Challenges, challenges and more challenges!

Ok, so there were a few challenges that ended this month.  There are also some new challenges starting tomorrow, so I figured I do somewhat of a challenge round up.  First off . . .

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This was actually the first challenge I ever entered and I wanted to make sure I didn’t over-extend myself, so I only obligated myself to complete Peril in the Second, which required me to read two books by today.  I actually went way above and beyond the two books–it’s hard not to get caught up in the Halloween/fall spirit around this time!  I read:

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe

Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger

One Foot Wrong, Sofie Laguna

Twilight, Stephenie Meyer

The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Honestly, I would have read more for this challenge if I’d had the time!  I’m already anticipating RIP V!

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The Maud Hart Lovelace reading challenge only ran for a month, so I knew when I started it that I would never be able to read all ten Betsy and Tacy books unless I chose to forego all other reading material.  I am happy to say, however, that I read the first four books.  I hope to read the remaining six very soon.  I read:

Betsy-Tacy

Betsy, Tacy and Tib

Betsy and Tacy go Over the Big Hill

Betsy and Tacy go Downtown

For those of you that aren’t familiar with this series, I strongly urge you to check it out!

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There is still a month left for this challenge, but I wanted to give a status update.  For the month of October, my stats are:

19 books read

9 were books I owned

3 were review copies

1 was a loaner from my mom

2 were from Bookswim

4 were from the library

So overall I did really well in this challenge for this month, with a 47%!!  Of course, the read-a-thon helped my cause immensly–I am willing to bet my percentage next month is nowhere near this high.

And now for a new challenge!!

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You can find all the info on this challenge at the blog created specifically for it, but I will go ahead and list some of the specifications and rules below.

The challenge runs from November 1, 2009-November 30, 2010, but you may join in the fun whenever you wish!   Participants are encouraged to read nonfiction and fiction books related to the rather broad idea of ‘women’s studies.’

For nonfiction, this would include books on feminism, history books focused on women, biographies of women, memoirs (or travelogues) by women, essays by women and cultural books focused on women (body image, motherhood, etc.).  The topics I’ve listed aren’t mean to be exhaustive; if you come across a nonfiction book whose subject is female-related, it counts!  Of course, if you’re not sure you can always ask about it in a comment.  And if you need some ideas for specific books, check out the ‘Reading Lists’ page.

It’s trickier to say what is applicable as fiction. Obviously, any classic fiction written by a feminist is applicable. But where do we go from there? To speak generally, if the book takes a thoughtful look at the place of women in society, it will probably count. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to explain in your review why you chose this for the challenge and its connection to women’s studies. Once again, if you need some specific ideas, check out the ‘Reading Lists’ page.

One quick note about author gender. There isn’t a rule if a book’s written by a woman it counts and if by a man it doesn’t count. I firmly believe that men can be feminists and that not all women are feminists. As long as the book adheres to the definition of women’s studies I’ve shared above, it counts.

Interested in participating? Great! There are three levels you can choose as a reader (you can count books for other challenges as well):

  • Philogynist: read at least two books, including at least one nonfiction one.
  • Bluestocking: read at least five books, including at least two nonfiction ones.
  • Suffragette: read at least eight books, including at least three nonfiction ones.

I plan on participating at the bluestocking level.  I am unsure at this point what books I’ll be reading, but here are the possibilities:

Fiction:

Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson

Beloved, Toni Morrison

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

Housekeeping, Marilynn Robinson

Nonfiction:

Death and the Maidens, Janet Todd

Obviously my list is lacking, especially when it comes to nonfiction.  Hopefully I’ll be adding to it–I’m open to suggestions!

Book Review: One Foot Wrong

One-Wrong-Foot-714075.gifOne Foot Wrong

Sofie Laguna

Other Press

195 pages

She took a piece of the little sun and put it in her mouth.  Orange water dripped from one corner. ‘Want a piece of the sun?’ she asked me.  In The Abridged Picture Bible Eve took the red apple and met the snake.  Mary held the orange piece out to me.  The snake hissed and bit Eve in the neck and it was the end of freedom.  ‘Have some!’ said Mary.  I took the orange piece from Mary’s hand.  I put it in my mouth and waited for the end of freedom.  Orange water jumped through the air as I chewed.  The sun shone inside my mouth.  Mary smiled and her lip that was twisted up with her nose smiled too.  The bell rang and we walked back to the schoolroom swallowing orange.

One Foot Wrong, by Sofie Laguna, is an enigma.  As you can see by the above quoted passage, from page 47, the book seemingly makes some sense and no sense throughout.  Hester is a young girl at the beginning of the book and she is confined to her home by her parents, whom she refers to as Boot and Sack.  Her parents strive to keep her enclosed in the family home with very little exposure to the outside world.  Hester is kept from school and ventures out of the house only to visit her ailing grandmother.

Boot and Sack claim to want to protect Hester, but their actions speak otherwise.  Hester is abused physically, mentally and sexually and she begins to lash out as a result.  Her parents eventually decide once she is older that she needs to be committed to a mental hospital because they can no longer care for her.  The few people who do come in contact with Hester, Boot and Sack all empathize with Boot and Sack because they seem as though they are trying their best for their daughter.  Meanwhile, the reader is left to dissect Hester.  Is she really grudge_girlmentally incapacitated?  Surely her environment has stunted her emotional growth, but what is the extent?  Would Hester have been a “normal” child had she not been subjected to her home environment and the abuse of her parents?  It’s never possible to say for sure.  At times it seemed as though Hester did have a subconscious grasp of the situation, however tenuous, but then I would become convinced that she was too far gone mentally.  This is what made One Foot Wrong a confusing, enigmatic book.

It is definitely the type of book that will leave you with a strange feeling in the pit of your stomach.  The more I think about what I just read, the less I am able to make heads or tales of it.  Which I suppose is a good thing!  Laguna generally sticks with YA fiction–this book was her first foray into adult fiction.  Personally, the writing style of One Foot Wrong lended itself more to YA fiction in my opinion.  And perhaps that is what Laguna intended it to be–some of the circumstances in the book would be too heavy for an adolescent to handle, which could be why this book is labeled as adult instead of YA.

I also found it interesting that Laguna is an actress.  I didn’t discover this little tidbit until after I finished the book, but it was interesting because at numerous points throughout the book, I kept imagining the book as a screenplay.  And while I generally would never say this about a book after finishing it, I think this book would be a fantastic movie and much better than the book.

Due to some of the parts in the book, as well as the cover (absolutely gorgeous, isn’t it?), this book fit in well with the RIP IV challenge, so I’ve added it to my evergrowing list!

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I was unable to find any other blog reviews on this book, althoughThe Printed Page did post a small blurb about it here.

Book Review: The House of the Seven Gables

9781416534778_house7gablesThe House of the Seven Gables

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I want to preface this review by saying that I am a big fan of Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I think The Scarlett Letter is phenomenal and I greatly enjoy Hawthorne’s short stories.  So when it came to choosing books for the RIP IV challenge, I remembered The House of the Seven Gables sitting on my bookshelf and though perfect!

Unfortunately, getting through this book took all I had–that is not an exageration! It seemed overly verbose to the point where the story got lost for me.  The first 200 pages were a description of the house in question, which was built by the Pyncheon family.  The House of the Seven Gables took place about two hundred years later, with some Pyncheon ancestors living in the house: Hepzibah, an old maid, along with her semi-imbecilic brother Clifford and their neice Phoebe.  There was also a tenant, Mr Holgrove.  Hepzibah is forced to open a cent shop in the home because she is nearly destitute, although her cousin, Judge Pyncheon has tried to subsidize her over the years.

The house had originally been built by the ancestral Mr Pyncheon, after he stole the land from a Mr Maule.  Maule refused to give over his land when he was alive, so Pyncheon help convict him of witchery in order to have him put to death.  Pyncheon then takes control of the land and hires Maule’s son to build the house.  On the day of the housewarming party, as all the neighbors show up to the unveiling, Pyncheon is found dead in his study.  The house then falls under scrutiny, with numerous mentions of Maule the wizard and a well in back that hold brackish water.

There is also made mention of Alice Pyncheon, another ancestor who comes under the control of Maule’s grandson, Matthew Maule.  And then you have Clifford and Hepzibah, living in this decrepit, solemn home.  And that’s pretty much all.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, although if you can even make it to the ending, I applaud you!  What disappointed me most about this book is that it had such potential.  According to the afterward, The House of the Seven Gables was the book/story that Hawthorne most appreciated and liked of all his image16writings.  The house stood for all the greed and relentlessness of the Pyncheon family and throughout the book it became more and more apparent to the reader that the house was not the source of the Pyncheon’s problems but rather a symbol of their greed.

I wish that Hawthorne could have toned down his descriptions because the last few chapters of the book really were worthwhile and fun to read.  Unfortunately, by the time I made it that far, I was so exhausted from my effort that I could not fully appreciate Hawthorne’s great storytelling.  I think, overall, The House of the Seven Gables should have showed me that I don’t have to continue with a book if I’m not enjoying it.  However, I kept expecting it to get better.  However, as I mentioned previously, once it did improve, it was too little, too late.

TSS: Falling into Fall

TSSbadge1Ah, there is nothing more enticing than fall when it comes to reading.  I don’t know what it is; perhaps the coziness of being curled up with a good book as the weather outside gets colder.  The arrival of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte is a definite plus.  I love getting one every once in awhile as a special treat and I cannot think of a better way to enjoy one than with a good book in hand.

This weekend I got two special fall items from Target.  The first was a big jug of caramel apple cider.  Yes, you read that right--caramel apple cider.  Now this may not be a new product, who knows, but I, for one, have never seen such a thing in stores, so I was thrilled.  I have had cup after cup of this stuff, heated in the microwave, and it is delicious.  For anyone that loves Starbucks’ Caramel Apple Cider, this tasted exactly the same (can you tell I’m a Starbucks fanatic??).  The other item, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, was a pair of fleece, footie pajamas.  Ok, fine.  Make that two pairs.  I’ve been wearing them all night and I don’t know that there is anything more comfortable on earth.  So, yes, I have been curled up for awhile now with my book, sipping some caramel apple cider, while lounging in my footie pajamas.  I think it is obvious now why I love fall.

Speaking of fall, today is my second Sunday of my short story portion of the RIP IV challenge (I also finished one book for the challenge too).

rip4shortI only read one story, but it was a good one: “Death by Landscape”, by Margaret Atwood.  It can be found in the anthology Mistresses of the Dark: 25 Macabre Tales by Master Storytellers.  It was the first story in the book and I figured, What the heck, I love Margaret Atwood.  Why not start with this one?  It was a good choice.  Lois is sent to an all girls summer camp ever summer from the age of nine until the age of thirteen.  The story took place many, many decades ago, and while Lois finds herself loathing camp at first, by the time the summer that she is 13 rolls around, she very much anticipates camp.  She has made a friend, Lucy, there and they have written to each other the past two winters.  Lucy is a bit unattainable to Lois; she seems to have it all.  Unfortunately, by that summer, Lucy’s life has started unraveling and she no longer seems to have the perfect life.  Lois is not too perceptive to all this, still choosing to see all that Lucy has as opposed to all she doesn’t have, but Lucy’s grief is unveiled a bit for the reader.  water-rock

At one point during camp, Lois and Lucy’s cabin goes for a week long canoe ride in the areas around their camp.  One day, during the canoe trip, Lois and Lucy are standing alone atop a big bluff and Lucy makes mention of jumping into the water below.  It is a far drop, and Lois tells Lucy that she must be out of her mind.  The exchange doesn’t seem like an issue to Lois and she walked off to allow Lucy some privacy to use the bathroom.  Seconds later, she hears a shriek that she describes as not being born out of fear, but rather a scream of surprise.  Lois runs back to where she just left her friend, but Lucy has vanished.  Searches in the water as well as on land turn up nothing, and Lucy’s disappearance is never resolved.  Lois, as well as the reader, never discovers whether Lucy jumped into the water out of despair, whether she was pushed in by someone or something, or whether her vanishing had absolutely nothing to do with entering the water.  lois lives the rest of her life haunted by the fact that she never had any knowledge of what happened to her friend.

Book Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

physick-bookThe Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

by Katherine Howe

“I watch’d today as Giles Corey was presst to death between the stones.  He had lain so for two days mute.  With each stone they tolde him he must plead, lest more rocks be added.  But he only whisperd, More weight.  Standing in the crowd, I found Goodwyfe Dane, who, as the last stone lower’d, went white, grippt my hand, and wept.”

Such is the opening line for Katherine Howe’s debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.  Immediately, I was drawn in.  Granted, I have always found the Salem witch trials fascinating, but Howe’s book was still fresh in the sense that it brought around new theories and ideas that have never been used before.  First things first, I had never heard of Deliverance Dane.  Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Goody, Elizabeth Howe . . . anyone who has read anything about the Salem witch trials will find those names to be familiar.  For this reason, despite the books opening quotation, I believed Deliverance Dane to be a figment of the author’s imagination.  In reality, she too was actually tried as a witch in Salem, albeit a few months later than the others.

First things first though, let me lay out a bit of the plot for those of you who know nothing of the book (which may be an impossibility since it’s gotten a great deal of hype!).  Connie Goodwin is researching for her PhD at Harvard in 1991.  She is a bit unsure of what direction she wants to take, although she’s a researcher of the colonial era, when she moves into her grandmother’s house (referred to as Granna) for the summer.  Granna’s home has been abandoned for about two decades and has fallen into a state of disrepair.  On her first night in the home, Connie comes across a bible from the seventeenth century.  In the bible she finds an antique key with a small piece of parchment through the hole.  All that is written on the parchment is the name Deliverance Dane.  Connie’s interest is immediately piqued and as she begins to uncover the mystery of who Deliverance Dane was, she decides to make the woman the topic of her dissertation.  They key to discovering the mystery surrounding Deliverance Dane’s life and death can only be found in her old “receipt” book, also referred to as, among other things, a recipe book and a book of shadows.  And that’s really all you need to know at this point.  I’ll leave the rest for the reader to discover!

One interesting concept in the book is the idea that perhaps the villagers of Salem weren’t misguided in believing that some of their peers were actually witches. At one point, Connie’s 6a00d8341c44f153ef00e54f5194478834-500wiadvisor, Manning Chilton, says to her “Just because you don’t believe in something doesn’t mean it isn’t real.” This really resonated with me and from that point on, I was hooked.  I found there to be much truth in his words, although not necessarily in the context of this book.  We are all guilty of believing something to be false just because that is what has been drilled into our heads.  In Connie’s situation, she had not once dreamed that there could have been any merits to the accusations made against the women put to death in Salem in the late seventeenth century.  Of course the obvious answer is that the accusors in Salem were pointing the finger at these “witches” for some sort of personal gain.  What their reasoning was, I don’t think we’ll ever know, but one option that has never been touched upon is that they did it because the accused really were witches.  Now, as I mentioned earlier, I am too much of a skeptic to believe that there is any truth to that theory, but The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is fiction; historical fiction, but fiction nontheless.  So although I don’t believe there is any substance to this theory in reality, I very much enjoyed seeing it play out in the book.

Another interesting viewpoint in the book was the reflection between science as it is now and science as it was seen in the late 1600s.  We have so much knowledge at our fingertips right now, but the same cannot be said for Deliverance Dane’s time period.  As described in the book, “Professor Chilton viewed science as an intellectual historian might–treating science not as a set of facts that are true no matter what the time period, but as a way of looking at the world that depended on historical context.” While Manning Chilton’s character was extreme, he had a point.  Much of what happened in Salem during the Salem witch trials is completely due to the historical context.  The way of thinking was, in many ways, the antithesis of what it is now.  One example of this is the belief that those afflicted with a sickness are being punished by God.  The reader is introduced to this immediately in the beginning of the book with the illness and death of young Martha Petford.  Although just a small child, her father Peter is in anguish that the source of her disease is probably punishment from God, either because of his child’s wrongdoings or his own.  In this day and age, such a Sal_hangbelief is rarely seen; the change in perception is largely due to science because we now know what causes most diseases and have found a remedy to keep such sicknesses at bay.

I did find this book lagging in certain parts–I definitely wished Howe would have given us more of a firsthand glimpse into the life of Deliverance Dane and her daughter Mercy, but instead the majority of the story is told through the voice and research of Connie.  This wasn’t necessarily a bad technique, but I think I would have found this book even more enjoyable if I had been afforded more than an occasional glimpse into that time period.  Overall though, Howe really set the bar high with her first novel and I wouldn’t hesitate to read any future novels she may publish.

With Halloween around the corner, I would suggest this as a great way to get into the fall spirit.  This book is the first on I’ve read for my participation in RIP IV.

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Sunday Salon

TSSbadge1This week hasn’t necessarily been the best reading week for me.  The two books I read were not books I would generally read, which isn’t always a bad thing, but in this case I felt that there wasn’t as much substance involved.  The first book, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, was a fun read, but itSea_of_Poppies was chick lit.  And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  I used to be a huge chick lit fan, so I’m not knocking it.  Chick lit is just not my thing anymore.  And while it was nice to have a change of pace, I don’t think I’ll be reading the prequel anytime soon.  As for Rattled, it also skirted the lines of chick lit.  While it dealt with some very heavy topics, it still was a quick read thatdidn’t take itself too seriously.  So now I’m reading Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh.  I was skeptical at first.  In fact, I considered putting it down at first.  It is historical fiction that deals with the opium trade in India and the author includes a lot of language and phraseology that is impossible for me to understand.  However, I discovered fairly quickly that Sea of Poppies is an engaging read, so I’m glad I stuck with it in the beginning.

So on to my new Sunday Salon feature.  As I mentioned in my post on the RIP IV challenge, I am participating in rip4short

So for every Sunday while this challenge is running (September 1-October 31), I will read and discuss a few short stories.

This week, I am highlighting two stories from t1076

Unfortunately, the two stories I chose this week were somewhat lackluster.  I think part of the reason was because they were both extremely short; no more than three or four pages.  The first one was an obvious choice: “The Others”, by Joyce Carol Oates.  It was one of the first stories and JCO is one of my favorite authors, so I couldn’t resist.  “The Others” was about a man who starts seeing dead people.  It’s kind of ambiguous as to whether he is actually seeing them, because at one point he’s telling his wife about his new dilemma as he is pointing out a dead man and she is able to see the man as well.  She blows her husband off, telling him that he’s exaggerating, and the story ends with the protaganist entering an underground subway with a group of dead people.  Was he dead too?  Was he imagining the whole thing?  The reader is left to decide for themselves.

The second story was much more problematic to me.  I chose it at random, literally just opening the book at a random spot and reading whichever story I landed on.  In this case, it was “Pictures”, by Irving Werner.  I honestly couldn’t wrap my head around this one.  I guess the problem could have been that I was completely exhausted and fighting to keep my eyes open.  Basically, it’s the story of a man and woman who meet in an airport and forge an instant connection.  And . . . that’s it.  I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never  did.  I can only assume I completely missed the point.  I don’t know that the woman ever existed–I believe she was more of a tool of the narrator’s sub conscious.  But either way, it didn’t really seem to fit in with the theme of the anthology as a whole.  So, that one was a flop.  Hopefully I’ll have better luck next week!

RIP Challenge: My List

rip4300Ok, I have a free minute today so I figured I’d go through my books and compile my TBR selection for the RIP challenge.  The challenge officially started September 1, and I chose to participate in Peril II.  There’s a possibility I may read more than two of the books on my list before October 31 but I didn’t want to overload myself, so I’m just going to play it by ear.  I am also participating in the Short Story Peril.  Last summer, I got two large anthologies of scary stories, which I haven’t touched.  I figured I would read between one and three stories a week from one or both anthologies and then highlight those short stories in my Sunday salon posts.  So from tomorrow through the last Sunday in October, be sure to check out my Sunday Salon for that feature.  The two anthologies are:

Mistresses of the Dark: 25 Macabre Tales by Master Storytellers (I couldn’t find an image of this book but it includes stories by Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing and Louise Erdrich)

and

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For my book pile, I am adding

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physick-book0345337662_01_LZZZZZZZ6a00c225290bfe604a00fad6b0ba6b0005-500pi9781416534778_house7gables

hauntinghillhouse0703-binyon-book I may also throw in some Edgar Allen Poe.  Plus, if I can get my hands on Her Fearful Symmetry, that will be a contender as well.

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