Friday Coffee Chat (14) – Are you a dreamer?

Are you an imaginative reader?

Last week on Friday Coffee Chat we talked about whether or not big name reviews were important to us and most of us get our book recommendations from people we trust rather than a nameless person that doesn’t know anything about us. However, some of us felt that the big name review often trickled down to our reading lists because the books that are reviewed by big name media outlets are often heavily marketed.

Make sure you check out Jennifer at Girls Gone Reading for this week’s Friday Coffee Chat and last week’s chat on the books that turned you into a reader.


This week on Friday Coffee Chat I wanted to ask how many of us are imaginative readers. What do I mean by this? I am a slow reader. Why? I’m slow because I often imagine EVERYTHING about a book—the setting, the characters, their accents, what clothes they are wearing, and how they wear their hair among other things. It’s so bad that I even sometimes read out loud to myself trying to imitate whatever accent I think the character speaks. If there isn’t a lot of dialogue, I imagine the narration to be by some fabulous actor or actress with a wonderful voice that just fits the book perfectly. I even do this with non-fiction books no matter what they are.

I think that classifies me as an imaginative reader (this is a term I just made up—who knows what it’s really called…probably GOOFY!). I know people that tend to speed read and they don’t necessarily create the entire world in their head. To me, the concept of this is completely foreign. I wouldn’t comprehend anything, but all these people have excellent reading comprehension and often remember just as much or more than I do once they are done with the book.

I also have a tendency to change the “look” of the character if I don’t like the way they are described. I am not a fan of flowing, long, man hair so whenever there is a character written with long hair, I usually change it in my mind to short and some actor I think is handsome. Is that weird?!!! Probably! I do the same thing for girls. There is such a shortage of female characters that are minorities in the books I read that I never feel like I could ever put myself in their shoes since I could never look like them. Is that weird?! Probably! Either way, they get switched to Asian or Hispanic or Black or any other minority in my head sometimes just for variety and to know that yes, I could be a character in a book!

So my questions for you readers this week are:
  • Are you an imaginative reader? Do you build the world and characters in your head?
  • Are you a speed reader and you don’t imagine anything while reading—you just comprehend it all and move on?
  • Could you ever fathom trying the opposite of what you do when you read?

Guest Post #6 – Carina from Canada shares her Book Read ‘Round the World Experience

Lost on Planet China = Purple Pin
Journeying from Toronto, Ontario, Canada to Utrecht, The Netherlands
Distance Traveling = 3733 mi. / 6007 km.
Distanced Traveled to Date = 12030 mi. / 19360 km.

Guest Post #6
Carina from Canada

Judith at Leeswammes’ Blog is still awaiting her package from Carina at Reading Through Life, but since there are no spoilers in Carina’s guest post, it’s time to share her experience! Carina has a regular feature on Reading Through Life called Reading Roots in which she interviews bloggers about their early reading influences and experiences. She also just recently finished a month of Ramadan reading where she featured books by and/or about Muslim Culture and Religion. Judith also has a wonderful blog that features her weekly Book Bloggers Abroad posts where she interviews book bloggers from around the world. Make sure you stop by both of these blogs because they are fantastic!


Hello! My name is Carina, and I blog over at Reading Through Life. I’m a 20-something Canadian book blogger and high school teacher, living and working in downtown Toronto.
I’ve been blogging for just under a year now (my “blogoversary” is at the end of December), and I’m having a great time meeting people and being exposed to books that I likely would never have known about. I blog about a lot of different things, but I generally keep to the topics of books, reading, and literacy – which includes everything from book reviews (most of what I do), read-a-thons, read-a-longs, challenges, theme months and events (such as Ramadan Reading), and discussions about various topics, including literacy education and reading engagement.

From Carly in the UK:
One day, I got a package in the mail. It was actually kinda funny, because it had SO MUCH packing tape holding it together. See?


I have to say, I was bowled over by the great things that Carly sent me! There was just so much of it, I wasn’t expecting that. (It also made for a really hard act for me to follow!) Here’s what I saw as soon as I opened up the package:

As you can see, there’s two different books: the one for the event (Lost on Planet China), and another (Girl, Interrupted). Here’s the funny thing – Carly knew nothing about me going into this, and somehow managed to buy me the book of one of my absolute favourite films of all time! Also, I’ve never read it before. I haven’t gotten to it yet, but I’m seriously looking forward to it. Such an awesome choice, Carly!


Inside the bags you see pictured above, there was even more awesome stuff. Let’s start with the contents of the bookstore bag – Jane Austen things! I have, strangely enough, never read anything by Jane Austen, even though I have a specialist degree in English literature. (Strange, no?) Even with that, though, I absolutely adore women writers, and I loved the things that Carly sent – a postcard of “Jane Austen in Bath” (a pseudo-map with pictures, quotes, facts, and places related to Jane Austen), and a mini-book of “Jane Austen in her own words”. They’ve encouraged me even more to finally get around to reading some of her work!


Next, I will show you the contents of the Bath bag (and no, it didn’t contain bubbles and Epsom salts). Instead, it was full of awesome tourist-y things! From left to right, top to bottom, here’s a list of the contents in the picture:


1.    a Souvenir Picture Guide to Bath, World Heritage City
2.    what seems to be a leather bookmark (?) from Bath, with a crest and two small etchings of Pulteney Bridge and Royal Crescent
3.    a Pictorial Map & Guide to the City of Bath
4.    a postcard of Bath Abbey (West Front)
5.    a postcard of the Roman Bath
6.    a postcard of The Royal Crescent
Finally, here’s the letter that Carly sent to me. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the paper and envelope are this really cute light blue!


Here are the questions she asked me, and the answers!

1. Have you seen a bear? A WILD bear? Please tell me you have or my vision of Canada will be crushed forever.

I’m really, really sorry, but I’m going to have to crush your vision. I have never once seen a bear outside of the zoo (though my boyfriend has seen a bear in a conservation area in British Columbia, though that’s not much “wilder” than bears in a zoo). HOWEVER – I have seen a deer and a moose up close, right by the road on my way north to go camping! Is that good enough?

2. If a friend was visiting Ontario and asked you advice on where to stay, what restaurant to eat in and what bar to drink in – where would you recommend?

It would depend a lot on where exactly they were staying and how much money they had to spend. For the sake of argument, I’m going to assume that they’re coming to Toronto and have unlimited supplies of cash. (Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?) Actually, that only really applies for the hotel, the other two recommendations are pretty inexpensive.
a)    stay in the Royal York. I’ve never been inside their rooms, but the building is absolutely gorgeous and so is the food that I’ve eaten (once!) in the dining room. They also have afternoon tea on weekends, which I haven’t had the pleasure of trying yet, but I imagine that it’s divine.
b)    eat at Fran’s. There are two different locations (both downtown), and they’ve been a local pillar for 70 years. It’s traditional pub food and all-day breakfast with a mix of other things, open 24 hours, and an extremely popular hangout for students, the after-hours bar crowd, and pretty much anyone else. Have the apple pie.
c)    drink at C’est What? It’s downtown, and they have a ridiculously awesome menu full of local craft beer (35 different ones on tap alone!), international whiskies, and a variety of Ontario wines.

3. What are your thoughts on Justin Bieber? Do you have Bieber fever?

My thoughts can be summed up in one word: ick. I simply cannot wrap my head around the thousands of people who scream and chase after this young boy – especially the adults! He’s a child, people! I have no objections to his music, though I usually try to avoid most pop and thought he was a girl the first time I heard him sing.

4. What’s your favourite attraction in Ontario and why?

I would probably say that Niagara Falls is my favourite “attraction”. It’s gorgeous, and there’s tons of stuff to see and do, no matter when you go! There’s even a bike train from Toronto during the summer months, which I’ve taken, that allows you to spend a day or whole weekend riding around the area checking out all of the beautiful scenery and everything else.

Sent to Judith in the Netherlands:
I spent a good couple weeks compiling things to send to Judith ... but you’ll have to wait and see what she got! I didn’t take any pictures before mailing off the package, but I can tell you that it includes a lot of local flair and a bit of a sneaky item that has to do with her location in a very roundabout way.
Thanks so much to Carin for organizing this event! It’s been so much fun.

Vegemite v. Marmite – It’s On!

If you follow me and some of the Aussie, Kiwi, and UK bloggers, you might have noticed that we have been debating those unique yeasty spreads, Vegemite and Marmite. Is there a difference? Oh yes there is according to my friends from Australia, the UK, and New Zealand. All three have their own version of this yeast spread and the love for them runs deep. For the rest of us in the world that prefer our yeast in bread or adult beverages, we have no idea on what we might potentially be missing out! So I decided to settle the score. As a person that has never tasted any of these spreads, I decided to do my own taste test and decide which was the tastiest!

Here are the bloggers that have declared their allegiance:

Maree (NZ) from Just Add Books
Gemzina (NZ) from Gemzina - Devourer of Books
Fiona (UK) from The Book Coop

Rachel (AUS) from And the Plot Thickens
Bella (AUS and CAN) from A Girl Reads a Book

*If I have missed you I’m sorry, but I’m posting a poll below so you can vote there and tell me what team you’re on.

I have also vlogged the experience of my first bites of Marmite and Vegemite. I have annotated it, but the popup bubbles probably won’t show up in the embedded video so if you are interested in seeing my commentary CLICK HERE.

I also completely cheated and did the vlog in English…but part of it is Australian slang English! No non-native English speakers have sent me a vlog yet, and I really want them to vlog! So, if you are a non-native English speaker and want to vlog but are afraid to, send me a video of some phrases to say in your language (YouTube has really easy annotation function too which will be super helpful to me if you do send one).


Also make sure you vote in the poll to declare your allegiance to Team Vegemite or Team Marmite!

…and just to show you how cool New Zealand and Australia are, here are a couple videos that I am addicted to on YouTube.

Friday Coffee Chat (15) – Are big name book reviews important to you?

Are big name reviews important to you?

Last week on Friday Coffee Chat we talked about whether we are character driven or plot driven readers. Ellie pointed out that I had missed theme driven—probably because I don’t read a lot of theme driven novels! This week, Jennifer at Girls Gone Reading is asking readers about the most influential book they have read. Head over to her blog after you comment on this week’s chat on my blog!

I have also added an index of the previous Friday Coffee Chats in the menu bar under “Events/Features”. If you are interested in the previous topics covered, make sure you check it out!


This week on Friday Coffee Chat I am asking readers about reviews. While at the Texas Book Festival last weekend, several authors expressed frustration with the New York Times Book Review because the reviews seem to not actually review the book the writer is reviewing. Two authors that spoke at a talk both said that they had read reviews of their books from different media outlets that had very little to do with their own novels. Another author also expressed dismay at a negative reviews of their book in which he said the reviewer had obviously not even read the book.

Media outlets tend to have big pull when it comes to books. Whether it’s the New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, or any other magazine or newspaper that garners thousands upon thousands of readers, this is often where we readers hear the initial buzz about new titles. Even if we don’t read these publications ourselves, it’s often where books get the attention to become bestsellers. I am one of those readers that doesn’t follow the big outlets that feature reviews so I was completely unaware that these big name reviewers review books without even really talking about the book they are reviewing. That was kind of disappointing to hear authors say these things at the festival. Is it true? Do the reviewers really talk more about themselves than they do about the book. Don’t reviewers read the books they review? I scanned through a few different reviews and didn’t really see what they were talking about, but I’m sure that it happens from time to time.

I tend not to get most of my books through the suggestions of friends and even through *gasp* data mined suggestions based on books I’ve purchased online. I even buy books by "new to me" authors that have positive blurbs from authors that I have previously enjoyed reading. The point is, I tend to trust “reviews” from people I know and respect more than a reviewer that is backed by a big name media outlet. My question is, where do my friends and family get recommendations? Is the lowest common denominator these big time reviews?

Another thing one author expressed was irritation at getting a negative review. I actually felt a little turned off by that statement even though I thought the author was really well spoken and I enjoyed what they had to say. Throughout the chats we’ve had on my blog over the past few months, we have all expressed our opinions on books even if we don’t agree with each other. Why is it so bad for someone to practice their freedom of speech and express that they didn’t like the book? It can have a true impact on whether or not the author sells books, but if reviewers were to not review the books they don’t enjoy, I don’t think we as readers would have a true picture of of the books we read. To me, it seems disingenuous to only print rosy reviews of books. We are all different so what is to say that I will enjoy a book to the same degree that one of my friends or family members enjoys? In my eyes the world would be a pretty boring place if we all liked the same thing (and if this were the case, there would be far fewer published authors out there).

So my questions for readers this week are:
  • Where do you as a reader find the books you want to read?
  • Do you think that the major media outlets publish reviews in their newspapers and magazines that include very little reviewing of the actual book?
  • Are you influenced by the big name media review outlets? If so, which ones do you recommend?
  • Are you turned off by negative reviews and think that reviewers shouldn’t review books they don’t like? Do you think they should pass the book onto someone they think will like the book?

The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi

Book: The Windup Girl
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Publisher: Nightshade Books
Hardcover, 359 pages
My Rating:
              3h stars

The Windup Girl is a dystopian biopunk novel that occurs in the city of Bangkok. Vehicles run on fossil fuels are scarce and most food and many animals have been genetically altered. Anderson Lake is a farang businessman for a calorie company and searches the streets of Bangkok for food that is resistant to disease. His assistant, Hock Seng, is a Yellow Card that helps Anderson run the factory. The two work hard to keep the factory ahead of the pace of diseases like cibiscosis and blister rust that ruins foodstuffs and causes famine and death. When Anderson meets a windup girl named Emiko his life changes. Windups are viewed as less than human in Thailand, and Emiko is discarded by her owner and works at a club where she is abused. Torn between his obligation to serve his company and his desire to take care of Emiko, Anderson inadvertently sets events in motion that have serious implications.

The Windup Girl was given the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Novel at AussieCon in Melbourne about a month ago. This excited me because I have been looking forward to reading The Windup Girl all year long. I have never read anything by Bacigalupi before, but the book has gotten so much attention and the cover of the book was so appealing that when I finally got a copy, I couldn’t wait to crack open the pages and read the book. What I found was a book that had a thoughtful social commentary on the dangers of GMO foods, corporate control of our food system, and raised ethical questions of genetic engineering. For being a fairly short book at 359 pages, the world building was amazing. There were times that Bacigalupi’s description of the heat in Thailand made me feel like I needed to turn my ceiling fan on and there were times when I could feel the humidity of the Bangkok air. The setting was vibrant but also full of turmoil.

The world building was so well done that the plot didn’t really begin to take shape until midway through the book. I knew the basics of the plot with Anderson searching for the fruit the Thais called gnaw, but the story with Hock Seng, the Environment Ministry white shirts, and Emiko didn’t come together for me until about 150-200 pages in. I have to admit that I struggled some through the first half of the book but once I hit the midway point of the book, I really started enjoying it. The politics of the Environment Ministry, the calorie companies, and the Trade Ministry were complex and felt like it could truly be within the realm of possibility. Food is such a commodity in our society now, that a dystopian vision of GMO foods is something that was very interesting to read about.

The major issue that I had with the book was what Stephanie from Read in a Single Sitting characterizes as a “plate glass" style of writing. For me, the writing was choppy and disconnected from the story. There were times the flow was there but other times the sentences were so short that I felt like I was at a slam poetry performance. Mr. Bacigalupi may have intended this for the novel because society is disconnected in it and there is a constant sense of chaos throughout, but because of this, I admit that I had difficulty getting immersed in the novel. However, I am glad that I persevered and continued reading because the ideas in it are worthy of a read and the world itself is one that is likely to stay in my mind for years to come. While talking to my husband at dinner tonight, I compared this novel to The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. That was also a book I struggled through at times, but over time, it was one that really grew on me. I have a feeling The Windup Girl will be much like The Diamond Age in that I think it’s a book that months down the road I will still be digesting. I would recommend this book to people that enjoy dystopian literature that has a striking social commentary, especially with regards to corporations and how they influence the industrial food system, and it challenges readers to contemplate what constitutes our humanity in reference to biological systems.

Note of Interest
Paolo Bacigalupi wrote two short stories related to The Windup Girl in Pump Six and Other Stories. They are called Yellow Card Man and The Calorie Man.

*Notice of Disclosure: I received The Windup Girl for review from Nightshade Books.

**I am a Book Depository and IndieBound afilliate so If you purchase any of the books I have featured through the links I posted or from the banners in my left hand sidebar, I get a small commission from them. I am in no way compensated for the reviews I post of my books.

Texas Book Festival!

I haven’t gotten much reading done for the past few days because I went to the Texas Book Festival this weekend! I’ve lived in Austin for 11 years and only recently have I been making an effort to go out and about and participate in Austin life (I had this crazy notion for years that I wouldn’t be in Texas for long…a crazy notion I still maintain which is why it’s CRAZY).

Amanda from The Zen Leaf organized a blogger meetup on Saturday. I was the only lazy one that didn’t take picture so I’ll just list the awesome bloggers that I met. All their blogs are great and some are new to me!
We met for lunch on Saturday and then Iliana and I headed over to the Vintage Anchor event that featured authors Abraham Verghese and J. Courtney Sullivan. Vintage Anchor gave out a tote bag that included a few books. I was purchasing my copy of Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (Westerfeld’s event was happening at the same time…argh) so I showed up right before the Vintage Anchor event and missed the tote bag. Iliana, being the super nice person she is, gave me her tote bag and one of the books! A children’s librarian that I sat next to offered me a book from her tote too! Texans are so nice!

Iliana gave me A Saint on Death Row by Thomas Cahill and the librarian (whose name I didn’t get) gave me The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam. The talk was called Writers on Reading and was VERY interesting. Dr. Verghese was extremely interesting and funny. He’s an infectious disease physician so I definitely want to read his novels now! I also found out that he helped my sister-in-law’s uncle some years ago when he was ill. How cool! After the event, I went and had my copies of Leviathan and Behemoth signed by Scott Westerfeld who was EXTREMELY cool and nice. The line was about a block long for his signing but it went very fast. I loved Leviathan and will probably read Behemoth in the next week or two. I can’t wait since Leviathan ended a little unresolved.

Sunday, I went to the festival by myself. Iliana was at the Justin Cronin event, but I hid myself in a corner since I had to leave before the end of Cronin’s talk to go to another event so I didn’t see her. Justin Cronin was speaking in the Texas Legislature’s Senate Chamber so the room was fairly big which accounted for me not being able to find Iliana. He read from his book, The Passage and then answered some questions from the moderator. I was sad that I had to leave because he was talking about some really interesting things—I left as he was talking about how talented a writer Stephen King is.

So after Justin Cronin’s talk, I headed to a book that I found through the Texas Book Festival schedule. I admit that I hadn’t heard of it before I saw the book on the schedule, but as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to go. The book is called Escape from Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War by John D. Lukacs. I read about the Davao prison break in The Pacific by Hugh Ambrose earlier this year, but when I saw this book, I wanted to read it because I figured it would be a more focused and complete account of the story than the one Ambrose wrote about in his book since his was focused on five different stories. The talk was extremely interesting and I wish it would have been able to go on longer than it did.

The last event of the day was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who also spoke in the Senate Chamber. She was awesome. She was so intelligent, well spoken, funny, and had such a sense of self that I was blown away. I am one of the few people (or at least it feels that way) that hasn’t read Adichie’s work so I bought two of her books and waited in line to have her sign them. I can’t wait to read them. They sound so fantastic. She talked a lot about how she views Nigeria and Africa and encouraged people to read more African authors. She even talked about some authors that wrote about Africa that she didn’t care for. She also talked about how she never worried about race until she moved to the U.S. and then was identified as black or African (but generally not Nigerian). She was quite matter of fact about said it was just something she had to adjust to, but I found that statement really telling about race relations in America. It was really sad that that people come to this country not thinking about the color of their skin but are forced to think about it once they are here. I have to say that she was a woman that knew exactly who she was (Dr. Verghese also had this quality) and so she did not seem bothered by this revelation.

One funny little note about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was that she commented about doing the talk in the Senate Chamber. She looked around the room, appeared a little amazed and said something like (and I’m paraphrasing), “I’ve never done one of these in a Senate Chamber before. While we are here we should change some laws!” It got us all laughing and clapping since a lot of the attendees were sitting in the chairs at the desks of the Senators. It did look a little like it might be a legislative session!

I did a bad thing during the talk. While the talk was going on, I was IM’ing Amy from Amy Reads because she is a BIG fan of Adichie. So it wasn’t the most polite thing to do, but I didn’t feel like it was so bad because it was nice to be able to share what was happening with Amy as it was happening. I actually told Miss Adichie this when she signed my book and she laughed about it and said that Amy deserved a smiley face in the book I purchased for her. I’ll let Amy show it on her blog when she gets it in the mail!

In all, I had a lot of fun at this event and really enjoyed meeting all the bloggers from around the state (and they really were from all over—Beaumont, Houston, and Dallas are not short drives!). I also met a bookseller from Odessa at the Justin Cronin event. I was so surprised that so many people came from all over the state! I will definitely go back next year! We’re pretty lucky in Austin because one of the local bookstores, Book People, often has author events as well. However, I’m going to be on the wagon when it comes to book buying because I have managed to acquire MANY books this month so I need to concentrate on reading them for a bit!

Friday Coffee Chat (14) – What’s Important to You? The Story or the Character…

Are you plot driven or character driven?

Last week on Friday Coffee Chat, we talked about book bullying. Most of us admitted that we tend to be nosy about what people read and sometimes judge people by what they read, but we rarely vocalize it. I think it was a fairly eye opening conversation for me, and I feel like I learned a lot. This week, Jennifer at Girls Gone Reading is talking about reading out of your comfort zone. Head over to her blog after you are done commenting here to let her know if you have ever ventured out of your reading comfort zone!


Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThis week on Friday Coffee Chat I wanted to talk about something that I’ve been noticing about the books that I tend to enjoy. For four months this year, I read Middlemarch with my friends Ellie and Lydia from The Literary Lollipop. This book was huge and not much really happened in it. The book was largely about the people in Middlemarch and how society functioned at the time. Now, I know there are TONS of Jane Austen fans, but she largely falls in the same category. Lots of characters, but not a lot of plot. The characters undergo some transformation during the book, but it doesn’t take a war, tragedy, or any other huge event for these characters to have a huge impact on us. I say that these books are character driven and largely introspective. The books talk about the human condition or are social commentaries, but the plot can play second fiddle to the characters themselves.

After finishing the book, I felt so conflicted. I liked it. It challenged me to think in so many different ways, but quite frankly, it was boring for large parts of the book. A lot of people complain about Oprah’s Book Club choices to fall into the same pit of misery. The books are about the characters change, not necessarily the plot. After finishing Middlemarch, we decided to pick up The Count of Monte Cristo for a read-a-long which is VERY plot driven. Who hasn’t heard of Edmond Dantès quest for revenge against Fernand Mondego—the man who had him falsely imprisoned for many years? It’s such a popular story that is has been made into several movies. It’s exciting. There is plotting, revenge, swordfights, and the transformation of the characters is external rather than introspective. I am excited to read it because it is so plot driven and is so much more exciting to read than Middlemarch was.

All this got me thinking about what kind of reader I am. I tend to be a plot driven reader. I mostly read books where the plot is a huge factor. The journey in the book tends to override any changes the characters go through themselves. I like action in my books and I like it to be frequent! I do enjoy that the characters learn from whatever conflict happens in the book, but it’s the plotting, revenge, etc. that keep me turning the pages of books. The character driven books are usually more of a chore for me even if I do enjoy them in the end. I’ll even admit that these are the books that tend to have lasting impact on my life.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usFor example, take Sophie’s Choice by William Styron: nothing good ever happens to poor Sophie and you don’t find out why until later in the novel when you learn what her choice is. The book was torture because the entire time I just wanted to shake the woman and tell her what a huge mistake she was making with Nathan and say how out of control she was. I hated almost every moment of the book, but it has had this incredible lasting impact on me because it was SO character driven. The book was about Sophie and why she ended up the way she did. In some ways, the plot with Nathan was fairly incidental because the epiphany in the book was just on a few short pages. Those few short pages were so profound that the book is lasting (same thing in Middlemarch—the epiphany was one sentence on the last page). However, these books are just few and far between for me because I find them such a task to read.

I will go so far as to say that for every 30 books I read, I may only read one character driven book. Should I change my habit? I don’t know. I definitely have opened myself up a whole lot in the last two years as to what I will read, but I still maintain that the plot driven books are the ones I enjoy most even if the character driven ones tend to be lasting in my memory.

So, my questions for readers this week is:
  • What kind of reader are you: Plot driven or character driven?
  • Do you like books that have a good combination of both plot and character development or do you normally pick one over the other?
  • Do you get frustrated that other people might not understand your book choices?
  • What is your favorite book(s) that is/are plot driven and/or character driven?

Leviathan – Scott Westerfeld

Book: Leviathan
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Trade Paperback/440 pages
My Rating:

It is the eve of WWI and a Hapsburg prince named Alek is unaware that his life is about to drastically change. The Germans have been itching to start a war and the assassination of the Archduke has given them the opportunity. To avoid capture, Alek flees his Austrian homeland in a “Clanker” called a Cyklop Stormwalker with a few loyal men that are entrusted with his safety. On the other side of Europe, Deryn is a young woman who desperately wants to serve in Britain’s military so she disguises herself as a boy and signs up to fly in “Beasties” and is assigned to Leviathan. Little do either of them know that the war will make them cross paths and set them on a dangerous mission together.

I do not read a lot of YA novels, but I was desperately looking for some steampunk to read. I picked up Leviathan because Scott Westerfeld is coming to the Texas Book Festival on October 16-17 this year and I am going to try to make it in to his event where he will talk about the second book of the Leviathan series, Behemoth. I really wanted to read this before his talk so that I won’t be completely lost!

I think Leviathan is a great introduction to steampunk. The novel reads really fast and has a compelling storyline that feels familiar since the events in the book roughly follow WWI. Alek and Deryn are both likeable characters that are struggling with their place in the world. Alek is a prince without a throne and Deryn is a girl that desperately wants to be seen as an equal. Together they form an alliance that quite possibly is not what their respective parties want. In this first book in the series, a good portion of the time is spent exploring their individual stories so I got a good feel for them as characters and what motivated them. Neither of them have the typical teenage angst that can weigh so heavily in some books. They are truly characters of their situations—thrust into very stressful situations and they show their strength of character throughout.

I also loved the world. I think I’m addicted to steampunk now! I especially like the way Westerfeld made the novel as a clash between Clankers v. Beasties. The Leviathan is simply awesome. The description of it was vivid—I felt like I could see and smell everything that went on in that giant ship. The illustrations by Keith Thompson add so much to the novel as well. They are simply beautiful drawings and lend such description to the scenes. A picture truly is worth a thousand words in this book. Being that it is my first foray into the genre, I found the artwork helped me imagine what the world was like—what the ships and land machines looked like. The novel is a clash between two types of technologies which are each unique and well thought out.

At the end of the novel, Scott Westerfeld writes an Afterword about the historical period and what artistic license he took with the history of WWI. These last few pages made the book more interesting to me and made me want to read more on The Great War. I will warn you that the book doesn’t really have a true ending so you will most likely want to run out and buy Behemoth after you finish. For parents who want their pre-teens and teens to show more interest in history class, this is a great novel to pick up and read. I also think this is a good novel for people wanting to expose themselves to steampunk without getting bogged down in complicated explanations of technology that might exist in adult novels. It’s a quick read, plot driven, and kept me turning the pages. I feel a little less intimidated by steampunk and look forward to reading Behemoth and further exploring the genre.

 Links of Note
Samples of the illustrations in Leviathan
Scott Westerfeld’s Webpage

**I am a Book Depository and IndieBound afilliate so If you purchase any of the books I have featured through the links I posted or from the banners in my left hand sidebar, I get a small commission from them. I am in no way compensated for the reviews I post of my books.

I read this book for the Steampunk Challenge.
Steampunk challenge

It Begins! The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

Last week I posted a “review” of Middlemarch by George Eliot. I don’t really call it a real review per se because it was more about my experience reading it as a read-a-long with Lydia from The Literary Lollipop and my Shelfari friend, Ellie. After four months of reading Middlemarch, we finally finished and Lydia is now hosting a read-a-long of The Count of Monte Cristo for get this…the next 5+ months! Is this daunting? No! It’s only five chapters a week and the last one was so much fun that I can’t wait to start this one.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usLydia will be using the Modern Library edition of The Count of Monte Cristo which was translated by Chapman and Hill in 1846. This is the unabridged version that is most widely available and includes the Oxford Classics publication.

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I will be using the Penguin Classics edition of the book that was translated by Robin Buss in 1996 and updated in 2003. It includes some portions that were removed in the Chapman and Hill version and includes updated language. I chose this version because searching around the internet looking for which version was the most complete translation, the Robin Buss translation seemed to be the most complete. So, if you are looking to read this, you might want to pick up both copies and determine which is most important to you—the updated language and less omissions or the preservation of the Victorian language and the original translation.

To get us in the mood to read, here are a few tidbits about the book and Alexandre Dumas:

The Man:
  • Dumas was a popular writer and wrote for money (he was paid by the line…hence the LONG 1200+ page The Count of Monte Cristo) so he was dubbed, “Alexandre Dumas and Co.”
  • His work was frowned upon by those in serious literary and art circles because he wrote for pay.
  • George Eliot thought that ‘the French’ [writers] looked for melodramatic situations and characters rather than dealing with everyday life which she felt revealed human nature (taken from A Note on the Text in the Penguin Classics translation). –After just finishing Middlemarch and reading this in the notes, I feel this is an especially satisfying way to spend the next read-a-long! hehehe
  • The lack of respect for Dumas in literary circles has most likely contributed to the book not being retranslated very often.

The Book:
  • The Count of Monte Cristo is a precursor to other detective novels—the man who finds the truth and uses it to prosecute the wrongdoer.
  • Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have some of the same elements in their work that is contained in The Count of Monte Cristo
  • The story of Edmund Dantès is inspired by the true story of a man named François Picaud who was denounced by his friends as an English spy shortly after he became engaged to a woman named Margeurite.
    • The plot was concocted by a cafe owner named Mathieu Loupian who was jealous of Picaud’s relationship with Margeurite.
    • Picaud was a servant to a rich Italian cleric while in prison and became very close to him. The cleric died and left his money to Picaud and also told him where to find a hidden treasure.
    • Picaud was eventually released from prison and found the treasure and began to investigate who betrayed him so he could exact his revenge.
See?! The truth IS stranger than fiction! Does this make you want to read the book any more than if you hadn’t known these things? A few people have told me that they are intimidated by Dumas, but I find him to be one of the more accessible classic authors. It’s most likely due to him being a writer for the masses rather than a writer for the art.

If you have any interest at all in the intrigue, betrayal, and revenge of this novel, head over to The Literary Lollipop EVERY Wednesday starting October 13, 2010. We will be reading this book in five chapter increments. Totally doable! Easy peasy! I hope you’ll join in. The story is just fantastic! I know this because as some of you know, I accidentally read the abridged edition some years ago. I felt I had to remedy my error.)!

Friday Coffee Chat (13) – Have you been book bullied?

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Book Bullying: Are you a victim or a perpetrator?

Last week on Friday Coffee Chat we talked about Weird Reading Habits. We all have some and maybe sometimes people look at us funny for our odd reading habits. This week, I want to talk about bullying of the book persuasion. Jennifer at Girls Gone Reading is talking about movies that are BETTER than the book this week on her portion of Friday Coffee Chat. Can you think of any? I think I actually can so make sure you go put your two cents in on her blog as well!


Book bullying. Does such a thing exist? For weeks we’ve been talking about things like judging a book by its cover, the YA phenomenon, and odd reading habits we have. But are any of these things embarrassing enough that we actually hide what we read around others for fear of being made fun of or just outright bullying?

Last week on Twitter a fellow book blogger tweeted that she had been mocked and made fun of in the lunch room for her choice of reading. Not only did they make fun of what she read, they went through her Kobo and refused to give it back until they had all had their bits of fun. I was honestly horrified that this person was basically bullied. These aren’t kids in grade school—these are grown adults that were making fun of her for choosing to read YA and some Middle Grade books. Never mind that this woman is a mother and who reviews YA and some younger fiction regularly on her blog; these people decided that it would be a nice thing to mock her by saying things like, “What are you going to read next, Clifford?!” Hmmm…she’s a mom so it IS in fact possible that she might read Clifford to her children. Instead of fighting back which would almost certainly end in more retribution, she sat there quietly until they had finished. She felt humiliated.

I have to admit. I felt so bad for her. I think what is worse is that I felt bad for her because while I may not have gone to that extent to humiliate someone, I have definitely judged people on their reading choices at times. That’s right. I am openly admitting that at times I have vocally said things about the choices that people make about their own personal reading! I am ashamed. After doing these weekly chats for three months, I have learned so much from all the bloggers that stop by and give their input. We don’t always agree, but we usually have a good laugh, give each other a virtual handshake, and move on because we all know we have different personalities and therefore, different tastes. Because of this, I have become much less judgmental of all those people out there that choose to read things that I would never pick up. I no longer care if someone has an Edward or Jacob obsession, or if they like reading Gossip Girl. I don’t care anymore if people like reading steamy romances or erotica. We’re all unique and there are enough books in the world to satisfy us all. I might even throw some glitter on my friends who like the sparkly vampires to show my support!

CRAVE Chicago Coffee Chat
My point is, what exactly does it accomplish when you question what someone is reading? Is there ever a time when it is justified? I still struggle some with people reading books by Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Al Franken, Michael Moore or other polarizing figures. I might even make an off-handed comment if I saw people reading it. Is that ok for me to do? I think good conversation is ok. I think it’s ok to disagree, but I’m beginning to see that it’s possible that my off-handed comments can hurt someone’s feelings. I also think that sometimes we all can be overly sensitive and that stepping back from a situation and looking at things from a different perspective can open our eyes to what people may be trying to get across (in the blogger’s case at the beginning of my post I think she was truly bullied and the people in question should be ashamed of themselves). I have taken comments on my blog and on Twitter personally sometimes, but then I realize that I am who I am and I can only control my reaction to things—the world will not change for me as much as I want it to. I will say that I am trying harder to be more aware of what comes out of my mouth and my fingers while typing. I may still disagree with people, but I hope that I will never be disrespectful or make that person feel bullied.

So this week, I want to ask you readers:
  • Have you ever been bullied for what you read OR have you ever bullied someone for what they read (be honest here…we’ll be respectful of admissions)?
  • Have you ever hidden what you read for fear of someone making fun of you or criticizing you?
  • Do you think people are too sensitive when it comes to the books they enjoy?
  • Are there any times that you just cannot keep your mouth shut when you think you should (like me and my penchant for ranting against political pundit books)?
  • Do you think it’s possible to be opinionated about reading/books without backing someone into a corner?

Link of Note
I saw this really good blog post by a man that was bullied as a child. Good food for thought:

The Alienist – Caleb Carr

Book: The Alienist
Author: Caleb Carr
Publisher: Random House
496 pages
My Rating: 1.5 of 5 stars

New York Times reporter John Moore is paired with criminal psychologist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler to solve a series of crimes against young child prostitutes in Caleb Carr’s first book, The Alienist. The murders are heinous and no one knows who is committing them. There is also little interest because the boys come from the immigrant community and their occupation is taboo. Corruption is rampant in New York City and police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt charges Moore, Kreizler and a small group of others to search for the killer.

Just writing that little summary makes me feel like this book would be interesting. I was actually very excited to read this because so many people had said it was one of their favorite mystery reads of all-time. Sadly, it was not to be. I slogged through this entire book. I even fought with it and wanted to throw it across the room more than a few times. I read the hardcover version of the book too so those 496 pages would have been even longer in paperback. There were so many problems that I had with this book that I am just not sure where to start.

The storytelling was overwrought with foreshadowing. I would say a good half to two-thirds of the chapters ended with some form of foreshadowing. Chapter 24 ends like this:
“We watched the burning pieces of paper turn into flakes of smoking ash, both of us silently hoping that this would be the last we’d ever need to speak of the matter, that Laszlo’s behavior would never again warrant investigation into his past. But as it turned out, the unahppy tale so sketchily referred to in the now-incinerated report did surface again to a later point in our investigation, to cause a very real—indeed an almost fatal—crisis.”
Now doing this a few times throughout a book would not have bothered me, but it became so habitual that I found myself anticipating the “duh duh duh” moment that was surely coming at the end of every chapter. The book tried so hard to be literary and it actually accomplished it at some points in the book, but overall the literary devices were so overused that they became clichéd.

Then there was the initial question of whether or not the attacker was a male or female. Based on physical evidence, they postulated that the attacker was 6’2”. It must be a male, right? That’s what they thought. Well, later in the book another boy is killed and a team member named Sara goes to view the crime scene. She is so horrified by what she sees that she says something like (and I’m paraphrasing), “The murderer is a male. There is no way a woman could do this.” All the men on the team were taken aback that Sara knew this so definitively. Really?!!! You think?!!! You just finished going on an on in previous pages about the murderer being 6’2” tall. Now how many women in 1896 were over 6 feet tall? At this point in the book I just let out a sigh and a groan. I had to finish it since it was the choice for my book club.

Then there was Dr. Kreizler. The man was a caricature. I think Richard Attenborough’s portrayal of John Hammond in Jurassic Park would have fit Dr. Kreizler really well at some points. The man would never divulge information. It was a murder investigation and he was working with a team of detectives, a newspaper reporter, and a female employee of the NYPD. You’d think that they would be open with their ideas so that they could find this person that is ravaging New York City. No, he wasn’t. Everything was riddles with him up until the end of the book. I found myself wanting the killer to make Dr. Kreizler his next victim.

I can say that I did like some of the non-fiction aspects of the book. The historical parts of Theodore Roosevelt being the police commissioner and just what the city was like was interesting. I also enjoyed the parts of the book where the alienist studies were examined (though it wasn’t very detailed). For me, the story is what fell far short of being remotely interesting. The best part of the story was the villain who actually had depth to his character despite only physically being in the book for a very short period of time. I wish there would have been more storyline with the killer’s story than there was because it was the only part of the book that I found hard to put down.

I am in the minority as far as my opinion of this book goes. Most people love it. They think it’s fantastic so I won’t tell anyone not to read it. I think my book club enjoyed it (I actually showed up late because I had not finished the book by the time they met—the only time this has happened to me in 11 meetings). So, instead of saying that people should just let this one fall by the wayside, I think I would recommend that they read the description of the book, some reviews of it, and decide for themselves if they think it’s worthwhile to read. I am definitely interested to see what other people have to say about this book.

Middlemarch – George Eliot

Book: Middlemarch
Author: George Eliot
Publisher: I read the Bantam Books version and also listened to the Audiobook read by Kate Reading
791 pages
My Rating: 4/5 stars

What can I say about Miss George Eliot and her masterpiece, Middlemarch? This is a novel that frequently shows up on the 100 Top Novels of All Time-type lists and is EPIC in every sense of the word. I really enjoyed Silas Marner, so a few years ago I picked up this book and started reading. I gave up after Book 4. I even did a nationwide interlibrary loan search for the unabridged audiobook to help me get through but alas, it was not meant to be. Once I actually found the audiobook I never went back to it.

When Ellie, a friend of mine on Shelfari mentioned that she was going to read the book I told her I was in and was determined to finish it this time. Every two weeks, we read a book (there are eight total). Part of the way through, I found Lydia from The Literary Lollipop’s Middlemarch Read-a-Long and yes, I was ecstatic. Her summaries were awesome and it really did appear that she might be doing the read-a-long all by herself so Ellie and I joined in on her weekly posts. Every week for probably 12 weeks we all got together on Lydia’s blog and chatted in the comments about these Middlemarchers who were, let’s face it, kind of a mess. Sure, the scandal was tame compared to today, but these people were hapless. Whether it was Dorothea marrying that stick-in-the-mud, Casaubon or Rosamund and her spendthrifty ways, we were consistently flabbergasted, bored, and entertained through this 800+ page tome.

Don’t get me wrong. The three of us struggled through parts of this book while other parts had us turning the pages because we couldn’t believe what was happening. We weathered it and made it through. It felt like we formed a special bond that only Middlemarch Read-a-Longers could form. Yup…it was that special when we finished. Lydia even said she felt like we deserved t-shirts that said, “I survived Middlemarch and all I got was this t-shirt.” I suggested, “To the well with her!” referring to Rosamund’s horrific behavior combined with a shout-out to Silas Marner. We joked, we threw up our hands in exasperation, and then we signed up for Lydia’s next read-a-long of The Count of Monte Cristo because even though it wasn’t the fastest read (it took 4 months!), we had great fun going through it all together. I even posted this video in the comments on Lydia’s very last Middlemarch post:


Oh yes, it was that special. I did a little jig. I threw my hands up in the air when I was done. I think it’s possible that Ellie and Lydia did as well (although you would have to ask them if they did actually do that. While I would never, ever pick up Middlemarch ever again, I did enjoy reading it with my new friends and I will gladly pick up any read-a-long with these ladies because they helped me finish this book that is simply one of the bigger reading accomplishments of my life. So thank you Ellie and Lydia for taking this journey with me and pushing me to finish this book!

Lastly, I do want to plug The Literary Lollipop’s next read-a-long of The Count of Monte Cristo. The first post goes up on October 13 and will cover the first five chapters of the book—totally doable! There are a lot of people who have told me that Alexandre Dumas is daunting. At 1300 pages, I will agree that this book is daunting, but it is so fun to read together. I will NOT be posting weekly posts like Lydia is doing. My comments will all be made in her weekly posts because honestly, I like doing it that way. I like the feeling that we are sitting around chatting about the book over coffee in one place instead of bouncing back and forth from blog to blog, AND Lydia does far better summaries than I could ever do. So if you are looking for my comments on The Count of Monte Cristo, you’ll see them in The Literary Lollipop’s weekly posts on the book and you’ll just see a post like this from me in five months time about the fun we had reading together. I can’t wait!

Yes, I know. This ridiculously long book just wasn’t enough for me so I watched the BBC mini-series that starred Rufus Sewell as well. Six-plus hours of Middlemarchers in addition to the 26 CDs I listened to while reading along in the book sounds like a perfect way to finish off this book. It was! The series was actually pretty good even though it left enough out that I didn’t really connect well with the characters the way I did with the book. The cast was pretty superb. They were all what I envisioned the characters to look like and behaved the way I thought they would.

There were things that were done VERY well. The politics and societal changes were much more interesting in the movie than in the book. I found myself wandering in the book when they would talk about medicine or building a railroad, but the movie held my attention during the talks about Parliament and the railroad. It made more sense to me as well to see it played out by actors rather than just reading about it.

Other things I was disappointed in. Rosamund’s story with Will Ladislaw was played down and that was one of the best parts of the book! Will Ladislaw’s speech to Rosamund toward the end of the book was completely missing from the movie and it was so passionate and well done. His talks with Dorothea toward the end of the book were also missing so all that dramatic romance was missing. It was sad. It was one of the better parts of the book.

All in all, I think you could get a good idea of the book by watching the film and while it’s not a replacement for the book, it’s a great way to supplement it or I would recommend it as a way to determine whether or not you think the book is something you want to explore.

Winners! – Book Read ‘Round the World Giveaway

Travel Book2


Please contact me within 48 hours. If I do not hear from you, I will randomly choose another winner (e-mails have already been sent to the winners).

~ Winner of The Lunatic Express ~
Shelley Z. (did not contact me w/in 48 hours)
New Winner!  -  Mandy M.

~ Winners of the Origami Earrings ~
Crane Earrings – Manon de R.
Kimono Earrings – Zoe O. (did not contact me w/in 48 hours)
New winner Kimono earrings - Norma C.

I should have packages in the mail by Tuesday, October 12 (I think the post office is closed on Monday for Columbus Day).

Friday Coffee Chat (12) – Weird Reading Habits

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Are you a weirdo when you read?

Last week we talked about book series that last too long and we all had at least one series that just seemed to drag on forever. Sometimes we marched on through the series even though it no longer had the pull it once did, while other times we got disinterested enough to just toss the series and move on. This week I wanted to talk about something less serious and ask you all, “What are your weird reading habits?” After you are done answering my questions, make sure you head over to Jennifer at Girls Gone Reading’s blog to see what her topic is this week!


We all have them. Some of us can’t sit down without a cup of tea or coffee when we read while others couldn’t fathom having food or drink near their prized books. I have a couple of odd habits while I read. I noticed recently that not all of these habits are good and others really help me get through a book.

One of the oddest habits I have is multiple bookmarking. I am not alone in my weird habit because I’ve actually had this conversation with Amy from Amy Reads. She and I both tend to put multiple bookmarks in our books as a way of benchmarking where we would like to end up or just to give ourselves an idea of where the next chapter starts. I enjoy this. It’s goal oriented, and I’m a fairly goal oriented person. I have something to look forward to when I feel the pages getting thinner and thinner as I turn each one. I also tend to look at how many pages are in every book I read. It is just something I do.


Some not so good habits I have. I tend to twirl my hair while reading A LOT which breaks my hair. I have “baby chicken” hairs all over the place on my head that poke up out of my head. I also have a tendency to touch my face a lot while reading so I break out in pimples! I’m in my 30s! Far to old to be looking like a teenager with pimples all over my face. I must stop! I also *gasp* bite my cheeks while reading. Worst habit ever, but it’s compulsive! It’s such an embarrassing habit. I get scolded by my dad when I am around him. I’m much too old to be scolded by my dad!


So I have some habits I need to change while reading, but others I will hold on to (like drinking water while I read and my bookmarking obsession).  All of this got me thinking, what do other readers do while reading? Are you a compulsive popcorn eater while reading? Do you read the last page in your book? So many questions that could be asked so here I am, asking you to tell me what your strange, embarrassing, good, bad, and ugly habits are.

  • What is your best reading habit? Are you compulsive about spreadsheet stats, bookmarking, putting your book away when not reading, etc?

  • What is your worst reading habit? Do you like to eat desserts or other foods while eating, have coffee or other beverages, bite your nails, or anything else you can think of?

  • What is your most embarrassing habit? Do you like to reading your “library material” in your “library’s porcelain chair” (aka, the toilet), read out loud to yourself, fall asleep often while reading, etc?
I want to know it all! Tell me all about your weirdness!
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