April 22, 2014

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud: Review

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woman upstairsNora is angry. So very angry. Why is she so mad? Well, she’s about to tell you. It all started about 5 years before. Nora was going through a mid-life crisis. She was dissatisfied with her life. Her mother died of ALS a few years before that. Nora was a teacher but wanted to be an artist. She was heading nowhere, when the Shahids enter her life.

First she meets Reza, a student of hers; then after an incident at school, she meets Sirena. Sirena is everything Nora imagined herself being. An artist. A real artist. Celebrated and successful. Being an artist, wife and mother, comes naturally to Sirena. For years, Nora put off working on her art, then Sirena offered to share a space with her. Nora became a part of the Shahids life. It seemed as if they needed her as much as she needed them, until suddenly they don’t.

Years later, Nora learns something that starts a fire in her- “a great boil of rage like the sun’s fire.” And there we are, at the beginning again.

There was a once a question of Nora’s “"likeability” and whether or not she’d be a good friend. Why does that matter? She’s a person like any other that you would meet in a novel like this, male or female. She has a story to tell, and I wanted to hear it. I didn’t ask myself if she was a nice person. It was irrelevant. Why was Nora angry? What happened? I wanted to know the answers.

I did find Nora to be a frustrating person. I didn’t know what it was that she wanted. Maybe she didn’t either. For some time, I thought Nora just didn’t have the opportunities, like the main character in The Mountain and the Valley who never gets to leave his family farm, but that wasn’t it. Nora tried on many hats in her life. I was jealous of the things she got to do. I never had the choices she had. Eventually, she comes right back to her home town and although she doesn’t marry, she falls into traditional gender roles: dutiful daughter, teacher (to small children!) and good friend. The Shahids are a self-absorbed family who use Nora’s loneliness for their own ends. How much of that does Nora allow because she wants to be part of their (in her mind) glamorous world?

Maybe I’m not a single woman, but I can still see myself in Nora. I’m around her age and not long ago I felt anxious about my age and the things I hadn’t done yet. I feel guilty for saying No to people. I’m good at finding excuses for not doing the things I want to do that scare me. I get jealous. However, I’m learning to let go of things as I get older and the things that bothered me in my twenties don’t bother me as much now. There are things I wish I had done differently, but I’m mostly happy with how my life turned out. Why couldn’t Nora find something that made her happy?

The ending is difficult to discuss. The reason for Nora’s anger isn’t revealed until the last half dozen pages or so. The reader is left hanging. What is Nora going to do about it? She definitely seems like she’s going to do something, but what is that something? I was torn. Did I really want to know? Or should it just be left to the imagination of the reader? What would you do? That seems to be what Messud is asking.

alison doesn't want to know

I can’t stop thinking about The Woman Upstairs. I was swept up in Nora’s story. It’s not like a great adventure or anything but I couldn’t put it down. I cringed at some of the things she did. She didn’t make the best decisions but I still felt sympathy for her. It helped that I found Sirena and her husband insufferable.

If you have read it, I highly recommend that you do. If you have, what did you think of the ending? Did you see it coming? Were you happy that it ended where it did?

April 21, 2014

Media Madness Monday: An Orphan Returns

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I'm a media junkie, not just books, but TV, movies, music, podcasts, and internet nonsense. Every Monday I discuss something that's caught my interest this past week.

On the TV

Orphan Black is back! After getting hooked on this show during a Christmastime marathon, I could not wait for it to return. The season premiere did not disappoint. Alison is such a bad ass. She’s the most underestimated clone. She and Felix had some fun moments. I’m liking Art more and more too. Him and his itty bitty gray beard. I hope he helps Sarah find Kira. And that ending. Wow, that ending! Can’t wait for next week!


Yes, girl, I was that excited too!


Ingrid Michaelson has a brand new album, Lights Out. I’m debating whether or not to buy it. I think I need to listen to a few more sample before I decide. I’m waiting for Lykke Li’s new album coming out in May. Do I wait or buy Ingrid’s now?


On Stuff Mom Never Told You, Caroline and Cristen talked to Dr Anne Helen Petersen about the history of Hollywood gossip. Back in the day, as well as today, there were celebrities who were very good at controlling the conversation about themselves. Women and Weed was interesting too. Did you know Queen Victoria was prescribed it for cramps? (She didn’t smoke it-as far as we know!) That was a really long but educational podcast.


On the Web

Okay, one book related thing. Flavorwire has a list of 50 books under 200 pages. I’ve added quite a few to my list of wants. Have you read any of them? I’ve read a few. Just because they’re short doesn’t mean they’re easy. *cough*MrsDalloway*cough*

Any new and interesting items to share?

April 18, 2014

The Book Report: The Scapegoat

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A book has got smell. A new book smells great. An old book smells even better. –Ray Bradbury

New books, old books. Books never stop coming. What’s new to your house this week?

The Book Report discusses a book I received, whether it was bought, borrowed, or given, why I got it, or why I’m excited about reading it.

The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier  

Where Did It Come From?

Ordered it from Book Depository.  

Why did I want it?

I’ve read almost everything by du Maurier. I’ve even reread Rebecca recently. I read another blogger’s review of The Scapegoat (I don’t remember who) and remembered that I haven’t read it. Since I had a little blogging revenue, I decided to order it.

Describe the book within 140 characters.

An Englishman is forced to trade places with his French doppelganger.  

Pre-reading thoughts

This one sounds weird enough that I think I might like it. I’m wondering how one dude can take the place of another. How much alike do they look? And wouldn’t friends and family know something was up? Is it like She’s the Man only without the gender flipping? Hmm. Daphne rarely stears me wrong so I’ve looking forward to it.

April 17, 2014

On My List: Favorite Translations

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Do you enjoy World Lit? Becca from I’m Lost in Books recently made a list of her favorite translated books, books from all over the globe not originally in English.  A good translation makes all the difference in the world. Not only must a translator be fluent in both languages but be able to convey what the author intended and well as be true to his or her style. Ever translate a blog or website in another language with Google? Some of what appears is nonsensical and makes for hilarious results. There is no substitute for the human touch.

With that in mind, here is a list of some of my favorite translated books with a nod to their translators.


Georges by Alexandre Dumas translation by Tina A Kover. I loved Georges! If you can find this recent translation by Tina A Kover, please read it. Georges returns to the island where he grew up for revenge. It’s so much fun!


The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig translation by Joel Rotenberg. This was my first Stefan Zweig novel. His work is enjoying a revival right now. The thing about The Post Office Girl is how quickly the tone changes. It’s very dramatic.

summer-tove The Summer Book by Tove Jansson translation by Thomas Teal. This is a sweet story of a little girl and her grandmother spending the summers together on an island. It’s such a quiet, yet beautiful book.

d3fd269a708211e280ff22000a9e2923_7 The Long Ships by Frans G Bengtsson translation by Michael Meyer. Vikings! Adventure! Fighting! That sums up The Long Ships. It has unexpectedly funny moments.

shadow of the windThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zefon translation by Lucia Graves. This quickly became one of my favorite books ever. It has mystery and romance and books!


What translated books are on your list?

April 15, 2014

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley (audiobook): Review

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audio vaulted arches

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley is the sixth novel in the Flavia de Luca series. This one is a little bit different and solves a lot of the mystery present in the other novels.

Flavia’s mother is returning home, though not in the usual way. As the family waits at the train station a man approaches Flavia and whispers a cryptic message to her. Just moments later, that man is under the train. Someone pushed him! She barely has time to process what has happened now that she must prepare for the challenges of the days ahead of her. Friends and family, as well as the Home Office, are descending on Buckshaw. What does it all mean? Who is her mother really? What does an airplane pilot, a sketchy cousin, and her Aunt Felicity have to do with any of it?

I don’t want to say too much about The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. It’s a continuation of the last book, which ends with a phone call. A very important phone call. Bradley does tie up a number of loose ends and, by the end of the novel, it is clear that he intends to take the series in a new direction. I thought, perhaps, that this might be the last one, but it seems that he plans to keep going with the series.

The usual suspects are present: the two sisters, the enigmatic Dogger, Gladys the bicycle, and Feely’s German boyfriend. Secrets from the past are revealed. If you decide to never read another Flavia mystery, here is a good place to end. I’m still looking forward to more.

About the Audio: Once again Jayne Entwistle is Flavia. I must be getting used to her voice, though I could have done without the hymn singing.

April 14, 2014

Media Madness Monday: Dead Authors

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I'm a media junkie, not just books, but TV, movies, music, podcasts, and internet nonsense. Every Monday I discuss something that's caught my interest this past week.

On the TV

On Parks and Recreation, I did not expect Lesley to discover she was pregnant. Seems like something she’d have planned out a year in advance. It should be interesting to watch her try to control that whole situation.



New music I’m into this week: Let Go by RAC featuring Kele & MNDR from Strangers, and Glass from No Mythologies by Mø. I’ve been discovering new music through the Songza app. Anyone who thinks people don’t buy music because of streaming has never met me. I always end up buying the songs I like anyway.

Speaking of buying new music, I thought this Salon article was interesting and have to agree with the writer. Just because I’m over 30 doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy new music. There’s no rule that you have to only listen to Pink Floyd forever until you die. Sure, I like the older stuff because of nostalgia, but if I only listened to what’s on my iPod I wouldn’t have heard of new artists like Gary Clark, Jr and Valerie June. What if we only watched reruns of Seinfeld? Or only read books written before 1990? It makes no sense to me.


Big Screen

I watched the movie Hitchcock over the weekend. I was surprised by how much I liked it. Anthony Hopkins who played Hitchcock was barely recognizable. The movie focused on his time directing Psycho and what a stress it put on his marriage to Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). They had everything they owned riding on this movie. Alma was a screenwriter herself and worked on Hitch’s movies. They were husband and wife but also partners. Helen Mirren is so good, I could watch her in anything!



I started listening to the Dead Authors Podcast hosted by “H.G. Wells.” So far I’ve been enjoying the female comics interpretations the most, especially Charlotte Bronte (Jessica St Clair) and Tennessee Williams (Kristen Schaal). Who can forget Bronte’s most famous line, “Just because you’re a fairy, doesn’t mean you should be acting like an asshole”? Tennessee tells us how hard it is to write good plays when constantly drunk or high.


On the Web

My review of The Dream Woman goes live on the Project Gutenberg Project blog today. Hope you check it out!

April 10, 2014

Kobo Chat: Golems and Dream Women

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Kobo Chat

What’s new on your Kobo or other ebook device? First, let’s take a look at the electronic reading I’ve been up to lately. I’ll talk about what I’ve finished, what I’ve downloaded (bought or borrowed), and how that’s working out for me. Grab a coffee and let’s chat!


Over the weekend, I finished The Dream Woman by Wilkie Collins. You can find it for free in the Lock and Key Collection found on Project Gutenberg. I’ll be writing up a review for it for Project Gutenberg Project.

New to the Kobo

  • Bought: I keep my eye on the Kobo Daily Deals. Usually I don’t find anything of interest, but on Tuesday the deal was a 3 book bundle of Catherine McKenzie novels: Spin, Arranged, and Forgotten for $2.99 (regular price was $19.99). I couldn’t pass that up! I even had a little bit of money left on a gift card, so I only ended up paying 28 cents.
  • Borrowed from library: Nothing this week, but I put a hold on The Golem and the Jinni. I’ve been waiting to see if it would end up in the catalogue and my patience paid off.
  • Netgalley title: I was invited by a publisher to review What Has Become of You by Jan Elizabeth Watson. It sounds interesting, a teacher with student who is possibly a murderer.

Let’s Talk

At the moment, I’m reading Claire’s Messud’s The Woman Upstairs. It also involves a teacher. I hope that won’t be a problem for me when I read What Has Become of You. I bought The Woman Upstairs a few months ago. I hear it’s very good.

I hope The Golem and the Jinni isn’t available too soon. I’m curious about this one, but not enough to buy it. I’d like to finish both those ‘teacher books’ before then. I’m only 11% into The Woman Upstairs so I better get cracking.

Since I’m looking at stats…Do you pay attention to yours? I only pay attention to my progress but there is a section that counts the minutes for each time the book is opened and how many hours I’ve been reading. I haven’t bothered with this before. I wonder if it could end up being distracting. Tell me your thoughts on that in the comments!

How about you? Are you reading anything interesting on your device? Find any good deals? Tell me about it!

April 8, 2014

The Martian by Andy Weir: Review

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IMG_1861Mark Watney is alone on Mars. An unexpectedly harsh storm and terrible accident lead his fellow explorers to believe him dead. They leave him behind as they abandon their mission.

Mark survived but he might not be alive for much longer. Without communication with Earth, he has no way to tell NASA he’s stranded on Mars. The next mission is years away and he knows he will starve to death before it reaches the planet. That is, if he doesn’t die from a thousand other disasters first.

Still, Mark isn’t giving up, he’s going out fighting. He has some ideas that might get him through the next few years. If it comes down to it, he has one final way out.

So, what would you do if you were stranded on an uninhabitable planet alone? I would probably curl up in a ball and wait for death. Not Mark. As soon as he realizes the situation he’s in, he makes plans to keep himself alive. He has the right attitude for someone in his position. He’s realistic but optimistic. Every mistake he makes could be fatal and he makes a lot of mistakes. The Martian becomes a battle between Mark and Mars. There were moments when I thought, “There is no way he’s going to get out of this one.” Somehow he keeps calm and finds a solution.

Some people aren’t going to like The Martian’s bloggy writing style. It’s told as a series of log entries and Mark is no D.H. Lawrence. We get his thoughts on the events of the day, which no matter how harrowing the situation, are almost always positive. He doesn’t have deep ponderings about the meaning of life, he’s just trying to get by. The Martian is also quite a technical book. When Mark would talk about how he used math and chemistry to get himself out of something, I admit my eyes glazed over, but it wouldn’t take long for me to be pulled back into the story.

Space exploration is dangerous and will continue to be dangerous. In The Martian, NASA didn’t foresee a single human being getting stranded on Mars. This was a supposed to be just another mission. In reality, we’re a long way from sending people to Mars, but it’s interesting to read about what might happen.

The Martian ends up being an adventure story with an unlikely yet likeable hero. Even though Mark is fictional, there are people like him in the world willing to sacrifice themselves to expand our knowledge of the universe. That’s pretty amazing.

April 7, 2014

Media Madness Monday: Mindy’s Back!

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I'm a media junkie, not just books, but TV, movies, music, podcasts, and internet nonsense. Every Monday I discuss something that's caught my interest this past week.

On the TV

Mindy’s Back! Yipee! I love Mindy Kaling as the perfectly imperfect Dr Mindy Lahari on The Mindy Project. With Mindy’s return to NYC, she ends up dealing with the consequences of her kiss with Dr Danny. Not sure where this is going to go. What is worse, waiting for a couple to get together or having them get together too early? The latter happened to Jess and Nick on New Girl and they’re already broken up.



I’ve only been downloading old music lately. This week I bought some old Garbage tunes and Pop Song 89 by REM (featured on Parks and Recreation this week). It still the ‘90s in my head.


As I was perusing the itunes page, I saw that Sarah McLachlan will have a new album out, Shine On (May 6, 2014). Hide your dogs!


Welcome to Nightvale, Episode: Cookies, begins with an update on the health of Khoshekh after last episode’s events. Poor Cecile is becoming more and more subversive, and hostile toward Management. It also featured an appearance by Intern Dana. Did you know she is voiced by Jasika Nicole, aka Astrid from Fringe?! I did not know until right now! I look forward to hearing more about her and The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home and John Peters (you know, the farmer?).


On the Web

One of my favorite websites is My Modern Met, a website highlighting some of the most creative art and photography projects around the Internet. I don’t have much opportunity to see art in person where I live, so I appreciate what My Modern Met does. It makes it accessible to everyone. Every week there are interesting posts, like this week: an Icelandic ice cave proposal, Underground Iran, and my favorite Vivian Maier. Vivian was a secret artist, a street photographer, who took furtive photos of the world around her. Her photography was recently discovered by accident and it is amazing!

Any thoughts on TV shows, movies, etc, you want to share?

April 6, 2014

Lazy Sunday Thoughts Are Bustlin’

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What’s up, Buttercups?

I survived The Storm of the Century (that’s what I’m calling it). We had 2 days of freezing rain and then a ton of snow dropped on us. Everyone is slightly cranky about it. There’s a town that was without power for most of the week. Luckily, I didn’t lose power, though I expected it. The roads are still a mess, and no sidewalks have been plowed. Driving is an adventure on the back streets. We just weren’t prepared for a storm this late. It’s warming up now though, so hopefully the snow won’t last long. It’s been the worst winter that I can remember.

april snow

In happier news, I finished 3 books this week! Dare I say it? I’m out of the reading slump! It’s been so long since I actually cared about reading. I felt so blah about it for a long time. I also want to blog again. I even have ideas for posts! Because of Bloggiesta, I have a few new features I’m trying out. You might have seen the first one The Book Report (in my head Report sounds like how Stephen Colbert says it). I have a couple of other ones I’m trying out next week. I hope you check them out.

Have you seen this proposed statue of Edgar Allan Poe? What a bad ass mofo! Look at him strutting down the street with the wind blowing his coat and hair back. And that raven. It looks like something from Harry Potter. Good work Stefanie Rocknak! What other writers could be immortalized in this way? I can’t think of one with such a recognizable symbol like the raven. Can you?

Tomorrow I’ll have another new feature up. Have a great Sunday!