Sunday, February 22, 2015

Just for Fun: Where Are You Reading Challenge 2015

The Where Are You Reading Challenge 2015 hosted by Sheila at Book Journey is one of my "Just for Fun" Challenges for 2015--meaning I'll track my progress, but I'm not technically signed-up for the challenge. The location I list for each book will be based on where most of the story takes place. If the story is in a fictional location or the reader doesn't know of a specific location where the story takes place, I'll list it as "Other." If the primary location is fictional but part of the story takes place in a real location, I'll list the book under the real location mentioned. I'll be listing all of the books that I finish in 2015, whether I'm writing a review of them on this blog or not. This will be where I update that list until my next quarterly update.

The Land of Stories: A Grimm Warning by Chris Colfer
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert

United Kingdom
England: His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
                Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot
                The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

United States
Massachusetts: Still Alice by Lisa Genova
New Mexico: Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
New York: The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio
Ohio: Mr. Lemoncello's Library: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein

The Mortality Doctrine: The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Mailbox Monday: Valentines

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme started by Marcia of To Be Continued. It's a fun focus on what books you're getting in the mail each week. I didn't get any books in the mail this week, but I'm sticking with the meme for the sake of February and A Month of Letters. Book-wise, I sent out my copy of The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini, which I reviewed here.

I mailed this book via Paperbackswap, which I talked about last week. Thought you guys might want to see the other side of the exchange. I enjoyed this book, and now I can pass it on to another who might enjoy it as well! Love it! I also sent out some more valentines and a little restaurant voucher as an extra Valentine's Day gift to my parents. Speaking of which--Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! I hope you guys had fun celebrating with your friends and family. Trying to eat out in my town on Valentine's Day is like signing a form that says, "Please, can I have the most stressful, loud, and possibly dangerous experience of all time trying to have a meal with my family?" So, Tony picked up some sushi to-go, and Gabe picked the movie we watched--Mr. Peabody & Sherman, his current favorite. Gabe also made this adorable valentine card with heart shapes and some foam stickers:

I can't get the picture to rotate, but you get the idea. As for what I got in the mail this week, I received a few valentines from family, and some on-the-go yogurt and granola breakfast pouches I had ordered. Plum Organics--yum! What did you guys get in the mail this week? Those of you who requested mail from me, be looking for it soon, and if you didn't there's still time! Also, be on the look-out for a giveaway I plan to host in the next week or two in honor of A Month of Letters!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Diverse Books / Banned Book / TBR Pile: Ceremony

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko is about a man, Tayo, of mixed race (Laguna Pueblo and Mexican) returning home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after the Vietnam War. His cousin, Rocky, (with whom he was close, more like a brother) was killed in the war, and his uncle, Josiah, died while they were gone. Tayo jumps around in time, flashing back to horrible scenes of war and his past as a teenager helping his uncle raise their cattle. It's all jumbled in his mind. And as the rest of the veterans on the Laguna Pueblo Reservation drown their troubles in alcohol, Tayo tries to find a better, more permanent solution.

(picture taken from Goodreads;
cover design by Melissa Jacoby;
cover art: Portrait by Bennie Buffalo, 1976)

First Impression: Silko's language is dreamlike and earthy. As with many American Indian authors I've read, there's a magical quality to her writing that intrigues me. It's not so present here as in Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie, but it's still there. I hesitate to specifically see this as a trait of writing from American Indian authors, however, not having read enough to give a strong opinion on the topic. The most unique quality I see in this book is Silko's time variation. She jumps between moments of shared significance rather than following a consecutive timeline. Likewise, she introduces characters when it serves a purpose; the reader doesn't meet every character right away. I found the time switches confusing at first, but I like the strange piecing together that happens as a result. I feel as Tayo feels and see as he sees. This is a very different aspect of PTSD than I got from The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, but I really like it.

Conclusion: There's a calm intensity that came over me while I was reading this book, and it really set the tone for the story. Silko writes of the surroundings/setting as they relate to the main story, but also in a way where it seems they have their own story. Time has a relational quality that makes complete sense with a main character who has PTSD. The ceremonies mentioned are not the showy dances an outsider might expect, but rather the realistic life ceremonies an insider might take part in to balance a situation that has become corrupted and difficult. Silko produces fantastic, well-rounded characters. I have my favorites, of course, but I appreciated the nuances of all of the them. Even the side characters had great depth! The ending is believable because these men have been to a brutal war and come back scarred. They all have scars of some type, even Emo, who seemingly just goes crazy with blood lust. I was holding my breath for a little bit at the end, so I guess I am relieved (although sorry for one character) with how it ended. This book was fantastic. Knowing that Silko's poetry is good as well, I'm sure I'll be reading more of her work.

Quote: "He tasted the deep heartrock of the earth, where the water came from, and he thought maybe this wasn't the end after all" (p 46, Penguin Books paperback, 1977).

Ceremony is my first read for the We Read Diverse Books Challenge 2015. The first topic was "Race." This is also my second read for the Banned Books Challenge 2015, and my third read for the 2015 TBR Pile Reading Challenge. Let me know what you're reading so far this year!

We Read Diverse Books Challenge 2015

I signed up for the We Read Diverse Books Challenge hosted by Janet Ursel at Gourmet Reading. There is a different challenge to be met each month, so it should be 12 books in total, and each challenge is revealed at the beginning of the month. I'll update this regularly (until the next quarterly update) as I find out the next challenge, choose a book, and read the book.

Banned Books Challenge 2015

I signed up for the "Trouble-Maker" level (3-5 books) of the Banned Books Challenge 2015 hosted by Christine at Buckling Bookshelves. This is where I'll be keeping my list of books until my next quarterly update.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Audiobook / Banned Book / TBR Pile: The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass is the first book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series. First of all, let me just say that I avoided the media craze on this book. I've heard really vague details of Pullman making a controversial statement of his intentions writing this story, but I've also had a few people tell me how fantastic the book is. So, not wanting outside viewpoints (yes, even the author's) to taint my own, I chose to read this book without looking into the background and debate of it.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

First Impression: I don't really know how to feel about this. On one hand, Pullman has some really unique ideas, and I like how he has fluidly incorporated fantasy into a realistic setting that's somewhat steampunk as well (with flying blimp airships and the like). I also like how the daemons reflect their human masters. Personality symbolism, you could say. That being said, I don't like how few of the characters seem to have good intentions. There's a big muddle of evil acts, and I'm curious to find out why. I like Lyra with her pure, childish curiosity and good intentions. Pantalaimon is neat as well, and the Gyptians are fun and helpful (typical of the underdogs, I suppose). But my favorite is
Iorek Byrnison, the armored bear! What a great character!

Conclusion: Wow, this is a tough one to conclude. Let me say, for the first eight CDs, this book was fantastic. Pullman created some really fantastic characters. They're complex and realistic for this alternate reality, and I liked a lot of them. His writing style is complicated and exciting. Also, the audio was narrated by a full cast, who all did a great job! I think it would be fun to do the different voices for this book. Now...the last, ninth CD. What a disappointment. I'm crushed! Without giving anything away, let me just say that Pullman makes the ending more painful and genuinely horrible than it needs to be. Also, he's trying too hard to draw the line between Lyra and her parents, between good and evil. And the argument that the church has backed evil action in the past and is, therefore, inherently evil doesn't work for me. Platitudes like that just don't apply in a complex universe. And "the bad people believe dust is bad, so it must be good" argument. (sigh) It's unfortunate, but I won't be reading the rest of this series.

This is the first book I've read for the 2015 Audiobook Challenge and for the 2015 Banned Book Challenge, as well as the second book for my 2015 TBR Pile Reading Challenge. Yay for overlap!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Mailbox Monday: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme started by Marcia of To Be Continued. It's a fun focus on what books you're getting in the mail each week. This week in the mail, I received an audio CD version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I've been meaning to read this for a while, so I'm glad I have it now. Next on my to-read list for audiobooks, after I finish The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

I received this book through Paperbackswap, which is such an awesome site! If you haven't tried it, I'm recommending it now to all book lovers--especially if, like me, you have books all over your house that you really need to just read once and give away so they don't take up space. Now you can trade them so someone else will enjoy them, too (instead of just crying as they disappear)! Side note: If you do sign-up, my username is readinginthedark. Add me as a friend!

I also received some birthday-themed M&Ms in the mail, which I ordered to put together favors for Gabe's birthday. It's in March, and he's going to be three-years-old. I feel like I must be dreaming it--how could three years go by so fast? But the M&Ms came in various colors and designs; he'll love them. My only regret is that I thought there would be yellow ones mixed in (Gabe's favorite color), but they turned out to be a yellowish green. So be careful not to just judge colors by the picture on the website, I guess. If you're personalizing M&Ms, read the descriptions!

A Month of Letters has been going fairly well for me so far. I sent a few valentines with a picture of Gabe making a kissy face and the word "LOVE" across the top. They were pretty cute. Another item I mailed was a pretty, Autumn-themed card to a college friend with various discussions of how my little family and I are doing. Not to mention comments on North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, which we've been reading together very slowly. Gotta' love the literary conversations via snail mail, right? It feels so authentic!

Don't forget to let me know if you want something from me in the mail this month (with your e-mail address in a separate comment, so I can ask for your physical address)! It may not be immediate, but I'll definitely send it before the end of the month. And there may be a giveaway in conjunction with my last week of February mailings, so stay posted!

Update 4/28/15: If you'd like to read my review of this audiobook, it is located here.

Poetry in a Chest of Tea: Telephone

"There is a great deal of poetry in a chest of tea." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

What I'm Reading:
(a publication of the Poetry Foundation)
(Cover Art by Tony Fitzpatrick
"The Atomic Oriole," 2014)

A Little Taste to Share:
"Telephone" by Devin Johnston

"A mockingbird
perched on the hood
of a pay phone
half-buried in a hedge
of wild rose
and heard it ring

"The clapper ball
trilled between
brass gongs
for two seconds
then wind
and then again

"With head cocked
the bird took note
absorbed the ringing
deep in its throat
and frothed
an ebullient song

"The leitmotif
of bright alarm
recurred in a run
from hawk
to meadowlark
from May to early June

"The ringing spread
from syrinx to syrinx
from Kiowa
to Comanche to Clark
till someone
finally picked up

"and heard a voice
on the other end
say Konza
or Consez or Kansa
which the French trappers
heard as Kaw

"which is only the sound
of a word for wind
then only the sound of wind"

Check out this link with the poem I featured, as well as some extra information! You can also browse the Poetry Foundation website for more great poems and features.

What I'm Drinking:
(loose-leaf tea)

Description from Bingley's Teas: "A black tea for her strong character, sassy cranberry, and blue mallow for her fine eyes, tempered with a sweetness and more as our heroine is unlike any other and most deserving of a very special blend!" Since it mentioned notes of cranberry (which is usually a pretty strong flavor), I expected more fruitiness from this tea. Still really good. I did taste the cranberry a little more when the tea was really hot and, later, really cold, so I may just need to steep it longer to get the same flavor level when it's warm. I'll try that next time and give you an update. I received this as a Christmas gift (I'm sure you can tell I had a great Christmas) from my mom, and she actually gave me the Pride and Prejudice Anniversary Notions Sampler. At the time of her purchase, Bingley's Mr. Darcy tea was only available for purchase as part of this sampler, and she said she couldn't think about buying any of the Pride and Prejudice teas for me without that one. You can't say she doesn't know her daughter well!

Something on the Side:

Of course, my "Miss Elizabeth" tea wouldn't be the same without my Jane Austen Literary Mug from The Unemployed Philosophers Guild. I love this mug! It's large, heavy, and beautiful. I also have their First Lines of Literature Mug and the Literary Transport Pride and Prejudice Mug tucked away in my cabinet. I'm a bit of a mug collector, if you couldn't tell. And while scanning some websites today, I found this Jane Austen Mug from The Literary Gift Company, which is so fun!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Mailbox Monday: Treats

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme started by Marcia of To Be Continued. It's a fun focus on what books you're getting in the mail each week. This was first brought to my attention on The Edge of the Precipice, so thanks Hamlette! I'll be honest, I didn't get any books in the mail this week. However, I'm participating in A Month of Letters in February (see note at the bottom of the post), so I thought I'd kind of do Mailbox Monday posts in conjunction with that. To pacify the book police, I'll post a picture of a book I got in the mail a couple of weeks ago:

(picture taken from Goodreads)

As some of you know, I LOVED Firefly the series and the companion movie, Serenity, both done by Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Avengers fame). I've been working my way through the graphic novels from time to time, so I'm really excited to read this one. I might review some of the graphic novels I read this year, who knows.

To begin my month of snail mail, I sent my mom a copy of The Woman I Was Born to Be by Susan Boyle:

(picture taken from Goodreads)

I haven't read it, but my mom is a big fan of Susan Boyle, and I only recently discovered that she had written this memoir. It will probably arrive in about a week, so Happy Valentine's Day, mom!

What I actually received in the mail this past week was yummy treats! And what goes better with a book than a mug of tea and a treat to eat? I found a deal last month on one of those monthly subscription boxes called Treatsie, so I decided to try it out. Yum! I got biscotti, a peanut butter cup, some gourmet caramels...oh my gosh. I haven't tried all of it yet, but everything I have has been delicious. I also got some baking supplies I ordered from King Arthur Flour--cocoa, sugar, and a couple of doughnut mixes. Such a great company! Here's a picture of the doughnuts I made so far:

My Apple Cinnamon Doughnuts obviously aren't as pretty as theirs, but they tasted amazing! Normally I don't use baking mixes--I'm a "from-scratch" kind of girl--but these are really good without being too sweet. And this mix had little apple chunks, which made it even better. Big hit in my family. Side note: these mixes are for use with a doughnut pan for baked, not fried, doughnuts.

Note on A Month of Letters: I'll be mailing letters and things all month, so if you'd like a valentine or something from me, let me know! Just leave a comment with your e-mail address below (which I'll delete as soon as I see it, so it's not permanent for everyone to see), and I'll send you an e-mail for your address and such. And let me know if you decide to participate in this (even if you don't want mail from me)! My brother and sisters are doing it with me, and it's always such fun to see what people are sending out.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Just for Fun: Literary Pickers Reading Challenge 2015

The Literary Pickers Reading Challenge 2015 hosted by Sophia at Delighted Reader is one of my "Just for Fun" Challenges for 2015--meaning I'll track my progress, but I'm not technically signed-up for the challenge. Since it is for fun, I'll be checking off items on the list as I find them in any books, magazines, et cetera from which I read in 2015, whether I'm writing a review of them on this blog or not. This will be where I update that list until my next quarterly update.


   Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
   A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

   North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein

   Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

   Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot

   The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis


   The Land of Stories: A Grimm Warning by Chris Colfer

   The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

  Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly Harper


   A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

   Magisterium: The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

   Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

   Red Rising Trilogy: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

   Poetry magazine "July/August 2014"
   The Mortality Doctrine: The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

   The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio

   Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

   Age of Legends: Empire of Night by Kelley Armstrong


The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
   His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

   Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie


   Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami