Top Ten Most Vivid Worlds/Settings In Books

Hey there! It’s Tuesday, and as usual I’m participating in the “Top Ten Tuesday” link-up hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

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Today’s list is the “Top Ten Most Vivid Worlds/Settings In Books.” Featured today are books (and book series) that are set in particularly interesting worlds and/or time-periods. You’ll notice that most of the books on my list are part of a series…which isn’t really that surprising when you think about it. In a stand alone novel, you “live” in that world for a few weeks while in a series you are exposed to it for months or even years. I had fun with this list, and I hope you enjoy reading it!

Top Ten Most Vivid Worlds/Settings In Books:

1. The Roaring Twenties in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I finally finished reading this classic last week! I loved the descriptions of 1920’s Long Island that Fitzgerald gives in the book. I was fascinated by the lavish parties, the giant mansions, the casual day trips to New York…I don’t know if I’d want to stay there permanently but I certainly wouldn’t mind a visit!

2. Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

After reading this entire series, who WOULDN’T want to take a trip to Hogwarts? Between the castle, the classes, and all of the interesting food…I’d be the first to sign up for a visit!

3. Redwell Abbey in the Redwall series by Brain Jacques

I’ve only read a few books in this series but I was always struck by the lush details that Jacques gives in these books (it’s probably part of what makes them so long). After traveling with the characters for 600ish pages, I always felt like I had a good feel for Redwall Abbey and the Mossflower woods.  Also, the descriptions of the feasts in the books is enough to make my mouth water even today.

4. Panem in the Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

Considering the immense success of these books and the movie, I’m sure I won’t be the only one to have Panem on my list today. It’s certainly not a place I’d like to live, but it might be interesting to visit. Especially the capital city–I’d love to see more of the crazy hair and fashion.

5. 1870’s New York Society in The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

I loved this book, and I especially loved reading about New York society in the late 19th century. The characters in this novel are constantly going to lavish parties, taking trips to the opera, and vacationing in picturesque locations. Wharton’s characters and their lives are very different from the people and places in my own, and I felt like a voyeur while reading this novel.

6. Westeros from A Song of Fire and Ice series by George R. R. Martin

This is the only book series on my list that I haven’t actually read, but from what I’ve seen from the HBO show “Game of Thrones” this world is definitely vivid. From the cold and mysterious north to the politically intriguing south, this continent (and the people who inhabit it) in Martin’s world keeps me entertained every week.

7. The late 19th century midwest in the U.S. from the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

These books are the ones that made me fall in love with reading. I loved reading about Laura and her adventures, and part of what made the experience so vivid for me (I think) is that most of her stories take place in the Midwest (where I am from). In fact, Little House on the Prairie takes place about 2.5 hours from where I grew up (yes, I have been there to visit). Laura’s descriptions of the landscape, her travels, and the people she and her family come across fascinate me even today.

8. Kabul in A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I have never been to Afghanistan, but Hosseini paints a beautiful (if tumultuous) picture of it in A Thousand Splendid Suns. Like Age of Innocence, the places and events in this novel were far removed from my own life and I was fascinated by it while reading.

9. Clayton County, Georgia in Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Anyone who has ever seen the movie or read the book knows why this novel made the list.

10. Russia during the War of 1812 in War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Although this is not a time period during which I would like to visit Russia (I think I’ll take a pass on that brutal winter of 1812), Tolstoy did paint a vivid picture of it in this epic novel.

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What worlds/settings in books were vivid to you?

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Peanut Butter Bon Bons

Happy Tuesday everyone! Today I am sharing a recipe for a dessert I recently made for Coffee Hour, which is a  food/coffee/socializing event held by my department every week. These treats were super easy to make and uber delicious (provided you like peanut butter)! Enjoy!

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Peanut Butter Bon Bons

From the Recipe Hall of Fame Dessert Cookbook

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup peanut butter

2 cups powdered sugar

1 cup graham crackers, crushed

1/4 cup chopped nuts

1/2 cup flaked coconut

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate

3 Tbsp. Crisco

Instructions:

Melt butter and peanut butter together. Add to dry (next 4) ingredients. Make 1-inch balls. Melt chocolate and shortening. Dip the balls into melted chocolate and put on wax paper until hardened. Yields 3-4 dozen.

Notes:

I didn’t have any nuts or coconut on hand, but the bon bons were still very tasty. Also, I had leftover chocolate so I made another batch and put the extras in the freezer. Bonus!

After dry ingredients have been added to the melted butter and peanut butter

Mmmmm

Book Review: Night

“Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.” –Elie Wiesel, Night

Title: Night
Author: Elie Wiesel
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Hill and Wang
Publication Date: January 16, 2006
Source: My local public library

Synopsis:

A terrifying account of the Nazi death camp horror that turns a young Jewish boy into an agonized witness to the death of his family…the death of his innocence…and the death of his God. Penetrating and powerful, as personal as The Diary Of Anne Frank, Night awakens the shocking memory of evil at its absolute and carries with it the unforgettable message that this horror must never be allowed to happen again.

–Adapted from Goodreads

My Thoughts:

This is another one of those classic books that I somehow made it out of my primary/secondary school years without reading. I always meant to pick it up and read it, but just never got around to it until this spring. When I tried to check it out from the library I was shocked that there was a waiting list. This book was originally published in English 1960…I never expected it to still be this popular in 2012. If nothing else, I felt like this was a fitting testament to the quality of this work and the importance of Wiesel’s story.

From the beginning, I was drawn into Wiesel’s narrative. The story is told very matter-of-factly and in plain, simple language, which is part of what makes it such a great read for primary and secondary school students. At the beginning of the book we meet Eliezer, a devout Orthodox Jewish teenager who simply wants to uncover the mysteries of his faith and live his life in peace. Quickly, his world is turned upside down as he is forced from his home to a tightly-controlled ghetto, and then finally to a concentration camp.

I think the most surprising and poignant aspect of this story (and I had several of these moments during while reading this book) actually occurred for me at the beginning of the book when Moshe the Beadle tries to warn the Jews of Sighet (where Eliezer lives) of the Nazi death camps. He tells them of his flight from death and urges them to flee the country, but the population dismisses his claims and simply does not want to listen. I don’t doubt that his story was difficult to believe (I mean who wants to think that humans can be that cruel to each other), but I found their stubborn refusal to believe his story (even in the face of increasing evidence that he spoke the truth) particularly tragic and heartbreaking. In my mind this highlights an underlying (and in this case dangerous) tenant of human nature–our faith in one another’s humanity. Acts such as the Holocaust go against the natural order of things, so the denial of it by the Jews of Sighet is understandable even as it’s heartrendingly tragic.

When I mentioned to an acquaintance that I had begun to read Night he stated that he wasn’t sure why this particular work had received so much attention in the Holocaust literature genre. He wasn’t trying to say that he didn’t think this story (or Holocaust literature in general) was unimportant, he merely felt that this account was not a great work of literature (i.e. “it’s sort of a listing of historical facts”). To a certain extent I can see where he might be coming from–there are certainly no big words or fancy metaphors in Night. But I think it is precisely the plain language and stoic telling of the story that give it power and staying quality. Wiesel doesn’t philosophize or even really pass judgement on his tormentors, he merely relates the events as they occur. This allows a general audience to grasp and understand his message without getting caught up in complicated literary devices.

Overall, I think my thoughts on this book can be summarized by the first sentence of the most popular review of Night on Amazon.com: “this may be the best and worst book I have ever read.” It is a tragic, heartbreaking, and deeply moving memoir that explores one of the darkest sides of human nature, and is a book I think everyone should read.

What Others Had To Say:

*Let me know if you’ve posted a review of this book and I’ll add a link to it!

My Review In Four Lines:

  1. Rating: 5/5 stars
  2. What I liked: Honest and brave telling of his horrific experience
  3. What I didn’t enjoy as much: The only thing I would ask for is “more.” I think an epilogue (or something of that nature) that gives some details about his life after liberation would be useful for most readers (or at least this reader).
  4. I would recommend this book for: Everyone

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Linking up with Blonde…Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

Note: I did not receive any compensation whatsoever for this book review.

Top Ten Books I Just HAD To Buy…But Are Still Sitting On My Bookshelf

Hey there! It’s Tuesday, and as usual I’m participating in the “Top Ten Tuesday” link-up hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

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Today is a “Top Ten Freebie”, so I chose the topic “Top Ten Books I just HAD to buy…But Are Still Sitting On My Bookshelf.” Featured today are books I own and do genuinely want to read, but just haven’t found the time yet (for whatever reason). I know I will be getting to some of these books soon (like number 1 on my list), and I hope to get to the others sooner rather than later!

Top Ten Books I Just HAD To Buy…But Are Still Sitting On My Bookshelf:

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This book has been on every Top Ten list I’ve made this summer, and it is the next book on my TBR list. After I finish the Steve Jobs biography (and I’m so close!) I will move onto this one.

2. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

Talk about a dated purchase…I bought these beauties at Borders (and not at the going out of business sale). I really do want to read this trilogy…just haven’t gotten around to it. Umm oops?

3. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

The hype for David Mitchell’s books over the past decade has really made want to read one, and so I bought this book (which is on the BBC’s “The Big Read” list) with every intention of reading it soon. Sigh. That has not happened. Honorable mention for this spot on the list? His other recent book The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which I also own and also have not read.

4. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Have you ever been through Barnes and Noble when they were having one of their Classics sales? Yikes. In one of these sales alone I spent like $60. I picked up this massive tome at one such sale, and was very excited to read it (having already read The Count of Monte Cristo). I even had grand plans to read the whole d’Artagnan Romances trilogy. Whoopsie.

5. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

I first read about this book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series, and also saw the movie (with Daniel Day-Lewis) a few years ago. Like the number 4 spot on this list, I had grand plans to read the entire Leatherstocking Tales series…but haven’t even cracked the cover of this one yet.

6. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Somehow I escaped high school without reading this classic, and I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the movie (with Demi Moore). I bought my copy at the infamous Barnes and Noble Classics sale mentioned above.

7. Persuasion by Jane Austen

I bought this book because it was the only Jane Austen novel I had yet to read. Yet it still hasn’t gotten read… 😦

8. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I actually own a copy of The Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide, which includes all 5 books.

9. Napoleon’s Buttons by Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson

I heard about this book in an introductory materials science class that I took as an undergraduate in electrical engineering. My professor would tell us the things he was reading in this book (he was reading it in his spare time that semester), and it was one of the things that initially got me interested in this field. I always meant to read it, and (like all the other books on this list) now even own a copy of it.

10. Middlemarch by George Eliot

A great masterpiece (so I’m told) of English fiction that I own and have not yet read.

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Are there any books you rushed out to buy but haven’t read yet?

Book Review: This Life is in Your Hands

“The very nature of paradise is that it will be lost.” –Melissa Coleman, This Life is in Your Hands

Title: This Life is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone
Author: Melissa Coleman
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: April 12, 2011
Source: My local public library

Synopsis:

Set on a rugged coastal homestead during the 1970s, “This Life Is in Your Hands” introduces a superb young writer driven by the need to uncover the truth of a childhood tragedy and connect anew with the beauty and vitality of the back-to-the-land ideal that shaped her early years.

In the fall of 1968, Melissa Coleman’s parents, Eliot and Sue—a handsome, idealistic young couple from well-to-do families—pack a few essentials into their VW truck and abandon the complications of modern reality to carve a farm from the woods. They move to a remote peninsula on the coast of Maine and become disciples of Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of the homesteading bible “Living the Good Life”. On sixty acres of sandy, intractable land, Eliot and Sue begin to forge a new existence, subsisting on the crops they grow and building a home with their own hands.

While they establish a happy family and achieve their visionary goals, the pursuit of a purer, simpler life comes at a price. Winters are long and lean, summers frenetic with the work of the harvest, and the distraction of the many young farm apprentices threatens the Colemans’ marriage. In the wake of a tragic accident, ideals give way to human frailty, divorce, and a mother’s breakdown—and ultimately young Melissa is abandoned to the care of neighbors. What really happened, and who, if anyone, is to blame?

“This Life Is in Your Hands” is the search to understand a complicated past; a true story, both tragic and redemptive, it tells of the quest to make a good life, the role of fate, and the power of forgiveness.

–Modified from Amazon.com

My Thoughts:

This isn’t the type of book I probably would have picked up on my own, but Amused by Books gave it such a glowing review that I ran right out to the library to check it out. It’s not that I don’t care about the environment or am not interested in more wholesome and sustainable ways of living, I’m just not sure I would have run across this book if it hadn’t been for her (but I guess this exposure is one of the great things about reading all your lovely blogs). My interest in sustainable living and design has grown over the past several years, and reading about the beginnings of this movement through one young girl’s eyes was fascinating.

As mentioned in the synopsis, Melissa Coleman’s parents were well-educated and from financially secure families, but instead of taking the easier (expected) route they choose to follow a dream of living a simpler life. With a handshake and a couple thousand dollars, the Colemans set out to “live the good life.” For awhile it does seem to live up to their expectations despite all of the hard work, and their family blossoms and grows. However, as their notoriety increases and Eliot (Melissa’s father) becomes more passionate about organic farming rather than homesteading, trouble begins to brew.

From the beginning I was hooked by this beautiful, tragic, and ultimately haunting memoir. The prose is lyrical and beautiful, and quickly drew me in. I loved reading about the beginnings of the farm, and the transitions the family undergoes as they adjust to their new lifestyle. Additionally, as the Colemans become more well known (thanks to an article in The Wall Street Journal), their farm becomes populated with a fascinating cast of characters who I also liked reading about. Another aspect of the memoir I enjoyed was the way the author included the events that were happening in the outside world as sort of a backdrop for her counterculture narrative.

If I had to make a critique of this book (and I did really enjoy it), it would be that the story tends to jump around. Sometimes it proceeds chronologically, but not always. Occasionally I would find myself flipping back and fourth between chapters to confirm dates and events, and I thought that detracted from the reading experience.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was fascinating to learn about the beginnings of the most recent “back-to-the-land” movement, and the history of organic farming in this country. I learned many interesting things about natural living, and even jotted down a recipe from the book to try. Even though this memoir is heavy on the organic/alternative lifestyle themes, I would still recommend it to a general audience because it is ultimately a book about dreams–how we work to achieve them and how we can be changed by them.

What Others Had To Say:

Amused by Books

*Let me know if you have a review of this book posted

My Review In Four Lines:

  1. Rating: 4/5 stars
  2. What I liked: The author’s brave telling of her difficult family past, and the voyeuristic experience of reading about a life very different from my own
  3. What I didn’t enjoy as much: How it was difficult at times to follow the chronology of events.
  4. I would recommend this book for: People interested in the “back to the land” movement or organic farming

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Linking up with Blonde…Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

Note: I did not receive any compensation whatsoever for this book review.

Thursday Thoughts 9.0

Hey remember me? I’m still alive and well! The past week has been BUSY and H-O-T. Since today is Thursday I’m linking up with Sarah.

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[1]

O.k. o.k. I know I keep complaining about it, but I’m going to say it again…IT’S HOT. One of the reasons I came to graduate school “up north” was to avoid the sweltering Texas summers that I was oh-so-not fond of. And it did get hot last summer…but never this hot or for this long. It’s been above 90 degrees every day for about a week, and now we are in an “excessive heat warning” until Friday. As I mentioned in last week’s post, most Chicagoan’s don’t have central air conditioning (myself included). So, when we have 100+ degree heat indexes for days on end…well it’s kind of a big deal. It looks like it might get down to the 80’s this weekend…right now that sounds heavenly!

[2]

Sunday was the big move to my new place, and it was quite the day. Not only was it REALLY hot, but I also could not pick up the key to the new place until 3 pm (on Sunday) and I had to be out of the old place by 8 am Monday morning. Yikes! Luckily, I had 5 very awesome friends who braved the heat to help me move from my un-airconditioned second floor walk-up to my new un-airconditioned third floor  walk-up. I am truly blessed to have such great people in my life. After all the stuff was in the new place, I served my friends Lou Malnati’s pizza and beer (plus my friend Sarah brought Klondike bars which were really awesome). It was a long, hot (and sometimes stressful) day, and I am really glad to finally put this move behind me. Now I can begin the next phase of my life. 🙂

[3]

…And of course after the move there is unpacking. Groan. Especially in this heat. This is basically the state of my apartment (or at least as it was when I took these pictures on Monday). First, there is the kitchen:

I’m pretty sure Martha Stewart is jealous of my organizational skills

Then, you can make your way down the hallway…

Watch your step!

…to the living room…

Yikes!

…to sit down.

I hope you don’t need a lot of leg room!

So far, the unpacking process has consisted of me slaving away in the heat until I just can’t take it anymore…and then I go hang out in my bedroom for awhile (where my window AC unit is). Yesterday, I declared victory on my kitchen. Yay! I can eat now! This evening I hope to tackle the bathroom.

[4]

I had a great Fourth of July yesterday. I spent the morning tackling the kitchen (as mentioned above), and then went to a potluck party held by some of my friends in the evening. We ate lots of delicious food (I’m pretty sure I ate my weight in guacomole), and watched Independence Day (i.e. ID4). After the movie, we walked to the lake for the Evanston fireworks display. All in all, it was a really great day!

[5]

I’ll admit it…I’ve been really REALLY bad about posting book reviews lately. I think my last book review might have been in May(?), so my hope is to change that this week. I figure by putting it out there on my blog, it’s much more likely to actually happen!

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That’s all for now. Have a great weekend everyone!