We started this blog in 2010 after a New Years' Resolution to read 60 books between the two of us. (40 for C, 20 for D.) After reaching our goal, we decided to keep going in 2011. This year, C has pledged to read 30 books, and D will read 12. By no means are we professional reviewers; we're not even professional bloggers. We're just two people who love to read and decided to share our thoughts and offer our limited insights. We hope you enjoy!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Book #31: From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

With the exception of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, this was my favorite book that I read as a child. Unlike Number the Stars, which I've read probably five or six times since then, I haven't read this book since the 4th grade at good ol' East Elementary. In fact, I forgot about it altogether until that movie, Night at the Museum came out. I guess the museum setting reminded me of this book, but I couldn't remember the name or the author. I remembered which teacher I had when I read it, and I remember that I loved it. It took a lot of Googling vague plotlines to figure out what the book was, and even longer to actually come across a copy. I finally did, at my favorite used bookstore in Cullman. The final stretch of my 40-book journey seemed a perfect time to re-visit From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, because, let's be honest -- I'm crunched for time, and it took me 3 hours to read this. There. I said it.

E.L. Konigsburg's book about two childhood runaways is every bit as awesome as my 10-year-old self remembers it, and certainly deserving of the Newbery it received in 1968. Twelve-year-old Claudia Kincaid feels trapped in her boring, controlled life as the oldest sibling in a middle-class Connecticut family. She carefully plans to run away as a way of making those around her appreciate her a little more, and she hopes to come back "different." She chooses a partner in crime -- her younger brother Jamie, who has conveniently saved every penny he's ever earned. The siblings leave home before school one day and wind up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. There, they discover a mystery that leads them to the eccentric Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

I don't remember if I realized it then, but now I can see that Claudia reminds me an awful lot of myself as a kid. Not nearly as evil (seriously, you can ask my oldest nephew all about that), but dramatic, calculating, clever, and manipulative. Maybe that's why I liked it when I was a kid, even if it was subconscious. When I was ten, I thought running away and hiding out in a museum like they did would've been the coolest thing in the world. Re-reading this book today, I still want to run away to the Met. I bet the security is a bit more intricate these days, but still. Sleeping in the antique beds, bathing in the fountains... And then finding a centuries-old mystery to solve? Man, count me in.

I love the way E.L. Konigsburg laid this book out -- it's all written as a letter from Mrs. Frankweiler to her lawyer. She tells the story as Claudia and Jamie told it to her. She adds her little asides every now and then, and she's a very brassy character, indeed. There are some simple illustrations peppered here and there that add just enough without making it too juvenile. If you've got a kid, they have to read this book! They have to! And so do you!

4.5/5 stars

Read on November 28, 2010


Special Post: The Home Stretch

Well, we're only a few short days from December. Maybe it was all the million things I had going on, but I'm of the opinion that 2010 flew by. That means I have a mere 32 days to read 10 more books. Derrick only has to read 4 more. (Jerk.) I know some of you might be a bit concerned for me, but, hey. Don't worry. I got this. I work better under pressure, OK?

Admittedly, we have both slacked a bit over the last 11 months, especially recently. We have a pretty decent excuse, though:
We got married on November 20. :)

We just want all of our faithful followers (all... two of you?... one of you?... none of you? Who cares?) to know that we are well aware of our commitment, and you shouldn't give up on us yet. We won't disappoint you. And I plan on coming back for more in 2011.

Book #30: Wishin' and Hopin': A Christmas Story

Oh, Wally Lamb. He never, ever, ever fails to delight me. He can do no wrong.

As most of you probably know, I am a much, much bigger Halloween enthusiast than I am a Christmas enthusiast. I'm not that girl that starts listening to Christmas music on November 1st or begins to look for an excuse to put up the tree before Thanksgiving. As a matter of fact, Christmas decorations/music/commercials/references before Thanksgiving really tick me off. I guess it's because Christmas seems to get closer and closer to stepping on Halloween's toes, and I just can't have that. So, it was a bit unnatural for me to choose a holiday-themed book to start reading the day before Thanksgiving. (I think I was just itching for some Wally Lamb, to be honest.) I'm so glad I read it, though; it was a perfect little nudge into the holiday season for me.

Wishin' and Hopin': A Christmas Story is Wally Lamb's short novel set in 1960s Connecticut, narrated by 5th grader Felix Funicello. Last name sound familiar? It should. Felix's cousin is Annette Funicello, America's favorite Mouseketeer who went on to star in a string of beach movies and become a sex symbol. Felix's family owns a bus-stop lunch counter that has no shortage of Annette Funicello memorabilia. There's a lot going on in Felix's life aside from his famous cousin -- a quirky substitute teacher for his class at the local parochial school, his mother participating in a nation-wide baking competition, a strange new Russian classmate, some perplexing questions about the facts of life, and an upcoming school Christmas program.

I love books narrated by kids, especially if it's a book intended for adults. It's great to laugh at the innocence. Lamb is great at this particular aspect of the novel. For example, he somehow perfectly embodies a confused child trying to figure out what the dirty jokes, innuendos, and filthy language he encounters could possibly mean. I've always said this about Wally Lamb -- he is incredible when it comes to "becoming" his characters through prose. It's insane. Insanely good.

I saw a handful of reviewers on Amazon say that this book may not have been enjoyable to readers who wouldn't appreciate it as a walk down "memory lane" -- meaning, readers who weren't around for the 1960s. Well, I wasn't, and I enjoyed it all the same. I'm pretty sure if you were ever a child, you'd appreciate this book. Those incidents in your childhood that were, at the time, mortifying which you can now look back at and laugh? Yeah, they're all in here.

Don't be discouraged by the Christmas theme of the book. Actually, it starts out in October, and honestly the only part about Christmas is the last chapter or so about the school Christmas program. Definitely a great read any time of the year, but for me, it did help ease me into the holiday spirit. I can't recommend this book enough. It'll only take you a few hours to read. Come on. Do it!

5/5 Stars

Read from November 24, 2010 to November 28, 2010


Friday, November 26, 2010

Book #29: Alentejo Blue

Monica Ali's Alentejo Blue is set in rural Portugal, and it's one of those books that ties several different characters and plot lines together into one. It reminded me a little of Let the Great World Spin, although it wasn't nearly as good. Or interesting.

This isn't a particularly long book. I can normally knock out a book of this length in 3-5 days, but I had to force myself to finish it. When I did manage to make myself read it, I often found I had turned the page and had no idea what I'd read. Maybe I'm too dumb for this book (although I really don't think that's the case), but I found it pretty pretentiously and unnecessarily complicated. Like... She would talk about things without really talking about them in a "read between the lines" sort of way, when, really, why can't you just say it? I get the intrigue that it's supposed to add, but it was just waaaaay too much in this particular instance.

There were some characters that I really liked in this book, but they happened to be the ones that lasted for a chapter and then never got mentioned again. The really boring ones were the ones who had several chapters devoted to them. Even the interesting parts about the boring characters got dropped. I don't even get the logic behind the plot of this book at all. And really, in the end, you realize that none of it had a point. I don't think it even made a statement about the Alentejo region, which I think is what the purpose of the book was supposed to be.

Whatever. I am rarely scathing with a book review (unless it's Twilight, but come on, who expects anyone to say anything good about Twilight?), but dang. Skip this one.

1/5 Stars

Read from November 5, 2010 to November 15, 2010


Friday, November 5, 2010

Book #28: Leap Days: Chronicles of a Midlife Move

I've said it before,and I'll say it again: I'm a sucker for a memoir. I. Loved. This one.

Leap Days: Chronicles of a Midlife Move is Katherine Lanpher's collection of essays about her decision to leave her familiar life to live in New York City. The move came after Lanpher's divorce from her actor-husband (who was "married to the theatre") and several years as a Midwestern journalist.

(Those of you who are fans of Air America, the progressive talk-radio network, may recognize her name. She was Al Franken's co-host on The Al Franken Show/The O'Franken Factor.)

Lanpher discusses a variety of issues in the book -- her brother's accidental death, her marriage, her parents, her love of reading, and her time as a newspaper journalist, to name a few. Every chapter is a complete joy to read. She's a witty, intelligent, strong woman who reminds me a lot of Lauretta Hannon (whose memoir The Cracker Queen I reviewed back in July).

Lanpher writes beautifully, which is not surprising since she's a successful journalist, but that kind of writing is a different ballgame. She's got lovely phrasing and knows how to make you smile, even when she's discussing something depressing. Another thing that really struck me about her writing is how well she ties the beginning and endings of chapters together. She often begins chapters with a seemingly obscure anecdote or reference, and then at the end, she'll string everything together beautifully. It makes a bigger impact than you'd expect.

This is way up on my recommendation list.

5/5 stars

Read from November 1, 2010 to November 5, 2010

Sidenote: I tried really, really, REALLY hard to read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley Wollstonecraft during the week of Halloween, but I failed miserably. I spent/wasted several hours staring at my Kindle trying to make myself enjoy the words I was reading, but I couldn't do it. I've always said that I'm one of those people who can read anything (I really thought I was after four Twilight books...), but apparently I'm not. I so am not.