29 July 2011

Saturday Snapshot...the Vatican...

From my honeymoon to Italy two years ago, a shot of the Vatican from the dome on top of St. Peter's Basilica. What I love most about this picture is not just the obelisk at the center and the immensity of the courtyard (is it called that?), but it is, in fact, the saints. It is those impeccable statues at the top lining the roof, almost keeping watch.

For more amazing Saturday Snapshots, please visit Alyce with At Home With Books.
For my recent reviews, including the audiobook for Kate Morton's The Distant Hours, click here.


My first introduction to Kate Morton's writing was The House at Riverton. A Gothic tale, told within multiple timelines, and secrets galore, The Distant Hours is no different in that respect.

However, I should start this post by asking you a question: When you were a kid, what was the story that grabbed you? Held you speechless as you turned each page and introduced you to the world of imagination and possibility?

I can think of a few titles that capture this feeling for me, but for Edie in The Distant Hours, there will only ever be one. It is a celebrated classic, one that is a horror story of monumental proportions, but is simultaneously literary. The Mud Man, by Richard Blythe, a tale of horror, intrigue, and disturbing events that shake a young mind to their bones - this is the story that made Edie fall in love with books.

As an adult, she now works in the publishing industry and has a somewhat strained relationship with her parents in which not much is shared about their young lives. Disjointed this may be, Edie is aware that when her mother was a child, she was one of the many evacuees in England during World War II, and was the only one safely stationed at Milderhurst Castle. Already a Gothic and mysterious home it is even more so filled with secrets since this was the home of the very author of The Mud Man. Edie was always curious about her mother's relationship to this castle and the family, and while on a business trip, she decides to take a slight detour and visit the famous castle. While there, she meets the three daughters of Raymond Blythe, now much older while on a tour of the house, and is invited back much later to write the introduction for the release of a new edition of their father's famous story.

Back and forth between the 1930s and the 1990s, and told from different characters' perspectives, this is simply haunting and Gothic, through and through. Where did the story of The Mud Man truly come from? Why is the oldest sister, Percy, so gruff and cold? Why is the youngest, Juniper,  still waiting for her fiancĂ©, even though it's been over fifty years? And what really was their relationship with Edie's mother?

Once again, as with The House at Riverton, I find I'm always mesmerized with the mystery, the characters, their sadness, and their regrets. The story is creepy and detailed, and while I thought the end was a bit too nicely wrapped up for this eloquently haunting story, I was absolutely satisfied yet again with Kate Morton's work. I look forward to downloading another audiobook from her, and Caroline Lee as the narrator was extremely impressive. My first time listening to her voice, and I look forward to more.

About the Author
Kate Morton, a native Australian, holds degrees in dramatic art and English literature. She lives with her family in Brisbane, Australia. She is the author of The House at Riverton, The Fogotten Garden, and The Distant Hours.

Click here to visit the author on her website.
Click here to visit the author on Facebook.

Who else read it? (Or listened?)
You've Gotta Read This (audio review)
The Blue Bookcase
Kittling: Books


23 July 2011

Saturday Snapshot...Palatine Hill, Rome...

From my honeymoon to Italy two years ago. This is part of Palatine Hill, the center most of the Seven Hills of Rome and looks over Circus Maximus. The sunset light made every picture so pretty, so it was hard to pick which one to share today.

For more Saturday Snapshots, visit Alyce with At Home With Books.


22 July 2011

One More Hop...

Paul Newman...click here for more from my Tumblr site...
Side Note: I just love Paul Newman. He puts our current Hollywood actors to shame - vintage and ultimate sexy, you know? Anyway, my Tumblr account has lately included pictures that fit into what I think falls into "Because Reading Is Sexy." Enjoy the series!

Another great question this week, this time posted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books...

Question: What's the one genre you wish you could get into, but just can't?

My thoughts: When I think about it, there isn't one genre that stands out that I wish I could get into, but can't - I pretty much like them all. I admit that I don't like romance or self-help books at all, but they're not a genre I would want to get into anyway.

Other than that, I read it all: classics, Young Adult, contemporary fiction, women's fiction, chick lit, war novels, crime fiction, sci-fi (I'm looking at you, Ender's Game - I love that book!) - and now I can honestly say that I am enjoying the fantasy genre, thanks to George RR Martin! Although the Game of Thrones series is really more of a medieval saga with slight fantasy in it, at least in what I've read so far.

And you? What's a genre that you wish you could get into, but you can't? If you don't have a blog, answer in the comments below, or if you do have a blog, you can always join the Blog Hop.

Happy Reading,
Natalie, the Coffee and a Book Chick


21 July 2011

Literary Blog Hop

Ginger Rogers. For more pics, click here.
I enjoy blog hops and The Blue Bookcase has asked a great question this week:

Question: Discuss Bibliotherapy. Do you believe literature can be a viable form of therapy? Is literary writing more or less therapeutic than pop lit or nonfiction?

My thoughts: I could ramble on and on about how I feel reading is an extremely effective tool for therapy, and I think we all feel strongly about that. Sure, you could pick up a self-help book and identify your trigger mechanisms contributing to poor choices, depression, bad relationships, etc., but I don't look at those books as the right tool generally speaking for the purposes of this conversation. Oftentimes, what a person can truly need is pure distraction from the events that might be occurring in their lives, whether they are monumental or are simply slight challenges that worry their minds. Either way, reading is effective, and incorporating writing into the process becomes even more cathartic. 

And let's be honest - it doesn't have to be considered "high-brow, stodgy upper-crust literature" to be effective. Women's fiction, contemporary fiction, chick lit, whatever we want to call it - aren't those great distraction methods while at the beach and whiling away our time? And what about Young Adult books? Aren't those also an excellent example that children can go through horrible things, and reading and writing becomes their only outlet and salvation? I always get annoyed with the controversies and brouhahas over Young Adult books being too expressive or graphic, or "not suitable." It doesn't really make sense to me since after all, to read about another person going through the same thing makes you one of many, right? I will always state that we are never truly alone if we have a book.


20 July 2011

I planned on reading the extremely short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman for months now because of the positive reactions from other respected bloggers. I downloaded it onto my Nook, and once I read The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski, I knew that The Yellow Wallpaper had to be next. But I took my time, and when Chrisbookarama peer-pressured recently urged others to read it, I thought, "Seriously, it's only fifteen pages, what have I been waiting for?"

I read it in a flash last night. And was sufficiently freaked out.

An unreliable narrator is married to John, a doctor, and they have a baby. Recently, they've moved to a small rental home and while she would prefer that she and her husband take a downstairs room that is pretty and airy, her husband decides that the upstairs room is the one they should stay in. Considering he prescribed rest to cure her from her recent ills (postpartum depression), it seems extremely bizarre that he should select the room for her daily containment to be one that was once a children's nursery, has ripped and aging wallpaper in it that is a ghastly yellow, and the windows have bars on them. When she begins to see the wallpaper moving and then starts to see a woman trapped in the wallpaper trying to get out, she does everything she can to figure it out and to help the woman escape. But it slowly becomes a murky undertaking for the reader to decipher what is real and what isn't. Is something sinister truly happening, or is it madness? Which is more frightening?

It doesn't help that her husband and sister-in-law are skeptical of our narrator's health, but then are seen scowling at the wallpaper. At least, this is again according to the narrator as she writes her thoughts in her journal... so who to believe?

Written in the first person, Charlotte Perkins Gilman has easily mastered the craft of a creepy and haunting story with frighteningly vivid descriptions, and has also successfully preyed upon a reader's eagerness and natural inclination to believe that the narrator is always right. When that is questioned in any way, it becomes uncomfortable and harrowing. With whom should you place your trust?

Those who enjoyed The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski will enjoy this short story.

Favorite passages from The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman:
You see, he does not believe I am sick! And what can one do? If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression - a slight hysterical tendency-what is one to do? 
There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will. Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous. And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don't like it a bit. 

The History I Should Know More About
(Generally gathered from Wikipedia, The Science Museum of the UK, and The Literature Network)

Silas Weir Mitchell, creator of the "rest cure," was an American neurologist. The rest cure was a treatment for hysteria and other nervous conditions, including neurasthenia, which Charlotte Perkins Gilman "suffered" from. Although it is no longer included as a diagnosis today, at one time (mid 1800s) neurasthenia was identified as a condition associated with "fatigue, anxiety, headache, neuralgia, and depressed mood." 

The "rest cure" was a common prescription for women more so than men during the Victorian era. Charlotte Perkins Gilman and even Virginia Woolf were advised to use the rest cure, and Perkins Gilman's interaction with institutions and doctors at that time contributed to the creation of this phenomenal story. 

Want to read more? Click here for The Science Museum (UK) and the University of Virginia has additional information that questions the negative perception he received after Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story became popular in the 1970s.

About the Author
(Wikipedia) Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a prominent American sociologist, novelist, writer of short stories, poetry, and non-fiction, and a lecturer for social reform. She was a Utopian feminist during a time when her accomplishments were exceptional for women, and she served as a role model for future generations of feminists because of her unorthodox concepts and lifestyle.

After the birth of her first child, she had a nervous breakdown and was prescribed the "rest cure," in which she was advised to not write at all during this period. This exposure and treatment contributed to her writing The Yellow Wallpaper.

Want to read more? Click here for more biographical information and click here for a list of her work (she is also known for Herland). Click here for the BBC dramatization of her life. I haven't seen it, although it sounds interesting.

Note to me... I have finally contributed to two challenges. The E-book Challenge hosted by Ladybug Reads and the Victorian Literature Challenge hosted by Subtle Melodrama (words, words, words).


19 July 2011

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin

Mara Dyer wakes up in a hospital room, but can't recall how or what happened that got her in there. It's not until she asks about her friends that she realizes that they aren't there in her hospital room because they're dead. They died in a tragic building collapse, but somehow Mara survived with no memory of the accident.

The loss of her two friends and boyfriend is too much for a young girl to handle, so her parents make the choice to move the entire family from Rhode Island to Florida to start over again. Of course, Mara can't seem to fit into her new school, and it's only the alluring Noah who seems to find her intriguing. When Mara's memory slowly is revealed, with flashes of her dead friends appearing before her in unexpected places, the thriller of establishing what is real and what isn't becomes a ride into the dark underbelly of how to control the subconscious.

I'll be honest. I love a good book cover and that's what made me interested in this one. The publisher had more than enough copies to disperse at the Book Blogger Convention at BEA in New York in May, so I snagged a copy to read for the plane ride home.

This is a story in which telling you too much of what happens spoils it. Suffice it to say that while dark, it is an intriguing study of how difficult it can be to control your thoughts. Michelle Hodkin's debut novel was an enjoyable and quick read and there are sparkling moments of surprising humor that made me laugh out loud appreciatively for the author's wit. It is a multi-layered mystery, with no end to the paranormal-esque experiences in which Mara finds herself in. She and her family were  genuinely interesting and refreshing, and the side story of her family hovered in the background, keeping me wondering when, or if, it would pounce out. With every chapter ending in a mini-cliffhanger, it hooked me in and was hard to put down.

Unfortunately, there was only one pestering aspect which held me back from truly loving it. Noah, the young boy in which Mara falls in loves with, is the typical mysterious schoolboy who seems to be wise beyond his years, is nonchalantly obnoxious, and never seems unsettled by anything. While I know some people are old souls, I found myself wanting Noah to just be a kid for once. Although I was curious to see what happened with his character, most situations that he and Mara encountered frustrated me. Noah could have been a worldly man in his forties, if you didn't already know that he was a teenager. But, even though I wanted his character to be a bit more not cool, not calm, and not collected about all of the satisfyingly shocking revelations, I am eager to see where next this story goes in book two.

This book will be released in September 2011, but is available for pre-order now.

About the Author
(from her website)
Michelle Hodkin grew up in South Florida, went to college in New York, and attended law school in Michigan. When she isn't writing, she can usually be found prying strange objects from the jaws of one of her three pets. This is her first novel.

Click here to visit the author on her website.
Click here to follow the author her blog.
Click here to follow the author on Twitter.


18 July 2011

First Chapter, First Paragraph...

This is my first time participating in Bibliophile by the Sea's First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday Intro. I'm reading A Clash Of Kings, the second book in George RR Martin's A Game of Thrones series (my review of A Game of Thrones coming soon).

There is some fantasy which is why I initially shied away from it, but as I read it now, I am learning that while it's there, it is nowhere near what I expected, nor is it unnerving in the least. It is a medieval saga through and through, sprinkled with wonderful fantastical elements. Take a look at the first two paragraphs of A Clash of Kings...
The comet's tail spread across the dawn, a red slash that bled above the crags of Dragonstone like a wound in the pink and purple sky.
The maester stood on the windswept balcony outside his chambers. It was here the ravens came, after long flight. Their droppings speckled the gargoyles that rose twelve feet tall on either side of him, a hellhound and a wyvern, two of the thousand that brooded over the walls of the ancient fortress. When first he came to Dragonestone, the army of stone grotesques had made him uneasy, but as the years passed he had grown used to them. Now he thought of them as old friends The three of them watched the sky together with foreboding.
While George RR Martin takes liberties in the spelling of names, words, etc. (i.e., "Maester" instead of "Master), it just flows. I love every second of this. And am so mad at myself that it's taken me this long to pick this series up.

Happy Reading,
Natalie, the Coffee and a Book Chick


16 July 2011

Saturday Snapshot...Somewhere in Rome...

(So sorry on reposting, computer issues today!)
Even though my husband and I went on our honeymoon to Italy almost two years ago, I still feel like it was yesterday. I wish it was yesterday. We loved everything about our two week trip.


11 July 2011

The Girl in the Garden, by Kamala Nair

It is always a pleasant surprise to settle down with a book that you think could be a good story, and to be rewarded as a reader for the very faith that you presented it with.

While The Girl in the Garden begins with Rakhee immediately traveling for the second time in her life to India from America, leaving behind the ring her future husband gave her, the rest of the book is a flashback to one summer when Rakhee was only eleven-years-old. It was the very first time she had ever visited India with her mother, which was also the first time she met her extended family. It is a summer of secrets and betrayal. Families do come with burdens and unspoken truths, but the ones Rakhee learns in that one summer are more than she could ever have dreamed of. Or feared. But it is something that she must resolve before she can get married.

Rakhee is eleven who has lived her whole life in Minnesota. While her parents love her and provide a good home, Rakhee doesn't "fit" with her classmates and is never included in anything. She may have her mother and her father, and a devoted dog named Merlin, but she doesn't have any friends.

Her mother, a beautiful and sad woman, receives a curious letter in the mail, stamped with overseas postage. The contents of the letter aren't shared with Rakhee, but she is forced to fly to India with her mother for the summer. Once arriving in humid and hectic India, Rakhee again finds herself uncomfortable - she doesn't fit here either, at least at first. Settling into the routines of life in a foreign land, Rakhee's cousins are there to help her along, and provide her the very thing she's been craving - friendship.

But this is so much more than simply a story about family - there is a secret behind the house in which her mother grew up. A secret of evil that her cousins have always been warned about. Children tend to be curious and defy the orders of their parents, but Rakhee's cousins have never done so - they've been told they shouldn't go over the wall that separates their house from this evil, and so they haven't. But with bravado, innocence, or by accident, Rakhee finds herself over the wall and curiously walking through the woods. What she finds there becomes magical, or real, but ultimately becomes the summer that seals all of their fates and reveals the truth behind the secrets that her mother's family have always kept.

At once beautiful and strong, Kamala Nair delivers a story in which the very beauty of it is layered in its web of characters, culture, and secrets amidst the oppressive heat of India. There is almost a lyrical sound to the words on the page, and many times I found myself reading aloud, to see if I could capture the music. I love it when a book makes me do that. I felt the humidity of India, and especially young Rakhee's confusion as the lies of her family swirled around her, and I also could easily feel the injustice and frustration of being young and always being told that you're just not old enough to know the truth. Such a helpless feeling. But will finding the answer to a years kept secret ever make you feel better?

There is nothing but surprise when each secret is revealed. I held my breath as it unfolded.

I look forward to more from Kamala Nair. Fans of Lisa See, who enjoy cultural ties in fiction, will enjoy this book. Throw in the mystery behind it all, and you've also got a good one for your book club.

About the Author
Kamala Nair was born in London and grew up in the United States. A graduate of Wellesley College, she studied literature at Oxford University and received and M.Phil in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin in 2005. She currently lives in New York City, where she has worked at ELLE DECOR.

Visit the author on her website by clicking here.
Visit the author on Facebook by clicking here.
Follow the author on Twitter by clicking here.

Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to read this book. Upcoming tour stops can be found by clicking here.
Wednesday, June 22nd:  Simply Stacie – review
Monday, June 27th: Reflections of a Bookaholic
Tuesday, June 28th:  Simply Stacie – author Q&A
Wednesday, June 29th:  Reading on a Rainy Day
Thursday, June 30th:  Stiletto Storytime
Tuesday, July 5th:  Book Club Classics!
Wednesday, July 6th:  The Scarlet Letter
Thursday, July 7th:  Stephanie’s Written Word
Monday, July 11th:  Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, July 12th:  Coffee and a Book Chick
Wednesday, July 13th:  Savvy Verse and Wit
Friday, July 15th:  Chick Lit Reviews
Monday, July 18th:  Books Like Breathing
Tuesday, July 19th:  Dolce Bellezza
Wednesday, July 20th:  Life in Review
Monday, July 25th:  Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, July 26th:  Joyfully Retired
Friday, July 29th:  Book Snob


09 July 2011

My Weekend Will be A Game of Thrones...

Since I am stuck in the in-between of hoping someone wants to rent my house so I can move up to Virginia where my husband has already started in his new job, I have chosen to spend my weekend with this most fabulous book by George RR Martin. Game of Thrones...why have I not picked this up sooner? I'm 500 pages into an 800 page book in just a few days and I cannot put it down. Medieval family saga of honor, loyalty, betrayal, and battle...I cannot wait to sit down with the HBO series tomorrow after I finish this book.

Two quotes that I cannot forget:
Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you. (p.57)
Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come. (p.522)
Happy Reading,
Natalie, the Coffee and a Book Chick


02 July 2011

Saturday Snapshot...Formia, Italy...

On our honeymoon to Italy, we stopped in Formia an hour south of Naples, which is where my husband's family is from. We met with relatives for a couple of days and they graciously took us through the town. Even with clouds in the sky, it's absolutely gorgeous.
For more Saturday Snapshots, click here to visit At Home With Books.