Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reading Time: 3 Reviews

While I was away (that is what I am calling my blogging break), I managed to read 3 interesting books, 2 of which were pretty dark.  The 3rd wasn't dark, but it was serious.  Serious enough that I didn't feel comfortable posting my "Literary Life" posts because they weren't stories that solicited a little fun shopping after I was finished with them.  The books I read were Never Let Me Go, The Road and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  There were things I enjoyed about all books, so I wanted to share them & my thoughts about them with you guys.  This is a long post, so if you have no interest in any of these, feel free to skip!

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro













My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed this book.  I mainly picked it up because I had recently read an old review of the film, which starred Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley & Andrew Garfield.  Maybe I had read something about The Social Network or something & it brought me back to Andrew Garfield, which brought me back to this.  I can't remember.  I had it because my mom's bookclub had read it, although her feelings were that it was "eh."  A few months ago, my cousin, who posts the books he's reading on his Facebook, posted something along the lines of saying it's an awesome book.

I really liked the concept - which I would love to share, but I don't want to ruin it for people - and the author's execution.  I think it was really unique and kind of powerful.  I wish I could elaborate, but I can't.  I do think you have to enjoy a certain type of writing or this kind of story to truly enjoy it.  It moves at a fairly slow pace, the author tends to go on tangents a bit & I think the subject matter could be a bit upsetting.  I mean, at the end of the movie, I had a tear dripping down my cheek, even though I knew the ending from reading the book.  I did feel as though I was in a fog while reading the book - does that make sense?  It took place in a dreary, dark kind of suburb in England, and I had this certain feeling of "something isn't right" and desperation, which I think was intentional based on the subject matter.  So, I think how the author conveys the story & how he shares it with the reader is really successful.  However, at times I did wish I got a bit more from the characters & the story, but I am not exactly sure what exactly it was that I wanted.

Would I recommend it?  Yes, but only if you read the description on the back and are intrigued because it might not be up everyone's alley.

amazon.com's summary/review:
All children should believe they are special. But the students of Hailsham, an elite school in the English countryside, are so special that visitors shun them, and only by rumor and the occasional fleeting remark by a teacher do they discover their unconventional origins and strange destiny. Kazuo Ishiguro's sixth novel, Never Let Me Go, is a masterpiece of indirection. Like the students of Hailsham, readers are "told but not told" what is going on and should be allowed to discover the secrets of Hailsham and the truth about these children on their own.



Offsetting the bizarreness of these revelations is the placid, measured voice of the narrator, Kathy H., a 31-year-old Hailsham alumna who, at the close of the 1990s, is consciously ending one phase of her life and beginning another. She is in a reflective mood, and recounts not only her childhood memories, but her quest in adulthood to find out more about Hailsham and the idealistic women who ran it. Although often poignant, Kathy's matter-of-fact narration blunts the sharper emotional effects you might expect in a novel that deals with illness, self-sacrifice, and the severe restriction of personal freedoms. As in Ishiguro's best-known work, The Remains of the Day, only after closing the book do you absorb the magnitude of what his characters endure. --Regina Marler


The Road by Cormac McCarthy













My Thoughts:

I really had no intention of ever reading this, mainly because it was an Oprah book club book and I think a lot of those books are overrated.  I also think that sometimes this is one of those books that people say they love because it makes them sound smart.  I know both reasons sound incredibly snobby and stupid at the same time, but I can't help it!  My friend's mom ended up lending it to me & several months later, I finally picked it up.  I think because M. & I were having a conversation about making this story I am writing post-apocalyptic, so I decided I might as well read a post-apocalypitc story.

Wow.  This was an incredibly powerful book that made a journey that a father & son takes seem just so terrifying.  I mean, there's really not much more I can say about it.  It was just, wow.  At the same time, M. was reading the Walking Dead graphic novels, which lead to the two of us having a conversation about what we would do if we survived the apocalypse.  This was a date night conversation.  He thinks that he's seen enough zombie movies to enable his survival.  I said, "No, thank you.  I do not want to be involved in anything post apcalyptic.  You are on your own."

Would I recommend it?  Yes, definitely.  However, it is a very dark subject matter and can be disturbing.  It does have hope though.  Even when the world is at its worst, there is hope. 

I am a wimp who has nightmares, and prior to reading, I considered renting the movie.  I am not now.  I have to build myself up to it.

And, I apologize to Oprah for doubting her.  She has had some great books in her book club, including 2 by Charles Dickens & A Fine Balance, which is one of my favorite contemporary books.  I think she also did East of Eden, which is my favorite book.  So, not all her choices are questionable, just some of the ones she chose at the beginning of her bookclub & that stupid James Frey book.  See me being judgemental again?

A review found on amazon.com:
Cormac McCarthy sets his new novel, The Road, in a post-apocalyptic blight of gray skies that drizzle ash, a world in which all matter of wildlife is extinct, starvation is not only prevalent but nearly all-encompassing, and marauding bands of cannibals roam the environment with pieces of human flesh stuck between their teeth. If this sounds oppressive and dispiriting, it is. McCarthy may have just set to paper the definitive vision of the world after nuclear war, and in this recent age of relentless saber-rattling by the global powers, it's not much of a leap to feel his vision could be not far off the mark nor, sadly, right around the corner. Stealing across this horrific (and that's the only word for it) landscape are an unnamed man and his emaciated son, a boy probably around the age of ten. It is the love the father feels for his son, a love as deep and acute as his grief, that could surprise readers of McCarthy's previous work. McCarthy's Gnostic impressions of mankind have left very little place for love. In fact that greatest love affair in any of his novels, I would argue, occurs between the Billy Parham and the wolf in The Crossing. But here the love of a desperate father for his sickly son transcends all else. McCarthy has always written about the battle between light and darkness; the darkness usually comprises 99.9% of the world, while any illumination is the weak shaft thrown by a penlight running low on batteries. In The Road, those batteries are almost out--the entire world is, quite literally, dying--so the final affirmation of hope in the novel's closing pages is all the more shocking and maybe all the more enduring as the boy takes all of his father's (and McCarthy's) rage at the hopeless folly of man and lays it down, lifting up, in its place, the oddest of all things: faith. --Dennis Lehane



The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot














My thoughts:

I am so torn about this book.  It received so many rave reviews & I think the heart of it was a great story, great history & a great question about who get the rights to our DNA.  It was fascinating to read about the science that goes into the study of DNA, that has led to cures for cancer, polio and so many other diseases.  And truly, it was fascinating to learn that much of these research was due to the DNA of one woman. 

The author places herself into the story - giving us part history and part present day.  She tells us about her journey to learn more about Henrietta and her family, which leads her to spending a lot of time with the Lacks family, for better or for worst.  Without giving too much away, I really wish that she had spent more time with the history.  At the middle to end of the book, the author's focus on the family just kind of lost control & I think really distracted me from her main thesis.  What I had enjoyed so much in the beginning just lost steam & when I closed the book, I just had such mixed feelings. 

Would I recommend it?  Sure, it seems like the overall consensus about the book is that it's great.  I did partially lend it to a friend (it was a book that had been lent to me), but with the warning that I did not love it like everyone else & that I am interested in hearing her thoughts about it.

As always, amazon.com's review/summary of the book:
From a single, abbreviated life grew a seemingly immortal line of cells that made some of the most crucial innovations in modern science possible. And from that same life, and those cells, Rebecca Skloot has fashioned in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks a fascinating and moving story of medicine and family, of how life is sustained in laboratories and in memory. Henrietta Lacks was a mother of five in Baltimore, a poor African American migrant from the tobacco farms of Virginia, who died from a cruelly aggressive cancer at the age of 30 in 1951. A sample of her cancerous tissue, taken without her knowledge or consent, as was the custom then, turned out to provide one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive--even thrive--in the lab. Known as HeLa cells, their stunning potency gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio. Meanwhile, Henrietta's family continued to live in poverty and frequently poor health, and their discovery decades later of her unknowing contribution--and her cells' strange survival--left them full of pride, anger, and suspicion. For a decade, Skloot doggedly but compassionately gathered the threads of these stories, slowly gaining the trust of the family while helping them learn the truth about Henrietta, and with their aid she tells a rich and haunting story that asks the questions, Who owns our bodies? And who carries our memories? --Tom Nissley

I didn't read much in the month of March, but I am gearing up for my next book.  It's Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.  It's another book getting pretty solid reviews and I am hoping it doesn't disappoint!

Have any of you read these 3 books?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Oh, Hello There

I am a jerk and haven't written in almost 2 full months.  Sorry folks.  Honestly, I just haven't felt like I've had much to say.  We've taken a few adventures, eaten delicious food & have had something almost every weekend, but I just didn't feel like anything was particularly noteworthy.  And for that, I apologize for falling off the face of the Earth.  BUT, I am back and I am going to update this bad boy far more.  For those of you who have stuck by me, thank you.  I'll make it worth your while.

Until tomorrow . . . Here is a picture of a beautiful Artic Fox sleeping.  I snapped the picture during one of my photography classes that we had at the Baltimore Zoo.  I loved him.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Design Inspiration

I think that I really really love blue walls . . .




Kelly Rae Roberts via Mabel's House, this whole room is full of prettiness, so just check out the link.

I also appear to really love strips so expect to see lots of striped stuff in the future.  I might like them as much as I like polka dots, which is A LOT!

Also, M. and I really need to get rid of our coffee table, but I cannot for the life of me find a coffee table that I like.  Most of the ones on Craigslist involve marble or glass or metal, which is not so much us.  Anything I find online has lots of dollar signs in front of it.

I'm thinking that instead of a traditional coffee table, we might do a large storage ottoman, a la the picture below, or a vintage steamer trunk . . .




I clearly love how Le Musings of Moi put together her entry and living room.  I think it has a great mix of modern, whimsy and vintage style.  And, it wasn't styled by an interior decorator or designer, it's someone like me (but probably more creative) putting together a pretty space that is easily attainable.  I like that best!




Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Novel Life: The Forgotten Garden

I finished up The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton last night.  Despite reading a lot of mixed reviews, I ended up really enjoying the book.

























Most of the complaints I read focused on the fact that there were so many narrators and time periods being explored throughout the book and also the fact that the book's mystery was extremely easy for the reader to solve.  I understand both complaints but didn't find that either factor impacted my enjoyment of the story. 

As for the time period and narrators - there are 3 primary narrators, one in the 1900s, one in 1975-1976 and one in 2005.  Their stories alternate chapters.  Additionally, the book will break from this formula and tell pieces of the story in the point of view of secondary characters.  They also break the book with three fairytales written by one of the characters.  So yea, it is a lot.  But, I didn't struggle with it or find it overwhelming.  A little self editing probably would have made the story better, but each narrator moved the story along and exposed pieces of the mystery that the other narrators wouldn't have been able to.

As for the mystery, I think the people who complained about it need to realize that the characters are solving the mystery, not the readers.  As a reader, we're privvy to more information than the character, so yes, it will be easier for us to solve the mystery.  But, there is so much more to the book than the mystery that made it still enjoyable.  Plus, the author throws one or two curveballs out there that made me question how sure I was that I knew the answer.

Amazon.com can summarize the book far better than I will be able to:

Like Frances Hodgson Burnett's beloved classic The Secret Garden, Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden takes root in your imagination and grows into something enchanting--from a little girl with no memories left alone on a ship to Australia, to a fog-soaked London river bend where orphans comfort themselves with stories of Jack the Ripper, to a Cornish sea heaving against wind-whipped cliffs, crowned by an airless manor house where an overgrown hedge maze ends in the walled garden of a cottage left to rot. This hidden bit of earth revives barren hearts, while the mysterious Authoress's fairy tales (every bit as magical and sinister as Grimm's) whisper truths and ignite the imaginary lives of children. As Morton draws you through a thicket of secrets that spans generations, her story could cross into fairy tale territory if her characters weren't clothed in such complex flesh, their judgment blurred by the heady stench of emotions (envy, lust, pride, love) that furtively flourished in the glasshouse of Edwardian society. While most ache for a spotless mind's eternal sunshine, the Authoress meets the past as "a cruel mistress with whom we must all learn to dance," and her stories gift children with this vital muscle memory. --Mari Malcolm


That summary actually doesn't tell a whole lot . . . but, whatever.  M. will tell you that I am the worst at summarizing stuff, so trust me, it's better than what I would have done!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


1. My Greatest Adventures 8x8 Fine Art Print by The Light Fantastic's shop
2. My Grandmother's Garden Miniature Terrarium from doodlebirdie's shop
3. Second Star to the Right - Photo Print on Antique Book Page from miss quite contrary's shop
4. Burford Cottage from maryellengolden's shop
5. Snow White Inspired Locket Brooch from ThisYearsGirl's shop
6. The Collection Number XIII A Signed Fine Art Photograph from gilding lilies' shop
7. The Secret Garden Tea Cup and Saucer from zinnia pea's shop
8. Custom Shabby Chic Rosette GARTER SET from SweetlyFallen's shop
 
If you're reading along with me, the next book I read will either be Dead Man's Walk by Larry McMurty or The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  It all depends on my mood come tonight!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Resolution Check-in

As we enter February and say goodbye to the first month of the new year, I figured now is the best time to come back to my goals for the year and let you know how I did on Month 1.

I have 2 goals for this year -

Goal 1 is to lose the 25 pounds that my body has accumulated in the time period that M. and I have been together.  Oh what love does to you . . . it makes you fat and poor.  It's worth it, but still!

When it comes to diets, I always work hard at them for about a month but abandon ship once a plate of french fries or a bagel comes my way.  However, I told M. that I'm not dieting, I'm making a lifestyle change.  To be successful, I got back on board with Weight Watchers and I decided to set monthly lifestyle/diet goals for myself.

My goals for January were to get on track with Weight Watchers and stick with it; no more soda and reduce artifical sweeteners; and to reduce alcohol.  A little later into the month, I also decided to quit fried foods, which means no more french fries and potato chips, which are easily two of my biggest weaknesses.

And how have I done?  Big check mark!  With the exception of one weekend of weakness, I stuck pretty close to all of my goals.  I wasn't perfect . . . we went out for dinner with friends or family once a week during the month (thanks to a month of birthday celebrations).  Last week we had pizza for dinner on Friday, I drank lots of beer on Saturday and on Sunday we indulged in wine and brownies.  However, when we went to the bar on Saturday, I ate french onion soup and a spinach salad, despite being tipsy and everyone else around me eating delicious fried food.  So, I might not have been perfect, but I am proud that I still practiced self restraint.

And, excitingly enough, the scale at the end of the month was kind to me.  I have lost 8 pounds, which means I am 17 pounds closer to my final goal.  I tell you what, I was giddy about that weight.  I could not stop smiling on Monday and bragged to everyone about my weight loss!

Now, I need to keep moving and keeping losing!  My goals for February include introducing consistent exercise to my weekly routine (I have started by waking up forty-five minutes earlier every morning and doing yoga as of yesterday), reducing white carbs and reducing sugar intake.  I am hoping to lose at least 5 pounds this month.

Goal 2 was to drastically reduce my personal spending and to save money for our trip to Greece, our future home and the future in general.  Despite having to buy gifts for 3 birthdays this month, I did really good!  I was so proud of myself.  And then I exchanged some Christmas items at Garnet Hill, which resulted in them withdrawing almost $400 from my personal account, to be reimbursed when they received my exchanged items.  I didn't realized that they would take money from my account, so imagine my shock one day when I expected to see $500 in my checking account, only to have $36.  Not cool.  So, about 2 weeks later, I am still waiting for them to return my money.  Once they do, it'll be moved into my savings account.

The good news is, other than that exchange, I have only used my personal account to buy gas, birthday presents and lunch one day in the month of January.  So, I am willing to say that despite all the online window shopping that I have done, I still drastically reduced my spending compared to other months, which means I have been successful.

I am really proud of myself for sticking with my goals for my first month.  I tend to stay motivated but find excuses to still break goals and promises that I make to myself.  However, I stuck to it, with the idea that I want to wear a bikini in Greece and not be looked at as "the fat American" and I want more money!  That alone has really made me excited this month and kept me motivated.

I know that some of this stuff will get more difficult as we get further into the year and as I get farther away from making my inital resolution.  I hope that by establishing monthly goals, I can keep it up for the rest of the year!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Design Inspiration

February is quickly approaching, which means that in a few short months, M. and I will commence our search for a new home.  We're kicking apartment style living to the curb and will, hopefully, find a house to make our own.  It's taken us a while to get to this point, especially me, since my ideal situation would involve living in a new city every other year up until we have a kid and set our roots down near our families.  But, we've decided that financially, professionally and for a whole bunch of other reasons that it's best for us to nix that moving around business and get to setting our roots down.

After much trepidation, I have come to happily accept our future and keep getting excited over different little aspects of home ownership.  I'll get to decorate the home as I please, I'll get to have a garden, in the summertime I can actually sit outside and soak up the sunshine without worrying about the people in our building staring at me.  However, I also realize that the driveway won't clear itself after snowfall, the grass won't just cut itself and when the shower acts wonky, I can't just call a leasing office to get it fixed for free, as we get to do in our apartment.  I am choosing to ignore all those downfalls and look towards what I am looking most forward to, which is decorating.

So, each Friday, I am planning on posting some of the design inspiration that I have bookmarked for when we move into our own place.

I have realized that I prefer a classic look that has some modern aspects, while M. tends to favor shabby chic looks.  I also love strong neutrals, like black, navy and gray, mixed with pops of color.  I also apparently love blue, which is funny because I never did in the past. 

I'm kind of excited to see how I use all the inspiration I find when we finally do move in.

But until then . . .























Centsational Girl






















Armonia Decor, via Little Green Notebook



















Tobi Fairley, via Everything LEB

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow Love

We got almost a foot of snow here last night.  The coolest part was that in addition to the snow, we got thunder and lightning.  A few people (my parents included) also lost electricity.  It flickered off and on at our apartment a bit, but nothing too bad.

This evening, after picking me up from work, M. and I went for a little walk in the snow around our neighborhood.  It might have been a pain this morning, but man, was it pretty.