to believe, but I've been blogging here at Reading World for 2 years. (Actually, a little over 2 years. My first post was on October 13, 2010 and my first review was on October 14 (a review of Great Maria by Cecelia Holland- still one of my all-time favorite books.)

Blogging has been a great way to keep track of my reading and to share the books I've enjoyed. More importantly, it has inspired me to branch out. Being part of the blogging community has introduced me to a lot of great books I might never have discovered on my own.

I've enjoyed getting to know other bloggers by following their posts and by taking part in various memes and hops, and I hope to keep on blogging, despite some intermittent lulls.

And now, I want to show my appreciation to my readers and followers. Cold weather is sweeping in. It's time to kick back under a blanket with a mug of coffee/cocoa/tea and read a good book. So I'm offering a choice of either 1) $15 Starbucks gift card (US only) 2) a $15 Barnes and Noble gift card (US only)  or 3) a book valued up to $15 anywhere The Book Depository ships (US or international.)

The giveaway is open until Saturday 10/27.

To enter, leave a comment stating which one of these you would prefer to win along with your email address so I can contact you. You don't need to be a follower to enter, but followers get one extra entry.

Friday, October 19, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works. A Biography by Charity Cannon Willard

Something else I feel I should have read in college – Christine de Pizan’s work. A late fourteenth-early fifteenth century French intellectual, writer, defender of women, Christine has been called France’s first woman of letters. She is perhaps best known for The Book of the City of Ladies, but she has a very impressive list of literary accomplishments. Somehow, despite majoring in French and having a particular interest in medieval French, I managed to not read anything of hers.

All right. I still haven’t. But I did read Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works. A Biography by Charity Cannon Willard. This is a well-researched account of the life of this extraordinary woman who was born in Italy but who spent most of her life in France. She was brought up in the court of King Charles V. (Her father was a court scientist/astronomer.) She married well-a royal secretary. She and her husband had three children and were happily married for ten years. Little seems to be known about this part of her life. But when she was about twenty-four, things changed for Christine.

King Charles had died and his heir was given to bouts of insanity which worsened over time. This made things difficult for those in his court who depended on his patronage. And, worse for Christine, her husband died, leaving her to support their three children.

And so, Christine begins her career as a writer, first as a poet and then as a writer of political, historical, educational, and moral treatises. Most of these are dedicated/gifted to various members of the royal family as a way to seek patronage and a way to build her following. The impressive thing is, Christine does gain an ever increasing audience for her writing. Despite the fact that she is a woman, her work is widely praised and she was respected for her learning and intelligence not only throughout France but in England and Italy as well.

Christine de Pizan is remembered now mainly for her writing in defense of women and against the misogynistic writings of her male counterparts. However, she also wrote a biography of Charles V and a military instruction manual. She seems to have studied widely and mastered quite a breadth of knowledge.

The biography is subtitled "Her Life and Works." The book does do a good job of summarizing the works and putting them in context within a complex historical framework. It was interesting, but dry. While I definitely learned about the writing, I don’t feel that I got a very good look at the life of the writer. Willard provided only an outline of what was going on around Christine de Pizan as she was writing the different pieces, with some inclusion of major life events. It’s unfortunately probable that the types of details I would have liked to see are unrecorded and lost to history. Still, I’d like to read more about this fascinating woman and to read some of her work for myself.

I read this as part of my Mount TBR challenge because this book has been on my shelf for a long time.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Celebrated Pedestrian by Suzanne Allain

I’ve entered countless Goodreads giveaways over the years but have yet to win a book – but that doesn’t matter. Scanning the contests has brought numerous books to my attention that I’ve ended up reading anyway, and many more that are still on my TBR someday list. One book that sounded like a quick, fun read was The Celebrated Pedestrian by Suzanne Allain. I didn’t win, but after doing some pretty heavy reading the past week or so (The Autobiography of Malcolm X for my book group - review coming up) and then being about halfway into another biography (Christine de Pizan. Her Life and Works. A Biography. By Charity Cannon Willard) I decided I needed a break. Glancing through my TBR list, I saw this light Regency Romance that had caught my attention. My library didn’t have it, but I could get it instantaneously on my ipad/kindle for just $3.99. Why not?

Faith Wentworth is a shy, intelligent young lady come to London for her first season. Her father, the famous sportsman, Captain Wentworth, has hired a chaperone to see to her debut since her mother is long dead. Thus far, husband-hunting has been a disaster. Faith is lovely enough, but the chaperone’s dogged man chasing scares the prospects away.

But then, the chaperone introduces Faith to Sir Anthony, who also has sporting ambitions. He is thrilled to meet Captain Wentworth’s daughter–it could be a means of meeting the great man himself!

The attention he begins to pay Faith gets the gossips going, but she is under no illusions. Not even when he invites her (and her father and younger sister) to a house party at his country home. Although the ton may expect that they will return betrothed, Faith has no intention of accepting a proposal from another sportsman even if he had any intention of making one.

Thankfully, Sir Anthony’s friend, Lord Frederick will also be a guest at Sir Anthony’s. Although she doesn’t know him well, the few words he has spoken to her have been more interesting than anything Sir Anthony has ever said. And once they do all get to the country, Lord Frederick’s attentions seem much more focused on her than Sir Anthony’s do. But then, the attention the men at the house are paying her begins to seem odd. Something strange is going on. Something that perhaps has to do with a bet. Faith isn’t sure she can trust a bunch of sportsmen, not even Lord Frederick.

The Celebrated Pedestrian is a sweet book with some charming gentle humor. The conflicts are muted. It’s pretty clear right from the start how the romance will sort out, but it’s an enjoyable process watching the romance progress. If you’re in the mood for a quick book about genuinely nice people who are rewarded with happy outcomes, this is a good choice.

Monday, October 8, 2012


Mailbox Monday is a meme created by Marcia's Mailbox, a chance for bloggers to display the great new books they've accumulated over the week. It's now rotating on a monthly basis to different guest hosts. For October, Mailbox Monday can be found here.

Last Thursday, my local library held a talk and signing by Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men (and the Rise of Women). She's a very engaging speaker. She was also very pleasant and personable at the booksigning afterward. (The line was long, yet she was very goodnatured and didn't seem rushed.) Here's the blurb from goodreads:

A landmark portrait of women, men, and power in a transformed world.
Men have been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind. But Hanna Rosin was the first to notice that this long-held truth is, astonishingly, no longer true. At this unprecedented moment, by almost every measure, women are no longer gaining on men: They have pulled decisively ahead. And "the end of men"—the title of Rosin’s Atlantic cover story on the subject—has entered the lexicon as dramatically as Betty Friedan’s "feminine mystique," Simone de Beauvoir’s "second sex," Susan Faludi’s "backlash," and Naomi Wolf’s "beauty myth" once did.

In this landmark book, Rosin reveals how this new state of affairs is radically shifting the power dynamics between men and women at every level of society, with profound implications for marriage, sex, children, work, and more. With wide-ranging curiosity and insight unhampered by assumptions or ideology, Rosin shows how the radically different ways men and women today earn, learn, spend, couple up—even kill—has turned the big picture upside down. And in The End of Men she helps us see how, regardless of gender, we can adapt to the new reality and channel it for a better future.

The book is generating a lot of interest. Hanna Rosin a well-respected journalist and the topic is timely. The book title obviously courts controversy, but her discussion of the book made it sound a lot more balanced than the title would imply. I'm eager to read it-- maybe in combination with Grace and Grit by Lilly Ledbetter.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is an extraordinary book. A YA historical adventure set during WWII, the novel has received a great deal of buzz. I was a bit hesitant to read it, fearing that with all the hype my expectations would be too high, but the book lived up to its reputation. This is a page-turner.

The difficulty is trying to review it without giving anything away, because this is a multi-layered book and you’ll want to unravel its mysteries yourself.

The protagonist, "Verity," is a young female spy caught in France by the Gestapo. She is being tortured for information about Britain. She has finally cracked under the pressure. Aware that she will be killed when her interrogators have wrung everything they can from her, she is drawing out her confession. She writes everything down, weaving a tale, from the very beginning, of her involvement in the war effort. This includes her friendship with the female pilot, Maddie, who delivered her to France but crash-landed.

The friendship between the two women makes for a richly emotional story. "Verity" and Maddie are dedicated to their tasks and to each other. Their bravery is truly inspiring. The writing is wonderfully descriptive, yet the pace of the book gets faster and faster as the plot becomes more and more complex. Code Name Verity is billed as a YA novel but adults of all ages can get caught up in this gripping story. I look forward to reading more of Elizabeth Wein’s books.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

WOW: Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine. Bloggers can spotlight books that they are eagerly awaiting.

I confess, I am usually so buried under my TBR pile that I am not looking ahead at unreleased books. Even exciting new releases usually have to wait their turn. I buy the books I’m excited about but don’t manage to get to them right away (except for some special favorite, favorite authors whose books get devoured on day one–that means you Margaret Frazer!)

Moreover, I’m a historical fiction reader first and foremost. While I do read some contemporary fiction, it’s usually just to take a break and see what else is out there. So, on one of those forays, I read Sean Griswold’s Head by Lindsey Leavitt and I was charmed.

And here is Leavitt’s new book: Going Vintage, due out March 26, 2013l.

When Mallory discovers that her boyfriend, Jeremy, is cheating on her with an online girlfriend, she swears off boys. She also swears off modern technology. Inspired by a list of goals her grandmother made in 1962, Mallory decides to "go vintage" and return to a simpler time (when boyfriends couldn't cheat on you online). She sets out to complete grandma's list: run for pep club secretary, host a dinner party, sew a homecoming dress, find a steady, do something dangerous. But the list is trickier than it looks. And obviously finding a steady is out . . . no matter how good Oliver (Jeremy's cousin) smells. But with the help of her sister, she'll get it done. Somehow. Lindsey Leavitt perfectly pairs heartfelt family moments, laugh-out-loud humor, and a little bit of romance in this delightful contemporary novel.


I can’t wait! Doesn’t it sound fun?