Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review: "The Bicentennial Man" by Isaac Asimov

"The Bicentennial Man" - a novelette by Isaac Asimov
From The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 37
Date Published: 1976
Publisher: Doubleday
Source: My local library
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars


What defines a human being? Creative ability? Uniqueness? Freedom? Ability to experience emotion? Wearing of clothes? An organic body and the ability to eat food? Robot Andrew Martin had all of these things, but it wasn't until he made himself mortal that he was accepted by the world as a man.

As a character, Andrew is wonderfully interesting. He is a robot, yet he is also progressing into a being that is more human than machine. His creativity and seeming ability to experience emotion makes him more human than the organic body that he eventually obtains. In fact, it's rather ironic that the one thing that seems to prevent Andrew from being recognized as a human being--his seeming immortality--is something that all humans wish they could accomplish. The research and development that Andrew accomplishes in the realm of prosthetic organs and body parts not only helps himself become more human but also helps humans live longer.

And yet despite all of his accomplishments, Andrew wants desperately to be recognized as a man. On his two-hundredth year, when he takes actions to cause his positronic brain to die, he is finally accepted as the "Bicentennial Man". He only spends a short time with the knowledge that he is a man, but he is happy to fade away with that thought in his mind. But what comes to his mind at the very end are those he loved who have died before him. I was surprisingly touched by these thoughts.

I enjoyed this story. I'm pretty sure I've never read Asimov before, and that seems strange to me considering that he wrote over 500 books in his lifetime. I may branch out to some of his longer works after this--it was an easy yet thoughtful read. I know it was made into a film starring Robin Williams, but I've never seen it. I can see why it was made into a movie, but I doubt I would enjoy it as much as Mr. Asimov's written version. "The Bicentennial Man" won the Nebula Award in 1976 and the Hugo Award in 1977. I'm surprised that the last printing of this book was in 2000, in conjunction with the movie. If you want a copy of your own, you pretty much have to buy it used somewhere.

I read this for the November Novella Challenge, but it turns out that it is technically a "novelette". According to Wikipedia, some definitions of novella start at 10,000 words, and "The Bicentennial Man" weighs in at around 15,000. So, although the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America doesn't consider this a novella, I'm going to include it in the challenge anyway.

Related Linkage:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Review & Tour Stop: Dining With Joy by Rachel Hauck

Dining With Joy by Rachel Hauck
(A Lowcountry Romance, Book 3)
Genre: Contemporary Christian Romance
Pages: 320
Date Published: November 2010
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Source: I received a free copy of this book for review through TLC Book Tours.
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book description (from TLC Book Tours):
Joy Ballard has a secret: she’s a cooking show host who can’t really cook.
When her South Carolina-based cooking show, Dining With Joy, is picked up by a major network, Joy Ballard’s world heats up like a lowcountry boil.
Joy needs help. Then she meets chef Luke Davis who moved to Beaufort after losing his Manhattan restaurant. A cook at the Frogmore Cafe, he’s paying debts and longing to regain his reputation in the elite foodie world.
Luke and Joy mix like oil and water…until Joy is exposed on national television. With her career and his reputation both under fire, they’ll have to work together to fix the mess. Is it possible that they can learn to feast on God’s love and dine with joy?

Joy is the bubbly and popular host of a cooking show called "Dining With Joy". But what her fans don't know is that in real-life, she cannot cook. When her show is sold to a new network, she struggles with whether she should spill the beans to her new producer or not. When chef Luke Redmond is brought in to add a bit of spice to the show, Joy hopes he will save her bacon, so to speak. As they begin to feel a strong attraction to each other, they also try to keep Joy's secret from ending their show. Unfortunately Joy's rival, Wenda Devine, has her sights set on proving to everyone that Joy is a fraud.

This book was a creative breath of fresh air for me. I kept picturing Joy as a Rachel Ray-type of character, personable and fun, but without the cooking skill. With the popularity of cooking channels and shows, I could see this happening--especially the scandalous unveiling of Joy's secret on live TV. And the food--oh how my mouth watered on more than one occasion while reading about the glorious foods Luke created. I'm even tempted to cook "Charles Ballard's Banana Bread," the recipe that helps Joy begin to embrace cooking and her father's memory. The recipe is provided in the back of the book and includes chocolate chips and peanut butter chips! Sounds like a delicious combination!

Joy's family was eclectic and entertaining, though I wish we would have gotten to know Joy's mother a bit better. I think it would have helped to have her provide more insight into Joy's father. It was a great touch to have Joy find her father's cookbooks, though, which had comments in them like journals and helped Joy understand the man who she always thought didn't notice her. Luke was definitely an attractive character as the love interest. He seemed to have fallen head-over-heels for Joy early on (and I wonder how realistic that is for a man LOL!) but it was believable enough that I wanted to read on.

It was a bit of a struggle for me to understand Joy's reasons behind keeping her cooking inabilities a secret. It was basically a lie, and it was hard for me to connect that with a character who professed such strong Christian beliefs. But no Christian is perfect, and Joy justified her secret by thinking the lie would be better than causing her crew to all lose their jobs. There's never really a good excuse for continuing a lie, but I can see why Joy would struggle with it.

This was an easy, enjoyable read, set in a location (the Lowcountry) that I don't often read about. It makes me interested in picking up the other two books in this series, Sweet Caroline and Love Starts with Elle. If you enjoy Christian romance (or know someone who does), this is a great choice.

Related Linkage:

    Sunday, November 28, 2010

    Celebrate the Haul-idays with Chronicle Books!

    Chronicle Books is not just the independent publisher of distinctive books and gifts, it is the host of Happy Haul-idays, a downright delightful and drool-worthy contest that I just could not resist participating in. What must WE do to win loads and loads of books? Below I am posting a list of Chronicle Books valued at up to $500 that I'd like to haul in, which enters me into a drawing to WIN my list of books! If my post is chosen as the winner, one of the commenters on my post will win the list too! Are you drooling yet? Because just browsing through their catalog made me feel like a kid in a candy store.

    Books I would give to family and friends:

    SURFER Magazine: 50 Years caught my eye because my younger brother has been a subscriber for many years, and loves to surf.

    Handy Dad: 25 Awesome Projects for Dads & Kids by Todd Davis would be absolutely great for my hubby! He loves finding fun things to do with our kids on his days off!

    For my mom, Embroidered Effects by Jenny Hart. She is really into quilting right now, and has started embroidering her quilts. I think this book would give her some great inspiration.

    For my dad, The Beatles Anthology in hardcover. One of the many things my dad has taught his only daughter is a love for The Beatles.

    For both of my parents, Ultimate Book of Card Games by Scott McNeely. My parents love playing cards, and I think they'd enjoy browsing through the book for new games to play with their friends on camping trips. 

    These two books featuring Frank Paul's Julius character, High Five and Only in Dreams would be perfect for my newest nephew! I'll See You In the Morning by Mike Jolley is a board book that looks too sweet for words and would also be perfect.
    Andrew Zimmerman's Creature ABC and Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld would be for my 4-year-old nephew. They look fabulous!
    For my Sister-In-Law, who just had a baby (my newest nephew), Porn For New Moms. This series makes me laugh out loud and I think she'd really enjoy it.

    For my kids, The Story of Snow by Mark Cassino, Eric Carle's Dream Snow Pop-up Advent Calendar, The Castaway Pirates by Ray Marshall, Olive, The Other Reindeer by J.otto Seibold, and The Lonesome Puppy by Yoshitomo Nara. My kids love to read, and I think these would all be up their alley. I picked the Advent Calendar because we all love Eric Carle and it would make the season so fun!

    Books I would add to my own bookshelves:

     The Book of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks by Bethany Keeley looks awesome! It always makes me laugh/drives me crazy when people use quotation marks when they're not needed!

    Hubby and I are definitely tree lovers, and I think The Life and Love of Trees would be a fantastic coffee table book at our house.

    Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel looks like something totally out of my usual reading, but I'm intrigued by the cover art and the idea of reading "one of Hindu mythology's best-loved and most enduring tales."

    My kids are always saying things that I chuckle over and I wish I had been keeping track before now. I'd love the My Quotable Kid journal to keep track of what they've been saying.

    Blind Trust by Barbara Boxer and Mary-Rose Hayes looks like an intriguing and current thriller.

    I can always use reminders to enjoy life in this moment, rather than stress out about the things I need to have done at some point in the future. 1,001 Ways to Live in the Moment by Barbara Kipfer looks great.

    Finally, I'd need one of Chronicle's super-cool "Books are My Bag" totes to carry my books around.

    Phew, that was exhausting. Almost more exhausting than Black Friday shopping, except that I got to do it from the comfort of my computer chair. Be sure to leave a comment here if you'd like a chance to win a boatload of books from Chronicle Books (make sure you leave your email address in the comment if it's not available in your profile)!

    Saturday, November 27, 2010

    Guest Post by Author Cathy Bryant: Need Direction?

    Today I'd like to welcome author Cathy Bryant to A Few More Pages! A Path Less Traveled, book 2 in her Miller's Creek series, was released this month. Cathy's post focuses on the Bible verse that inspired her book. Thanks for joining us, Cathy!
    Thanks so much for the opportunity, Katy!
    Need Direction?
    "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." ~Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)
    I don't know about you, but I constantly crave direction. My hubby has referred to me as "can't-make-a-decision-Cathy." And I know what the problem is.


    I'm so afraid of making the wrong decision that I end up in the sad condition known as the paralysis of analysis. 

    Praise the Lord that there is hope for me (& people like me)!

    The best cure for fear is trust in God. However, an untested faith isn't faith at all. I can trust a chair to hold me up, but until I actually put my weight on the chair, my faith isn't proven. In our daily lives, we must live in such a way that proves our trust in God. Lean on Him.

    In an age when so many people and things vie for our affection, it can be challenging to have an undivided heart when it comes to God. But it's more than a suggestion. It's a command. When a Pharisee asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest, Jesus replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37, NIV)

    This is where I falter the most, and I don't think I'm alone. Our society is big on going with your gut instinct. The only problem with that philosophy is that our guts can be dead wrong. We can't follow our based-on-human-understanding plans and expect God to bless them. In every decision we face, no matter how big or small, we need to seek God. We can't see the big picture. He can.

    Admit that He is, always has been, and always will be. Recognize His sovereignty and authority. Express your gratitude for all that He is. Know Him and make Him known.

    This path-straightening is the benefit of an undivided trust in God, seeking after Him, and acknowledging His Presence in our lives. His plan will prevail. He alone can clear obstacles from our paths and allow us to move forward. He alone--if we follow the truths in these verses--can truly direct our paths.

    Why fear? Instead trust Him, seek Him, acknowledge Him. He'll make our paths straight.

    Dear Father,

    Thank You for being trustworthy. Help us to lean on You, confident that You will hold us up. Give us undivided hearts, Lord, to love You with all that we are. May we seek after You and Your desires in every decision we face. May You be glorified through our acknowledgment and confession that You are our God. Thank You for the abundant blessings that are ours because we belong to You.

    In Jesus' Name,
    Thanks again for visiting A Few More Pages, Cathy! This was a great reminder that we can lighten our load by trusting in Him.

    For all who are interested in Cathy's newest book, here's the description for A Path Less Traveled:
    Trish James is tired of being rescued. When a spooked horse claims her husband's life, she’s determined to blaze a path for herself and her traumatized son without outside help. But will that mean leaving the place etched on her heart?

    Andy Tyler has had to struggle for everything, and starting a new law practice in Miller's Creek, Texas is no different. Though prepared for business challenges, he's not prepared for falling in love--especially with yet another woman who will probably abandon him for her career.

    Will Andy and Trish be able to see past their limited human understanding to take . . . A Path Less Traveled?

    About the author:
    A Texas gal by birth, Cathy Bryant lives in a century-old Texas farmhouse with her husband and a phobia-ridden cat. Cathy’s first novel, Texas Roads, was a 2009 ACFW Genesis finalist. Her second book in the Miller's Creek novels, A Path Less Traveled, was released in November 2010. Cathy has written several devotions that have been published in books, magazines and online. To learn more about Cathy visit her website at  http://www.CatBryant.com.

    Related Linkage:

    Friday, November 26, 2010

    Book Beginnings on Friday: November 26, 2010

    How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be here at A Few More Pages every Friday.

    Thanks to Becky at Page Turners for starting this meme and to Rose City Reader for inspiring it!

    My read this week is Dining With Joy by Rachel Hauck. This book seemed fitting for Thanksgiving week since it's about a cooking show host. Here's the first line:

    Driving the Sea Island Parkway with her windows down, the nose of her Dodge Ram cutting through the swaths of shadow and light cast through the limbs of shading live oaks, Joy surfed her hand through the textured, saline lowcountry breeze.

    I'll admit, I had to re-read this first line. It's almost too wordy in its description, though I can almost smell the salty air being described. I didn't particularly love this line, but I don't think the too-wordy description is repeated in the rest of the book. In fact, the rest of the book is much easier to read.

    I hope you had a fabulous Thanksgiving holiday! Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

    So, what is the first line of your current read, and how did you like it? Please leave the link to your specific post, not just to the front page of your blog.

    1. Hilde (The Turn of the Page)
    2. Redd @ Unbroken Wyld
    3. Laurel-Rain @ Creative Moments
    4. Falafel& the center of the earth
    5. Bonnie (Bonnie's Books)
    6. Kathy @ Ms. Martin Teaches Media
    7. My Beloved Book Shelves
    8. Violette @ The Mystery Bookshelf
    1. Bev @ My Reader's Block
    2. Mari Quite Contrary
    3. Kristie @ live through books
    4. Dusky Literati
    5. Helen's Book Blog
    6. Rikki (The Bookkeeper)
    7. Carin (Caroline Bookbinder)
    8. This linky list is now closed.

    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    Review: The Trouble with Half a Moon by Danette Vigilante

    The Trouble With Half a Moon by Danette Vigilante
    Genre: YA Contemporary Urban Fiction
    Pages: 192
    Publication Date: January 6, 2011
    Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
    Source: Star Book Tours
    Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

    Book Description (from the author's website):
    Thirteen year old Dellie lives with the guilt that her little brother’s death was her fault. Her mother cries all the time and because she wants Dellie to stay safe, she keeps her inside as much as she can. It doesn’t matter that Dellie longs to go outside to be like other girls or that there’s a boy she likes and he likes her too. All that matters to her mother is that she’s safe at home. So, Dellie has no choice but to watch the world of her housing project through her second story window. Things start to change soon after new neighbors move in on the first floor. Trouble like this has never happened in Dellie’s building before.  Now there are men fighting on the stoop, gunshots echoing through the night and Corey, a hungry and abused five year old boy knocking on her door looking for something to eat. Corey reminds Dellie of her brother and even though their friendship is dangerous, she wonders if this time, she’ll be able to do what needs to be done. Will she be able to save Corey?
    ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
    "Just because we cannot see this half of the moon doesn't mean its not there.... We know this without having to actually see it... You have to believe its there. Faith, young one," she says, balling up her fist, "is powerful." (p. 70 from the galley text)
    I really didn't expect The Trouble With Half a Moon to grab a hold of my heart so tightly. I don't read a lot of contemporary urban fiction, but this one seemed to call out to me. An urban setting may seem alien to someone like me, who grew up in a rural area, but the topics of grief, loss, and healing are universal. The Trouble with Half a Moon focuses on a 13-year-old girl named Dellie, who blames herself for her brother's death and wrestles with those emotions on a daily basis. Her brother's death is ever-present in both her emotions and in her parents' actions. Her mother's fear of losing another child keeps Dellie inside her apartment much of the time. But Dellie longs to have a more typical teen existence, to spend time with her friends and neighbors. Her best friend is fighting with her, and the boy Dellie likes seems interested in spending time together, but she has to watch the outside world from her window.

    Two people enter her isolated life and begin to change things drastically. First, Dellie befriends five-year-old Corey, an abused and neglected little boy from downstairs. She sees her little brother in him, and even though his mother is dangerous, Dellie can't resist giving him food and friendship. Then an elderly Jamaican woman wearing a purple cape moves in across the hall. Miss Shirley has experienced her own losses, and she helps Dellie address her feelings and encourages her to follow her heart.

    I was quite moved by this story. Dellie's feelings of hurt are poignant and you could sense that even through her sadness she was straining at the ties binding her to childhood. Her sorrow over her brother makes her protective over Corey and she becomes willing to wade into dangerous situations for him. Where others might have resisted getting involved out of fear, she steps forward to help him. And though some might say that she helped save him, she would say that he saved her and her family.

    I wanted to crawl into this book and hug (almost) every character there. Each person depicted has experienced heartbreak and loss, and they each are grappling with that reality in a different way. I didn't totally understand how Miss Shirley's comments on faith (quoted above) were connected to the larger story--it would have been nice to see it better explored and explained--but I still would recommend the book. It was moving and profound, and I read it in one sitting because I couldn't put it down.

    Related linkage:
    Reading Challenges: POC Challenge

      Wednesday, November 24, 2010

      Review: Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl

      Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl
      Genre: YA Historical Fiction
      Pages: 362
      Date Published: October 2010
      Publisher: Chronicle Books
      Source: 1 ARC Tours
      Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

      Book description (from the publisher):
      London, 1838. Sixteen-year-old Liza's dreams of her society debut are dashed when her parents are killed in an accident. Penniless, she accepts the position of lady's maid to young Princess Victoria and steps unwittingly into the gossipy intrigue of the servant's world below-stairs as well as the trickery above. Is it possible that her changing circumstances may offer Liza the chance to determine her own fate, find true love, and secure the throne for her future queen?
      Meticulously based on newly discovered information, this riveting novel is as rich in historical detail as Catherine, Called Birdy, and as sizzling with intrigue as The Luxe.

      ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

      This was a very enjoyable Young Adult Historical Fiction novel. Through the character of Liza, a newly orphaned young lady, the reader gets a behind-the-scenes look at the household and life of Princess Victoria. Liza is an interesting character from the start. Her parents died in a carriage accident, apparently leaving her nothing but debts. Desperate for employment and a place to live, she accepts a position as the maid to Princess Victoria, even though she has no experienced beyond having her own maids. Liza struggles with her new, diminished position in society and life, and also finds herself neck-deep in the politics and intrigue surrounding the future Queen of England.

      I was familiar with some of Victoria's life already, having watched and adored the film The Young Victoria. This was a lovely way to immerse myself deeper into Victoria's life. Sir John, Victoria's mother's personal secretary and comptroller, is portrayed very similarly to the film--as a loathsome man obsessed with money and power. As Ms. MacColl points out in her note at the end of the book "he really was a villain. After she became Queen, Victoria called him a demon and noted his cruel and abusive treatment of her in her diaries..." (p. 358).

      There were points when I found Liza to be a bit tiring and immature, but perhaps some of that is to be expected from a formerly pampered seventeen-year-old girl. She often envied Victoria for having the life that she longed for, and took many chances in her attempt to have just a taste of that life. I wondered whether Victoria would humor someone like Liza in real-life as much as she did in this book.

      One of my favorite things about the book was that it gave an interesting look at life in the period, from royalty to servants, and newspapermen to the poor. I appreciated that the author was realistic in depicting Victoria's former maid--she was dismissed for being pregnant and unmarried, and finding her options limited as a girl with no references, she became a prostitute. Her circumstances were probably not unusual for girls in her situation.

      The other thing I loved was that after I finished enjoying the world Ms. MacColl created in Prisoners at the Palace, I was treated to her "Author's Note" at the end, which wonderfully provides historical notes about Victoria and explains Ms. MacColl's real-life inspiration for characters like Liza and her love interest, Will Fulton. I was utterly thrilled to learn that there was actually an "Inside Boy" in Victoria's home, though the real one didn't appear in the historical record until after Victoria had her first child.

      I loved this book! If you enjoyed The Young Victoria, you will find this book to be a charming and fascinating look into the life of Victoria before she became queen.

      Related Linkage:

      Women Unbound Challenge Completed!

      I've officially completed the Women Unbound Challenge, right on time (ends at the end of November)!  I participated at the Bluestocking Level (at least 5 books, with at least two of them being non-fiction). The non-fiction was surprisingly the hardest for me to complete. I put it off until the last minute. I listed my challenge books below, with links to the reviews. I read a lot more fiction that could be counted for this challenge, but I didn't have time to read the additional non-fiction that would allow me to step up to the next participation level. My favorite book of the ones listed here was Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. I was really impressed by how authentic the novel seemed compared to the historical record. My least favorite book of the group was Glorious by Bernice McFadden. All were interesting, and all were a bit different from my usual reading. I didn't get around to reading most of my preliminary list, so my future reading is sure to be filled with Women Unbound.


      Tuesday, November 23, 2010

      Review & Tour Stop: Arsenic and Clam Chowder by James D. Livingston

      Arsenic and Clam Chowder: Murder in Gilded Age New York by James D. Livingston
      Genre: Non-Fiction History
      Pages: 205
      Date Published: July 2010
      Publisher: State University of New York Press, Excelsior Editions
      Source: I received a free review copy in order to participate in a Pump Up Your Book! Virtual Book Tour.
      Rating: 4 of 5 stars

      Book Description (from the publisher):
      Arsenic and Clam Chowder recounts the sensational 1896 murder trial of Mary Alice Livingston, a member of one of the most prestigious families in New York, who was accused of murdering her own mother, Evelina Bliss. The bizarre instrument of death, an arsenic-laced pail of clam chowder, had been delivered to the victim by her ten-year-old granddaughter, and Livingston was arrested in her mourning clothes immediately after attending her mother’s funeral. In addition to being the mother of four out-of-wedlock children, the last born in prison while she was awaiting trial, Livingston faced the possibility of being the first woman to be executed in New York’s new-fangled electric chair, and all these lurid details made her arrest and trial the central focus of an all-out circulation war then underway between Joseph Pulitzer’s World and Randolph Hearst’s Journal.
      The story is set against the electric backdrop of Gilded Age Manhattan. The arrival of skyscrapers, automobiles, motion pictures, and other modern marvels in the 1890s was transforming urban life with breathtaking speed, just as the battles of reformers against vice, police corruption, and Tammany Hall were transforming the city’s political life. The aspiring politician Teddy Roosevelt, the prolific inventor Thomas Edison, bon vivant Diamond Jim Brady, and his companion Lillian Russell were among Gotham’s larger-than-life personalities, and they all played cameo roles in the dramatic story of Mary Alice Livingston and her arsenic-laced clam chowder. In addition to telling a ripping good story, the book addresses a number of social and legal issues, among them capital punishment, equal rights for women, societal sexual standards, inheritance laws in regard to murder, gender bias of juries, and the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
      ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

      Mary Alice Livingston was not your typical 1890s woman. A member of one of the more prestigious families of New York, she was also the mother of four out-of-wedlock children. But her notoriety came not just from her series of breach of promise lawsuits, but from her arrest and trial for the poisoning of her mother, Evelina Bliss, in 1896.

      Arsenic and Clam Chowder is a true-crime story that delves into the newspaper coverage, unpublished papers of Mary Alice's half-brother, and available trial transcripts to reconstruct the events surrounding Evelina's death and the prosecution's case against Mary Alice. Amidst the yellow journalism of Joseph Pulitzer's World and William Randolph Hearst's Journal, her story made headlines and was widely followed. Would Mary Alice be convicted of murder and become the first woman to be executed in New York's electric chair?

      Evelina and Mary Alice's stories were quite interesting. I was fascinated by the press coverage of Mary Alice's trial and by the author's inclusion of pertinent background information on government competition in New York, society's expectations of women, the court system of the time, and the history of Mary Alice's family. I was surprised at Mary Alice's situation as an unmarried woman with four children. Society would have frowned on her circumstances, but she seemed not to care about that. I also found her two breach of promise suits interesting (breach of promise basically referred to a broken engagement). The first suit came in 1882 after the birth of her first child, and the man she sued basically accused Mary Alice and her mother of being prostitutes! She won her case, but the sensational trial brought her a lot of attention. Her second lawsuit was filed in 1886, the year after her second child was born. That trial was not as successful, and as Livingston points out, "Apparently Mary Alice, now twenty-five and the mother of two, was no longer fully convincing in the role of an innocent young girl" (54).

      Arsenic and Clam Chowder provides a fascinating window into Gilded Age America, from its politics and justice system to its social standards and mass media. The writing style is an easy-to-follow narrative that even the general reader will enjoy. If you enjoy true-crime stories and urban history at the turn of the twentieth century, this book is for you! Fans of women's history will not be disappointed.

      Related Linkage:
      Reading Challenges: Women Unbound

      Monday, November 22, 2010

      1st in a Series Challenge - Progress

      I'm participating in this challenge at the following level:
      • Series Lover: Read 6 books that are the first in any series.
      I'll keep track of my progress on this page.
      1. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemison
      2. Heiress by Susan May Warren 
      3. Road to the West by Rosanne E. Lortz 

        2nds Challenge - Progress

        I'm participating at the following level:
        • A few more bites - Read 6 books that are 2nd in a series or the second time you've read the author.
        I'm keeping track of my progress on this page.
        1. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
        2. The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent
        3. Fiddler's Green by A.S. Peterson 
        4. The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner 
        5. Shadows on the Stars by T.A. Barron
        6. The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
        7. Heiress by Susan May Warren 
        8. Highland Sanctuary by Jennifer Hudson Taylor 
        9. Veiled Rose by Anne Elisabeth Stengl 

        2nds Challenge 2011!

        Have you read a book by an author that you really enjoyed and felt moved to read another of the author's works? Or are you thinking to give an author another try even if you didn't like your first taste of their work? If yes, then this challenge is for you! You're going to go back for seconds of an author that you've only read once. The great thing about this challenge is that it's not just for your second in a series books, but the second time you've read an author as well.

        This challenge was previously hosted by J. Kaye's Book Blog, and last year by Royal Reviews. This is another challenge that was offered up to a new host, and I jumped at it for the same reason I volunteered to host the 1st in a Series Challenge. It was the second reading challenge that I joined when I first started blogging in 2009.

        Guidelines for the 2nds Challenge 2011

        1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate. If you're not a blogger, leave your information in the comments.

        2. There are four levels to choose from in this challenge:
        • Just a spoonful - Read 3 books that are 2nd in a series or the second time you've read the author. 
        • A few more bites - Read 6 books that are 2nd in a series or the second time you've read the author.
        • A full plate - Read 12 books that are 2nd in a series or the second time you've read the author.
        • All you can eat - Read 20 books (or more) that are 2nd in a series or the second time you've read the author.
        You can list your books in advance or just put them in a wrap up post. If you list them, feel free to change them as the mood takes you. Any genre counts.

        3. You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2011. Don't start reading until January.

        4. If you're a blogger, write up a sign-up post that includes the URL to this post so that others can join in. Feel free to use the button above. When you sign up in the Linky, put the direct link to your 2nds Challenge sign-up post.

        5. Click here to link up your reviews!

        1st In a Series Reading Challenge 2011!

        This challenge was previously hosted by J. Kaye's Book Blog, and last year by Royal Reviews. When it was offered up for a new host blog, I happily volunteered. The 1st in a Series Challenge has a special place in my heart because it was one of the first reading challenges I joined when I started blogging in 2009. If you like reading series as much as I do, I hope you'll join in!

        Guidelines for the 1st in a Series Challenge 2011

        1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate. If you're not a blogger, leave your information in the comments.

        2. There are four levels for this challenge:
        • Series Novice: Read 3 books that are the first in any series.
        • Series Lover: Read 6 books that are the first in any series.
        • Series Expert: Read 12 books that are the first in any series.
        • Series Fanatic: Read 20 books that are the first in any series.
        You can list your books in advance or just put them in a wrap up post. If you list them, feel free to change them as the mood takes you. Any genre counts.

        3. The challenge runs from January 1 through December 31, 2011.

        4. You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2011.

        5. If you're a blogger, write up a sign-up post that includes the URL to this post so that others can join in. Feel free to use the button above. When you sign up in the Linky, put the direct link to your 1st in a Series Challenge sign-up post.

        6. Click here to link-up your reviews!

        Friday, November 19, 2010

        Book Beginnings on Friday: November 19, 2010

        How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be here at A Few More Pages every Friday.

        Thanks to Becky at Page Turners for starting this meme and to Rose City Reader for inspiring it!

        Today my Book Beginning comes from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Part I of the movie was released in theaters today, and in my excitement I just had to feature the book today. Here's the first line:
        The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.
        I've got a pile of TBR books right now, but I just couldn't resist picking Harry Potter out of my bookshelf this week. This isn't the most earth-shattering first line, but I remember being absolutely excited to read it when it came out in 2007. The first time I read the book it made me wonder who the two men were and whether they were good guys or bad guys. I'm planning to go see the movie on Monday with my mom and grandma (who are both big HP fans too).

        So, what is the first line of your current read, and how did you like it? Please leave the link to your specific post, not just to the front page of your blog.

        1. Suzanne @ bibliosue
        2. Carin (Caroline Bookbinder)
        3. Kathy @ Inside of a Dog
        4. Laurel-Rain @ Creative Moments
        5. Helen's Book Blog
        1. Alex @ The Children's War
        2. Bev @ My Reader's Block
        3. Christina (Babbling Book Reviews)
        4. Me, Myself, I Read (and Write)
        5. Kristie @ live through books
        6. This linky list is now closed.

        Wednesday, November 17, 2010

        Twenty Ten Reading Challenge Completed!

        Yay! I completed the Twenty Ten Reading Challenge this month! I think my favorite book out of the twenty read for this challenge was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I discovered some really cool authors this year through this challenge too: Zetta Elliott's A Wish After Midnight and A.S. Peterson's The Fiddler's Gun were both wonderful surprises. My least favorite book out of this group was Faithful Heart by Al Lacy. I really enjoyed this challenge! It was more complicated than I expected to fit books into each category. Thanks for hosting Bart!

        Here's my completed list, with links to reviews:
        1. Young Adult
          A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott
          The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

        2. T.B.R.** (must be on bookshelf as of Nov. 1, 2009)
          A Dangerous Mourning by Anne Perry
          A Misty Mourning by Rett MacPherson

        3. Shiny and New (acquired new in 2010)
          Glorious by Bernice McFadden
          Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

        4. Bad Bloggers (books chosen solely from book blogger recommendation)
          The Awakening by Kate Chopin (recommended by Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot)
          The Fiddler's Gun by A.S. Peterson (recommended by Amy at My Friend Amy)

        5. Charity (book bought at a local charity shop or sale)
          Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
          A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

        6. New in 2010 (new releases)
          Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
          Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

        7. Older Than You (in my case, anything published before 1978)
          The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer (pub. 1962)
          The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (pub. 1926)

        8. Win! Win! (books for other challenges)
          Sugar by Bernice McFadden (POC Challenge, Women Unbound)
          Riddle of Berlin by Cym Lowell (Thriller & Suspense Challenge)

        9. Who Are You Again? (authors you've never heard of before)
          Faithful Heart by Al Lacy
          Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran

        10. Up to You! (Non Fiction!)
          Embracing Your Freedom by Susie Larson
          The Eyes of Willie McGee by Alex Heard

        Tuesday, November 16, 2010

        Review: Celia, A Slave by Melton A. McLaurin

        Celia, A Slave: A True Story by Melton A. McLaurin
        Genre: Non-Fiction History
        Pages: 178
        Date Published: 1991 (I read a 1999 printing)
        Publisher: Avon Books
        Source: I purchased this book.
        Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

        Book Description (from the publisher):
        Celia was an ordinary slave--until she struck back at her abusive master and became the defendant in a landmark trial that threatened to undermine the very foundations of the South's "Peculiar Institution."
        ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

        Celia, A Slave by Melton McLaurin focuses on the trial of a 19-year-old slave in Missouri, charged with the murder of her master in 1855. It examines the politics of slavery (Kansas was being fought over by pro- and anti-slavery groups at the time) and patriarchy in the slave south, and I thought it was fascinating. One of the reasons I thought it was so good was because it takes a small, local event and relates it to the larger issues of the day. Doing this provides the reader with a better understanding of how these larger issues and trends affected people on a personal and individual level--the same reason I like reading autobiographies as well. It was also interesting to read about a woman who fought back against her abusive master in the South.

        I assigned this book to my US History Survey course in the spring quarter (2010) because I liked the connections between the political currents of the day and this woman's experience as a slave accused of murder. I was pleasantly surprised by the reactions of my students to the book. Sure, some were bored (that first chapter could be a bit too detailed in conveying background information) but for the most part they thought the case was interesting. We had some great discussion in class about it, from the debate over the laws (Celia's lawyers argued that laws protecting women should apply to slave women as well as white women) to questions regarding what choices Celia had to protect herself and her children in her position.

        The middle parts of the book were the most engrossing, when the case and the events surrounding the case were discussed. The first and last chapters were a bit slower, as they go into background information on the owner and then a short analysis of how the event fits in with recent scholarship on slavery. But those chapters really ground the story in the wider political currents of the day. Celia, A Slave is quite readable for a scholarly work, and was short enough to keep most of my students' attention (right around 150 pages). I thought it was well done and will probably use this book again in my US History Survey courses, as part of a rotation of books (which includes Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl). I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about what life was like for women in slavery.

        **I noticed that this review gets a lot of search engine hits and I can only assume that students are looking for more information on a book they have to read or write about for a class. If this is you, don't copy and paste my information into your paper. It is plagiarism and it is super easy to find this review just by plugging a sentence of it into Google, so don't think you won't get caught. Sure, use my review to help you brainstorm things to write about, but if you use my ideas please cite them properly and include this review in your bibliography. And if you think I've said something so absolutely beautifully that you must quote me, use quotation marks and give me credit. Thank you!

        Related Linkage:
        Reading Challenges: POC Reading Challenge, Women Unbound

        Monday, November 15, 2010

        Eye Candy: Gilded Youth

        I came across this book in a work e-mail (I teach at a community college). The cover immediately caught my attention. I love how the cover image epitomizes the title of Gilded Youth.

        Gilded Youth: Three Lives In France's Belle Epoque by Kate Cambor
        Genre: Non-Fiction History
        Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
        ISBN: 978-0-374-53224-6
        Release Date: August 2010

        Book Description (from the publisher):
        They were the children of France’s most celebrated men of nineteenth-century letters and science, the celebrity heirs and heiresses of their day. Their lives were the subject of scandal, gossip, and fascination. Léon Daudet was the son of the popular writer Alphonse Daudet. Jean-Baptiste Charcot was the son of the famed neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, mentor to a young Sigmund Freud. And Jeanne Hugo was the adored granddaughter of the immortal Victor Hugo. As France readied herself for the dawn of a new century, these childhood friends seemed poised for greatness.

        Gilded Youth, Kate Cambor paints a portrait of a generation lost in upheaval. While France weathered social unrest, violent crime, the birth of modern psychology, and the dawn of World War I, these three young adults experienced the disorientation of a generation forced to discover that the faith in science and progress that had sustained their fathers had failed them. Cambor captures the hopes and disillusionments of those who were destined to see the golden world of their childhood disappear—and the universal challenges that emerge as the dreams of youth collide with the realities of experience.
        Eye Candy is a feature that was inspired by Marcia's Cover Attraction posts at The Printed Page and Daphne's Cover Slut posts at Tanzanite's Shelf and Stuff.

        Sunday, November 14, 2010

        2010 Holiday Reading Challenge!

        All About {n}

        I'm signing up for the 2010 Holiday Reading Challenge, hosted by Nely at All About {n}. I participated last year and had mixed results--here's hoping this year goes better! Here's what I'm hoping to read:
        1. "The Two Heroines of Plumplington" by Anthony Trollope (novella)
        2. Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul
        3. The Clouds Roll Away by Sibella Giorello
        Completed on 12/20/10. My favorite read of the three was Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball.

          Friday, November 12, 2010

          Book Beginnings on Friday: November 12, 2010

          How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be here at A Few More Pages every Friday.

          Thanks to Becky at Page Turners for starting this meme and to Rose City Reader for inspiring it!

          My latest read is Mirrored Image by Alice K. Arenz. Here is the first line:
          A dull ache near the center of her back accompanied the gradual return of consciousness.
          This first line really caught my attention. Why was this person unconscious? What happened to her? The next few lines are equally gripping and turn towards chilling. This is a great first line and it only gets better the further you get into it.

          So, what is the first line of your current read, and how did you like it? Please leave the link to your specific post, not just to the front page of your blog.

          1. Laurel-Rain @ Creative Moments
          2. Bev @ My Reader's Block
          3. Kathy @ Ms. Martin Teaches Media
          4. Christina (Babbling Book Reviews)
          5. Carin (Caroline Bookbinder)
          6. Book Loving Mommy
          1. Buffy @ Situations Where You May Need It
          2. Bonnie @ Bonnie's Books
          3. Kristie @ live through books
          4. Rob @ Books Are Like Candy Corn
          5. Redd @ Unbroken Wyld
          6. Rose City Reader
          7. This linky list is now closed.

          Wednesday, November 10, 2010

          Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

          A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
          (Book 1 of the Earthsea Cycle)
          Genre: Fantasy
          Pages: 183
          Date Published: 1968 (I read a May 1984 printing)
          Publisher: Bantam Books
          Source: I purchased this book used from a local charity thrift store.
          Rating: 4 of 5 stars

          Book Description (from the back cover):
          Ged was the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, but once he was called Sparrowhawk, a reckless youth, hungry for power and knowledge, who tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death's threshold to restore the balance.
          ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

          Although I had heard of the Earthsea books, I had not read them nor seen the Sci-Fi adaptation. What finally got me to pick up this book was a discussion about whitewashed covers at The Booksmugglers. In the recent uproar over the whitewashing of book covers, it was mentioned that this book had been whitewashed way back in the day--it was an example of how cover whitewashing is not a new thing. The 1984 copy I picked up at the thrift store is indeed whitewashed (see photo on the right). Ged is depicted as an elvish fellow, with light skin and curly dark hair. In the book the people of Ged's island are described as having "dark copper-brown" skin. The cover art is a bit baffling because there are a lot of little details included from the story (the boat, Ged's cloak, the dragon, etc.)--except for the character's skin color. Cover whitewashing is annoying and unnecessary, but I am glad that the controversy drew me to finally pick up this book and give it a try. It was wonderful.

          I admit I had a hard time getting into this book at first. The main character starts out arrogant and self-centered. It wasn't until his selfish actions resulted in death, his disfigurement, and the release of a terrible darkness on the world that he was brought down a notch or two. Ultimately the experience forces him to grow up and become more responsible, and once that growth began I was hooked. Plus I love stories with dragons and one of his first duties after he leaves the wizard school is to deal with dragons. His transformation into a man deserving of his unparalleled talent was riveting and satisfying. There is something so encouraging about a story of redemption and renewal.

          I am so disappointed that I didn't read this book earlier in my life! I know I would have loved it just as I loved The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings when I was growing up. I am planning to read the rest of the series soon.

          Highly recommended!

          Related Linkage:
          Reading Challenges: Twenty Ten Challenge, Flashback Reading Challenge, POC Reading Challenge


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