Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are?

Taking on the job of researching your family can be awfully overwhelming when you're presented with all of the historical documents- or lack there of. You might find yourself wondering how to set out on the journey, what the next step could be, or even considering backing out of the adventure entirely.
However, Megan Smolenyak has made the adventure as easy as possible in this handy book. Through tips on websites to use and information on how to read the documents you are presented with the task suddenly becomes less mind boggling. I've worked on the history of my family for quite some time and wasn't getting anywhere until I began using many of the websites Smolenyak suggested. Now I have traced part of my family back to 1400 while previously I had only made it back as far as 1900! For anyone who could be heading off into their family's history this would be a great book to start with. Even if you use it to browse through or go directly to the chapters that cover the area you need help in the book overall makes this job not seem as daunting as it at times can be.

The television show is one of my favorites right now. I absolutely adore all things involving family history so why wouldn't I enjoy a show that takes know actors and shows how their existence unfolded. I've always been interested in my own family history. Knowing that my mothers grandparents came from Sicily I always wanted to know from where. And my father's family has been here so long we never knew where we really came from aside from making obvious guesses (okay if we've been here forever and America was founded by a bunch of English/Germans/Dutch/etc then we have to be something like that, no?)

Well after a week of research I've gotten what I've looked for and more. I've traced my family back to the year 1400 and learned so much more then I previously had known. Like: I have a relative who fought in the Civil War and was present at the Battle of Gettysburg and another distant relative who was killed by the local Native American tribe during a massacre (just after Henry Hudson took his trip up the Hudson river). I learned that I have long distant relatives who were from France and apparently related to royalty- it's all amazing.

That's just a taste of my family tree. Yes, all of those pages have ancestors names on them.

I really think everyone should take a dive into this information and the book Who Do You Think You Are? truly did help me discover an assortment of websites that aided me in this research. Check it out and learn a little bit about who you are!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Through the Looking Glass

The second portion of Alice in Wonderland this book is equally strange and curious. I somewhat enjoy this more than Alice in Wonderland itself because of the level of imagery it has. It probably also has to do with the fact that much of the imagery was placed into the Disney films.

The speaking flowers, the Jabberwocky poem, and the description of bugs was always so neat to me. As a little kid this appealed to me. I had a huge imagination and the very idea that maybe, just maybe, I was missing the voices and faces held within the very flowers I used to burry my face in.

I was never a fan of bugs as a child, I'd scream and flail the moment anything flew or crawled by me. When I watched the Disney films and read the book I just wished and yearned that we had rocking horse flies and bread and butter flies. Why couldn't our bugs talk or at the very least appear like something comforting and cute?

I think that is part of the appeal that Carroll created in his books. I placed before the reader- or rather, the little girls that he originally created the story for- an assortment of situations and creations that they would understand and relate to. Kittens and flowers, animals that talk and rhymes and poems. Many times Carroll will present something that is familiar to the children but make all imaginary occurrences seem true- at least to the eyes of a child.

Being completely honest I didn't always understand Alice and I feel that on some level I still do not. But I truly do believe that Carroll knew a thing or two about making a child's mind tap into interest and magic.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Vampire Diaries: The Return- Shadow Souls

First off, spoilers ahead... if you haven't read the books I don't know if you'd want to read the review. But in the meantime let's go backwards in time to the previous reviews for the series.

Okay so check those out and then let's proceed with the newest books review!

I was excited for this release, I won't lie. I enjoy The Vampire Diaries and find them to be a happy way to pass time filled with characters I enjoy and a plot line that's entertaining and leaves me feeling content when it's done. The moment it came out I snagged it and began to read. It took awhile though. Six hundred pages (okay, okay... the book is only 599 pages long) and lots of stuff to do makes little time to get the book done.

The story focused mainly on the perspectives of Elena and Damon. Every once in a blue moon it would switch to Matt or Bonnie but otherwise Elena and Damon were the dominating characters. This book centered a lot more on the romance between Elena and Damon and I was disappointed that Bonnie wasn't set up more with Damon. I really was hoping something would occur between the two of them and I'm still hoping for such.

Elena is more like the person she used to be. The previous book to this it just wasn't her- but now her strong will has returned. A lot of people compare this series to Twilight and I've said it before- this series began long before Twilight did. Also, there is one huge difference. Elena is brave. She is a character girls could look up to. She's determined, brave, sometimes stubborn, and caring. Bella is a weak pathetic character in comparison. So bravo LJ Smith, I'm glad you've made Elena the character we know and love once more.

LJ Smith definitely took a large branch off of the series with her last book and I wasn't so sure how this book would turn out. It's still different, it's still on a different path, but a lot of the old charm is back. I did, however, miss the presence of Stefan. I love Stefan and I generally like Damon's quirky sarcasm and both were missing.

The other world which our group of characters go into with the idea of saving Stefan was certainly interesting and I wish that there was more detail on the history of the land and the different levels of it but Smith kind of failed in that department. Maybe there will be more in the next book?

I was also insanely curious about the new character Sage. Is he new? Or did I somehow miss him before? None the less the character is interesting and I can't wait to hear more about him. He's aloof and mysterious like I want my vampires to be.

A few issues I did find with the book:
The small portion that Caroline came in but then nothing developed with her.
The lack of Stefan.
The abrupt switches between what characters were present and who wasn't.
How quickly and seemingly easy it was to free Stefan.
Some portions of the novel went on and on with no real point. It was unnecessary and truly a distraction.
There were many moments where I feel not only Elena, but LJ Smith, forgot that Elena had a mission to safe Stefan.

I do appreciate that the end of the book threw an assortment of questions in the direction of not only the main characters but the reader as well. And the utter surprise (and disappointment) of the gift that had been given to Stefan (and taken by Damon) was a true twist to my stomach.

The book is a step in the right direction compared to the last one and I'm curious of what else could happen. But that will all have to wait... at least until the next book comes out!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Life Changing Books

Typically when I get a book I do one of two things: Read it immediately or sit it on my bookshelf until I get around to it. When I pick up the book to read it one of three things happen: I hate it, I enjoy it, or it changes my life. I wish I could say that the majority of the books I read change my life... but that's not true. In fact, there is only a small percentage of the books I've read which have changed my life.

What do I mean by 'change my life'? I mean that when I read these books and I come to the last page I don't just move on to the following book (like I typically do). I'm left stunned, I'm left completely spellbound, my mind is entirely on what occurred in the book and it's hard to move on. Then I notice as time progresses that the story is still with me. My mind always returns to the plot line and at times I realize I take small steps towards making decisions based on what I had learned in those pages.

These are the books that have changed my life. These are the books that I will always suggest to people to read.

1. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
I read this novel during my junior year of college- fall semester (three and a half years ago). To be completely self obsessed I have to proclaim the utter selfish state I was in at that time. I had just suffered my first true heartbreak. First true love of two years- done and over with. I was miserable and looking for distractions which is a common case when I come upon books. Escapism is my middle name. None the less, I had continuously spotted this book at stores and finally gave up the 'fight' and bought it. Little did I know how much this book would change how I saw the world. First of all, it stopped me from thinking so much about myself. Here is a child character who is raped and murdered then the remainder of the story follows her views of her family after her death. It's upsetting but true, women and children are raped, they are murdered. This happens more then anyone wants to say and Alice Sebold, for me, completely set me into the shoes of this child and I felt terrified and frightened for her. It was a disturbing and upsetting book but I still think of it to this day.

2. One Bullet Away by Nathaniel Fick
I came upon this book because of an ex. He was (is) a Marine and I tried to show as much interest in his job. I read books about the Marine Corps and I watched the movies. I didn't hate all of this, it introduced me to a whole new world that I didn't know much about beforehand. None the less, when I asked my then-boyfriend to suggest some books for me to read this was one of them. By default I generally stay away from non-fiction books but this narrative was the start of a long running love affair with non-fiction. Nathaniel Fick writes about his experiences in OCS (Officer Candidate School) which is one of the hardest military programs in the US and what my ex went through. This part of the book is rather short because just after Fick graduates from OCS what we never dreamed would happen occurred: September 11th. Fick is now a LT and is one of the first Marine platoons to be sent to Iraq leading a recon team. Fick remains truthful of the joys and sorrows of his time in Iraq. He doesn't shy away from presenting the truth and even if you are unfamiliar with the military or it's terminology it's easy to follow Fick's description and words (after all, he received a BA in classics prior to joining the Marines). You can see a dual of his story in the popular book Generation Kill which has also been adapted into a mini-series with the same name. For weeks I couldn't read anything else when I closed this book. Still, to this day, I can clearly recall some of the scenes and I do feel that it made me understand just what our neighbors, brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends who go into the military deal with on a day to day basis.

3. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
My love affair with The Hours began when I saw the movie. When I discovered that it was a book prior to being made into a movie I quickly rushed to buy the book. I read it, I fell in love with it. It's the type of novel that makes me daydream heavily and see everything around me in a clearer way. Michael Cunningham certainly knows how to tie a bunch of characters together in unexpected ways. He also introduced me to Virginia Woolf. Although I have a short attention span when reading her books I have a great interest in her personal life. Whenever I want to drift away I turn to this book.

4. Atonement by Iam McEwan
This book was hard for me to get into at first. The language was something I was not used to reading but once I got past that hold up I grew to love the story-line. It hopped around and kept my attention and the end... made me cry. It's rare that I cry when I read a book but I did when I read the end pages of this particular one (I also cried when I read The Book Thief). I can't write too much about it without giving away the details but it is truly worth the read. Take my word for it. If any book can bring out an actual physical reaction I think it's worth it.

5. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
When I was in High School I'd churn out story after story. One after another. It was all I did. Eat, breathe, sleep, write. During the summer months my day would start at noon, I'd wake up, eat, ride my bike until dinner, go into my room, write until five in the morning, then go to bed. I loved it. I loved the summer night and it just felt so good to get the words on paper (or rather, computer). But my words dried up when I went to college and they haven't been around much since. Garden Spells reminded me of those summer days and somehow stirred up the joy of writing again. Whenever I turn back to this book I get the sudden urge to write again. For that, I am always thankful. Plus, the story is just really cute and entertaining. A perfect summer read!

6. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
My blog post on this novel can be seen HERE. Ever since reading Gilbert's book I've tried to be more brave about life. When I realize I'm being cautious about something and therefore not even trying it (such as applying to graduate school. I'm afraid I'll be rejected or not find a way to pay so I've put off applying for two years) I think of Gilbert's jump into the world and think if she can do that, then I can as well.

7. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
My blog post on this novel can be seen HERE. If any of you really pay attention you'll know that I am health conscious. I don't eat gluten and I don't drink milk strictly because both don't sit well with my stomach. But it doesn't stop there. I was always vegcurious and had an interest in a more better way of eating. My family's health history is a shadowed one full of illnesses that could truly have been prevented. I've seen how illness and cancer has affected my family and my loved ones and I truly want to avoid that outcome as best as I can. I don't want my own children to experience the same thing I did growing up. So, with that, I try my best to be healthy. Reading Kingsolver's book just honed in on that interest. A full book displaying all of the earth shattering details of how utterly unhealthy processed food is and how blissfully wonderful organic foods can be. I can say that before reading Kingsolver's book I didn't really know what to do or how to go about becoming more healthy but after I put the book down I had some sort of a plan and a determination that hasn't died off.

8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I recall being interested in the book when it was suggested for my book of the month segment on the blog but I wasn't entirely sure if I'd 100% enjoy it. I was cautious of the idea that Death would be narrating it. However, my mind still remains on the book. The full review can be seen HERE. Since reading the book I have gone on a hardcore attempt to push this book towards curious readers at the store. Every time someone goes, "I want to read a good book but I don't know what to read" I point them to this. The emotional pull I felt for the characters has been long lasting and I still think back to it's pages. The reason I think all of this stuck with me so much is that although The Book Thief is a fictional novel the horror it describes is fact. Real people experienced the events in it's pages and the overall terror. I grew up in a county where the number of Jewish residents outnumbered all other religions present. Two of my school teachers growing up had family who were in concentration camps or were in one themselves. The Holocaust was something we knew of since childhood and learned about at a very young age. One teacher, a mean old woman, had a true hatred of German's. She was Jewish and her family died during WWII. She tormented myself and the other German students in our classroom simply because of our heritage. It made me ashamed to be German. I learned that she was just a cruel mean woman who was directing her anger in a harsh way and more or less got over it but the memory of things she called us still is very strong in my mind. Reading this book, however, reminded me that World War II and the Nazi Occupation didn't just affect Jews (I'm not taking away from the fact that what they suffered was horrible and they did get the brunt of all bad things). It was an event who affected all who lived there and sucked everyone in. Although gentiles might not have been what the Nazi's were searching for directly they were still affected and did not necessarily support what was going on around them.

So if any of you were to say, Suggest a book, I would suggest all of these. For them I really cannot provide enough words to describe how wonderful they are. They're best to be discovered on your own.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Token of Darkness

As I have mentioned before, I have been reading Amelia Atwater-Rhodes books since I was about fourteen. While I was younger I found her writing to be fantastic and easy to fall into. Now, I find it to not be very advanced. This is not to say she's a horrible writer! It just might mean that while I can read other YA-Fiction books with great enjoyment and even at times a bit of concentration and head scratching I simply don't do that with Amelia's books anymore. They aren't advanced enough for me (a sign that I'm getting old? maybe). But I still insist on reading her books because they strike the nostalgia of my childhood and sometimes... I need brainless entertainment. Serious. Brainless. Entertainment.

Typically, Amelia writes about one of two subject areas: vampires in the modern world or shape-shifters in another world. This book, however, branched out from the two and centered it's story on a new subject area: ghosts.

She took more steps away from her typical stories by making her main character be a boy (or a man, I should say) named Cooper. Cooper is surrounded by other male characters and only a few females. Not to mention he was one of the nicer, relaxed, pleasant male character rather then the typically strong and overwhelming male characters she writes about.

The story keeps a small amount of characters but other then the main two, Cooper and Samantha, the remaining characters could have been much more developed. Even Cooper and Samantha could've been more developed.

Something else that I have noticed... all of her books heavily rely on dreams to tell her stories. For that alone I feel that Amelia should be more developed. She is a published author by chance. Her earlier work isn't very great but she was very young and inexperienced. Now it's been about ten years. She's a college graduate and has many publishing's under her belt. I feel that her writing and creativity should be much more advanced. This book had great potential to show how she's grown and changed. Yes, there were some changes but I'm tired of the baby steps.

If you're looking for a book that's a very quick read I suggest you check this out. It would be the perfect item to breeze through on a day trip in a car. Otherwise, I wouldn't waste the money. My apologies to Amelia. Maybe the seventeen year olds will find this to be a good read but I like to think they have interest in more substance than this.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Curiouser and curiouser!

That's how I always am when it comes to childhood favorites. I recall reading a book when I was very young (say, under the age of 13) and I remember either hating it or loving it. Then, in most cases I reread this children's book when I'm a teenager. But now I'm in my 20's and I'm starting to slowly go through these children's books again- reading them as if for the first time.

And it is like the first time. I read these children's books and every ten years that I read them I find them completely different. While I have vivid memories of believing Alice in Wonderland was possible and real as a six-year-old I remember being bored by the book and finding it far too long when I was a teenager. Now how do I feel about the book as I read it at the age of 23?

For one, I found it much easier to read as a source of relaxation and enjoyment then something of a chore (which I felt it was such during my teenage years). I was able to sit down on the spring like day with the cool air blowing through the open windows and read the book with joy. Maybe early spring weather makes me all the more open to daydreams and an open imagination.

None the less, the book is lovely as always. A curious child who asks far too many questions and thinks over everything. Many children are like this and from my few experiences with kids it always seems to be the daydreamers or only children who have the wild imagination which leaves them to having full conversations on their own.

Alice is thrown into an insane mix of events with completely insane creatures and the likes appearing before her. At times one could think that it's a bit much for a child to read. The riddles and rhymes could be too overwhelming for a child. The creatures too frightening. But sometimes I think we're over protective of children. Sometimes we forge this unbreakable opinion of what a childhood book should pertain. Something that's easily understood and full of pretty pictures. I truly feel that Alice breaks off from the typical ideal children's book and falls downward into a mixture of questions and perplexing moments that maybe children cannot answer but neither can adults.

It's such a strange story that it seems perfectly capable of being made into a movie. This is proven by Disney's cartoon adaptation and the more recent 3D movie. I've seen both, but I won't claim to know much about the cartoon version because it has been years since I saw it, but the 3D film throws you into Wonderland the way Lewis Carroll would want you to be. I have seen the 3D film twice now and I've loved it equally each and every time. Granted, this film isn't supposed to be a straight up adaptation of the book, but I still feel so many important points that are featured in the book are also featured in the movie.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Any good drama or tragedy is like a ball of yarn, made up of so many strands piled upon one another. You should be able to unwind the ball, to see every bit, right down to the start.

Commencement is a lovely novel with both highs and lows. A story which is slightly more risque, rebellious, and serious than books like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants but fans of that series will surely adore this debut novel.

The story switches back and forth between four friends who had met on their first day of college at Smith in Massachusetts and have remained friends ever since. College is well known as a period of time where an individual grows and changes (I, for one, completely agree with this. I changed most when I was in college) and these changes do not avoid the four Smithies.

Starting off as freshman there is Celia, April, Sally, and Bree. One girl is engaged, all four are straight, one is a vegan feminist. By the end of the novel someone is married (not the one formerly engaged), one of the girls is a lesbian, and the vegan feminist is now more of an extremist.

The story displays the strains of friendships as distance is put in place. The girls have a sisterhood of sorts where they are always there for one another and free to give a true opinion. Some people might crave a friendship like this, others might already have such a thing. The book not only speaks of this friendship but also the powerful bond of womanhood in general with many facts on feminism and genocide in the world.

J. Courtney Sullivan covers a list of topics that sadly affect many women. Cheating significant others, rape, childhood molestation, and being rejected from ones family. But it's not all sad things. There are also the experiences of first love, discovering ones self, marrying, having a child, and the utter bond one can form with someone who isn't even biologically related to you.

I feel that Sullivan could have gotten more in debth to the negative issues because these female characters are strong and they make it through each situation that is handed to them. But maybe it just wasn't that type of book. Maybe it was specifically meant to focus on the joys of sisterhood which I feel was felt through out the entire novel.

I read the book quickly and truly enjoyed it. Part of me might have enjoyed it so much because so many of the stories and situations in the book I could relate to. Either I had myself experienced them or I had friends who had. Either way, it was incredibly easy to place myself into the shoes of the characters in the book.

I feel that any woman who goes to a liberal arts college and has an open mind, willing to love those all around them- especially themselves and other women, but the reader has to be willing to love those whose love might not be typically conventional (IE: lesbians, lots of lesbians are in this book and I am 100% cool with that). It's the perfect liberal arts book for the sentimental sort who are in college, looking into college, or have just graduated.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Let's Celebrate Reading and Dr. Seuss!

This week is Read Across America and I urge you all to rush to your bookshelf or bookstore and read some great books! To be more specific, grab a copy of a Dr. Seuss book because today is his birthday.

Today Dr. Seuss would have been 106 years young. He passed away on September 24, 1991 but is still living strong in the hearts of many. Really, how many of you remember reading Dr. Seuss books as a child? I certainly do. He published over 60 books and was always known for his imaginative and brightly colored images and rhyming stories. Some of his most well known books are Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, One Fish Two Fish, and Oh! The Places You'll Go.

I never owned a single copy of Dr. Seuss's work. I admit it! Don't hate me! But I do have fond memories of his books. My doctor had every single one of them and I recall sitting in the waiting room reading all of the books while waiting for my check ups. I even recall the time I went to the doctors and realized I wasn't interested in the books anymore and they were 'too young' for me. I must have been about eight or nine. But I've always loved the books and now as an adult I've embraced them once more. My favorite Dr. Seuss work, by far, is The Grinch. I absolutely love the old cartoon version of it and adore watching it every Christmas. I love it, hands down and no further explanation, I just love it.

So what is your favorite Dr. Seuss book?
And how are you celebrating Read Across America?