Friday, January 30, 2015

Shadows of a Princess - Patrick D. Jephson

Shadows of a Princess:
An Intimate Account By
Her Private Secretary
Title: Shadows of a Princess: An Intimate Account By Her Private Secretary
Author: Patrick D. Jephson
Publication Date: 10/9/00
Pages: 464
Genre: Royals / Memoir / Historical
How I Found It: As a consequence of my continued obsession with the British royal family

Date Completed: January 19, 2015

Summary: Patrick Jephson worked directly for Her Royal Highness Diana, Princess of Wales for just over seven years. Serving first as her equerry and then private secretary, he shepherded the icon through the finals years of her marriage. His inside perspective on the princess offers a glimpse at her personality, her priorities, and her life behind the glamour the world saw and loved.

What I Thought: My obsession with the royals is no secret. If you know me at all, you know this area of interest might be a little out of control for me. I may or may not have used a Shutterfly coupon code to make my own Duchess of Cambridge themed calendar for 2015. Don't judge me. You wish you could look at Kate Middleton's face and fashion every day this year, too.

On that note, my interest really began long ago with one of the most iconic royals of our age: Princess Diana. Interestingly, it may all have begun for me because I have an aunt who loved Diana as much as I love Kate now. I would sit on the floor of her house and page through books and magazines with the princess's face on the covers. I did my first ever research paper in middle school on Diana's childhood. I remember distinctly the night she died and the subsequent outpouring of emotion from around the globe; I was ten.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Toujours Provence - Peter Mayle

Toujours Provence
Hey, all! Today I'm officially breaking out a new template for my review posts. I talked about wanting to do this as one of my 2015 goals. This is likely going to be a work in progress for a bit as I figure out what works best for me. In the mean time, I'd love your feedback! 

Title: Toujours Provence
Author: Peter Mayle
Publication Date: 6/2/92
Pages: 241
Genre: Memoir
How I Found It: I read Mayle's first book, A Year in Provence
Date Completed: January 1, 2015

Summary: After writing a best-selling memoir about his life in the Provence region of France, British native Peter Mayle offers a follow-up. He explores more of the idiosyncrasies of the French people and their way of life.

What I Thought: I really enjoyed Mayle's first book. It encapsulated my lifelong dream of moving to France. It described the idyllic lifestyle I imagined, alongside some humorous realism. 

Following my typical pattern, I read that first book almost exactly one year ago. Seriously, I don't do this on purpose. It's like my inner reading cycle just happens to last twelve months before I crave a follow-up. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Movie Monday: The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

I read Dashiell Hammett's detective novel, The Maltese Falcon, this past April. The book proved a nice break from the seemingly endless train of British period novels on the Modern Library list. It was a ground breaking novel, though it still has ended up largely in the shadow of its film adaptation from 1941.

The black-and-white movie stars Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor and basically founded the film noir genre. Now, I haven't seen a whole lot of film noir in my life, so I can't speak much to its legacy there. I can only speak to its representation of the novel.

The film stays very true to the book. Honestly, as I was watching, I didn't even right anything down (as I typically do when I'm watching these movies). Everything about the movie rang true to my experience with the book. The characters are unlikable and the story is a bit confusing. Still, it's not bad. It's a classic. That's the best way I can describe it.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
It has been a year now since Kevin and I started listening to the Harry Potter series together. To be honest, I thought we would be done by now. I guess I underestimated their length and overestimated how much time we would spend listening. Of course, I could not have predicted that we would become obsessed with Serial this fall and not ever want to listen to anything else. 

The holidays made a huge difference, though. We spent somewhere in the vicinity of 30 hours in the car in a 10-day period. Yes, I did hate my life, but at least my strong propensity to motion sickness only led to one lost lunch on the side of the road. It could have been worse. In the midst of all that driving, we blazed through some serious Harry Potter. After, of course, we listened to the Serial finale and discussed it for at least an hour or more.

The trip gave us a chance to finish up book five, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, or, as we now call it, Harry Potter and the Hormones. I mean seriously. Can we all just agree on how freaking annoying Harry is in this book? I get that he's fifteen and suffering some PTSD after watching Cedric's murder, but he's just awful. I don't care if you are Harry Potter. No one yells at Dumbledore. 

Ahem. Sorry...getting off track already. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I Am Malala - Malala Yousafzai

I Am Malala:
The Story of the Girl Who
Stood Up for Education
and Was Shot by the Taliban
If you have not heard of Malala Yousafzai by now, I am surprised. The young Pakistani woman has taken the world by storm in the best way possible.

While other girls her age are getting famous for taking provocative pictures or singing about weekdays, Malala has been championing the cause of girls' education for years. Yes, that's right...years.

Like most people who know her story, I first became aware of Malala after she was shot in the face by a member of the Taliban. I followed her story loosely, becoming increasingly interested. Once she became the youngest person in history to win the Nobel Peace Prize this past fall, I knew I had to dig deeper and read her whole story.

When I started reading the book, Kevin asked why she was so important. He said, "What did she do besides getting shot? How did that earn her the Peace Prize?" Valid question. 

Turns out, this incredible young woman has, alongside her father, been speaking out for education for years. Unsurprising as her owns a school, education is highly valued in the Yousafzai home. Although her own mother did not learn to read and write until this fall, both parents understood this importance and value of education for both their daughter and their two younger sons.

As the Pakistani political situation has continued its roller coaster existence, Malala's father became an increasingly prominent figure in the conversation about girls' education in the country. Malala, as she grew up, started as an example and then became an eloquent, strong advocate herself. She has participated in a documentary about the subject, written a blog for the BBC, and worked for the reopening of girls' schools after the Taliban closed them in 2009. Even before she was shot, she was being nominated for and winning important peace prizes. Not least of these is the nomination Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave her for the 2011 International Children's Peace Prize. 

Basically, this amazing girl was doing more with her life at 12 than I had even dreamed at that age. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Day of the Locust - Nathanael West

The Day of the Locust
Lately, I have been picking some of the shorter novels on the 100 Best Novels list. You all know how busy I've been this past year and I have finally realized that shorter novels get done faster. Duh. I'll have time for the long ones this year...hopefully.

Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust is one of the shortest on the year. Some editions clock in less than 200 pages. In a lot of ways, it felt more like a novella than a full novel. Not just the length, but somehow the story itself felt shortened and not fully explored.

Granted, I think that's kind of the point. The book focuses on the Hollywood lifestyle. The characters, none famous, live in a shallow world of affairs and violence. Nothing penetrates them too deeply. In the same way the entertainment industry presents only part of a person, a caricature, West offers his characters as empty shells, thin reflections of what real people are like.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Presidents Club - Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy

The Presidents Club:
Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity
This book has been on my list for quite a while. It's not an easy or light read. It's long and content heavy. But the history nerd in me was fascinated by its stories.

Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy explore the relationships between current and former presidents. As their subtitle puts it, the "Presidents Club" is "the world's most exclusive fraternity." There have only ever been a few men in it at a time since it's conception in the early 20th century. 

Apparently, it all started as a joke between Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover as they spent time together on the day of Dwight Eisenhower's inauguration. Since that time, the unique relationship between the present and past most powerful men in the free world has been more documented and organized.

Gibbs & Duffy break the book down by relationship. Each section, including one or more chapters, documents the friendship, or lack thereof, between two presidents. I most enjoyed the later sections, as they reflected the relationships between presidents of whom I have more knowledge and context.

As I said, the book is very content heavy. At times, I felt the authors dove a little too deep into policy or politics, but I also understand that those things were often contributing factors in said relationships. If you can slog through the denser parts, you will be rewarded with a lot of charming anecdotal stories and interesting facts. Well worth the read, I think. 

Pages: 641
Date Completed: December 11, 2014

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Everlasting Lane - Andrew Lovett

Everlasting Lane
A while back I was contacted to see if I was interested in reviewing an upcoming book. I know some bloggers are flooded with these requests, but I am not one of them, so I love getting them! If you have a book you think I might like, let me know! Worst thing that can happen is I say no, right?

Unless you get my name one person did. Then I may not even respond. If you want me to read your book, you can at least take the time to get my name correct. I think that's fair. 

The book I was approached about a bit ago is Andrew Lovett's Everlasting Lane. You'll notice it's the book we're talking about today. I was intrigued, so I happily accepted the offer. 

Sidebar: I know I don't say this every time, but I do feel as though I should clarify again that, even though I receive free copies of some of the books I agree to review, that never ever ever sways my opinion of them. I give you my honest thoughts every time. You can always be sure that I am offering my real opinion.

And my opinion of Everlasting Lane? I liked it. Didn't love it, but definitely liked it. 

The book tells the story of Peter, a young boy whose father dies and is subsequently taken by his mother to live in the English countryside. Once there, he struggles with acceptance at a new school and with the secrets his mother has. It's definitely a coming-of-age, but with a darker, sadder side than most similar stories.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Movie Monday: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

Last spring, I read John Green's best selling YA novel, The Fault in Our Stars. My reaction? To use the YA vernacular: all the feels. The book is beautiful. If you haven't read it, you should. Even if you think YA literature isn't for you.

When I was assigned to read the book for my Adolescent Literature class, I knew my time had come to finally see the movie. (Yes, even I can be a slacker student once in a great while. I don't feel badly. I skimmed the book again and had plenty of notes leftover from last time I read it. Perks of having a book blog.) To this point, I had avoided seeing the movie, mostly because I really can't stand Shailene Woodley.

Before I start talking about the film itself, can we all just take a moment, look at that movie poster, and wonder why Gus and Hazel have the same hair? Thank goodness it doesn't come across that way in the actual movie.

So, with the same trepidation I feel before I watch any adaptation of a really good book (particularly when the lead actress is one I don't like), I settled in to watch with Kevin and my iPad to take notes. And I took so many notes. I mean, tons. Since they are a bit all over the place and I doubt I'll ever really be able to work them into cohesive sentences and paragraphs about the film, I'm opting to give you an overview.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Tender at the Bone - Ruth Reichl

Tender at the Bone
Always in search of another great food memoir, I picked up Tender at the Bone after reading Ruth Reichl's debut novel this spring. Her memoir had been On Reserve for a while, but I had not gotten around to it yet. I finally got a chance this holiday season.

The book is exactly what you'd expect. Reichl's life story, with a specific focus on food. Many people who write books like this rave about the food they ate growing up, about mothers or grandmothers who taught them love in the kitchen. Not so for Reichl. Her mother was a wretched cook, a fact exacerbated by some mental health issues. The closest person she had to a food role model was a family maid, Alice. 

I was surprised to realize that Reichl was a bit of a hippie in her young adult years. Ok, maybe a lot of one. She lived in a commune with her husband and worked at a restaurant run by a collective. 

All of these things shaped her into the cook and food-lover she is today. Reichl edited Gourmet magazine for years before its demise. Before that, she was a food critic for The New York Times. Her niche lies in food journalism, for sure. 

The book was a fun read. Nothing ground-breaking or life-changing. Reichl had a lot of fun stories and clearly enjoyed exploring her life-long relationship with food. It's a standard food memoir. If you enjoy them, read this one. 

Pages: 304
Date Completed: December 6, 2014

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

An Invitation to the White House - Hillary Rodham Clinton

An Invitation to the White House:
At Home with History
I am a big old White House nerd. We all know this. Which makes it surprising that I had not read Hillary Clinton's An Invitation to the White House before now. 

As I mentioned when I read Living History last year, I know the Clintons are polarizing figures for many people. So, if you are not a fan of them, put that aside for a moment and let's talk about this very apolitical book about a historical building. In you are a fan, then you're going to enjoy this a little extra.

The book, which really would be better categorized as a coffee table volume, takes a look at what life is like in the White House. Clinton talks about Christmas decorations, special events, and how hard the staff works. There is even a section of recipes in the back that have been adapted from actual dishes served at State Dinners and other important events. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2015 TBR Pile Challenge

So, I mentioned on Monday that I want to be more involved in the book blogging community this year. One of the ways I plan to do that is to join some of the great reading challenges that are out there. I figured a great way to start would be with the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge that Adam hosts at Room Beam Reader. 

I think this is a great fit for me. I may not have a book buying problem, but I do have a problem with adding too many books to my On Reserve list and then going years without thinking about them again. 

I have been doing a little better lately reading some of those books, but I can definitely use the extra incentive.

For those of you not in the book blogging community, a TBR Pile is a "To-Be-Read" Pile. I've always just called it my On Reserve list over here because, frankly, it's typically a list of books I have on reserve through the library. If you've never taken a look at that list, I encourage you to do so. I update it every three weeks or so.

Monday, January 5, 2015

What to Expect in 2015

I have been feeling very reflective lately. Not just the general stuff, but, as I head into a new phase of my life, I have been thinking lots about what comes next and what things I may want to change or goals I want to make. Some of this, of course, has bled over into my thinking about Read.Write. Repeat.

If you read the posts last week, you know they were all about the past, about 2014. Best books of the year, the December Chapter post, and an overview of 2014 as a whole. Today, though, I'm excited to be looking to the future. What is 2015 going to hold? 

Before I jump into that, I wanted to take a minute and reflect on my 2014 goals and expectations for Read.Write. Repeat. Taking those into consideration affects what my goals and expectations will be for this next year, after all.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2014 Chapter

Happy New Year! I hope you were able to ring in 2015 with someone you love last night, be it family, friends, or a significant other.

I know it's cliché to say, but I really do have a hard time believing that I have been writing this blog for three full years now. I started back in January 2012 and had no clue what I was getting in to. Three years later, I have read incredible books, made new friends, and learned so much. I love writing this blog and, I hope, you enjoy reading it!

On Monday, I plan to talk about some goals I have for blogging in the new year. Today, however, I am taking a comprehensive look back at 2014: books read, reviews written, goals accomplished and failed....all of it.

To start, here are a few highlights from this year:

  • I read 102 books! 
  • I had over 26,000 individual page views this year with an average of around 2,200 each month. That's more than double what I had last year. So, even though I don't feel like readership jumped that much, the numbers don't lie! 
  • I made it 35% of the way through the 100 Best Novels challenge. I read the same number (17) this year that I did in 2014. I'm hoping to ramp that up big time in 2015, thanks to career changes.
  • I continued to grow the Read.Write.Repeat. Facebook presence and started a Twitter account. Like or follow if you haven't already! 
  • I did monthly "chapter" posts and some off and on Movie Mondays.  
  • I reviewed 15+ books for book tours. These are so fun and expose me to books I would likely never read otherwise.