Friday, July 31, 2009

Review: Memoir of Anthony Rapp

Without You: A memoir of love, loss, and the musical RENT
by Anthony Rapp
306 pages

I love the musical Rent. LOVE it. Seriously, it's so great and moving and beautiful and the music just sticks with you. I've seen it a few times live, one of which was at the Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI where Jonathon Larson (the writer of Rent) spent a couple summers earning his equity card prior to moving to NYC and writing Rent. That performance was probably the most moving one that I've seen since a lot of the people there had know Jonathon. Wow. I was left speechless.

If you haven't heard the story of Jonathon Larson and how Rent came to be, then you should read this or rent the DVD of the movie version (which features most of the original Broadway cast including Anthony Rapp) and watch the documentary on the second disk. Look out for the picture of my beloved Barn Theatre (that I've been going to with my parents since I was young).

But, this book really isn't about Jonathan Larson or the making of Rent. It's about Anthony Rapp's experiences with playing the character Mark Cohen for years (from the workshop production to Broadway), living as a homosexual, relationships, and dealing with the loss of him mother to cancer, along with other things that came around. Rent just happened to his backbone through years of strife and heartache in his life. The lyrics to the songs and the core of his character Mark just resonated throughout his real life to make this a very moving memoir. But I think that my favorite thing about reading this was I could distinctly hear Anthony Rapp's voice (as Mark Cohen) while I was reading it. It had a little bit of everything I look for in a memoir: realness, challenges, some hilarity, some heartache, and a good dose of hope at the end.

9 out of 10. Such a good book.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

BTT: What's so funny?

What’s the funniest book you’ve read recently?

Hmmm...this is kind of a tough question for me! I don't really read many books that are flat-out funny. Sure there are plenty that have me giggling at certain parts, but none that I can think of where I'm just laughing out loud the whole time. But I guess the ones that have made my husband look at me like I'm crazy because I'm sitting on the couch, book in my lap, giggling to myself would be the first two books of the Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty and the fourth Outlander book (which I'm currently reading) called Drums of Autumn. While there are some serious and some sweet and some HOT things going on in DoA, I have been finding myself giggling a bit at some of the descriptions and reactions of the characters. Of course when you put a 20 year old girl from the late 1960's into the 18th century there have got to be at least a few funny moments huh!?

What's the funniest book you've read as of late? Any good recommendations for a laugh-a-minute book? (fiction or not)

Review: Girl With A Pearl Earring

Girl With A Pearl Earring
by Tracy Chevalier
233 pages

I read this book back when I was in high school (for pleasure) so when it came up as the July book club book, I decided that I might as well read it again especially since I remember liking it well enough the first time. The one thing that I kept hearing people say about this book is that it's a little slow, but if you like art, art history, historical fiction and the like then you should enjoy it. I would definitely agree with that!

This book is Tracy Chevalier's (fictional) thoughts on who the girl in Vermeer's painting "Girl With A Pearl Earring" was (16 year old Greit, who worked as a maid for the Dutch painter) and how Vermeer came to paint her. While the plot summary sounds like it is about Vermeer, the painter, it's really more of a tale of Greit. She is forced by her family to become a maid for this painter because her father (a tiler) was blinded in a kiln explosion and she must begin helping her family. She must learn to become a servant, deal with Vermeer's jealous wife and mischievous (and evil) daughter, and sneak around to help Vermeer with his painting. Very little is actually known about the life of Vermeer, so it worked that Chevalier made him a very mysterious character. He rarely speaks aloud and allows his mother-in-law to pretty much run the household, which seems in contrast to most men of the 17th century.

The book club discussion was pretty good for this book. I found that we mostly just discussed the characters and what choices they really had in that time, and also found that most of us had characters that we really liked and some that we love to hate. It was definitely different discussing a very character-driven novel versus the plot driven ones that we have read in the past. It was a nice change up from some of the more action packed adventures I've been reading as of late!

7.5 out of 10 stars. Historical fiction and art lovers need only apply.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Reviews: Next in Series

So I'm trying to catch up on all my reviews and these next two are both from series and are both Young Adult, so I'm just going to put them together :)

Second Helpings
by Megan McCafferty
349 pages

2nd book in the Jessica Darling Series.

So Jessica is moving on to her senior year of high school and trying to forget all things Marcus Flutie related as much as possible. She has a new goal for the next year (go to Columbia U! even though her parents have already vetoed all colleges in large cities), is still dealing with her best friend living far away, and has to come to terms with her grandmother aging and being put into a nursing home. All the while, there's the normal high school angst and drama lurking around every corner between Jessica and her friends/non-friends and new used-to-be-a-nerd-but-now-is-cute boyfriend. And of course, Marcus is there firing off mixed signals and keeping tabs on Jessica by befriending her grandmother because he happens to work at the nursing home.

I love Jessica. But I have a love/hate relationship with Marcus. One minute I'm thinking that he's just leading her on, and then I'm like "Oh my gosh, he's so SWEET! He wrote her a song!!" (which P.S. I had a boyfriend in high school who wrote me a song and it made me swoon, even though the song really wasn't that good...I think that I may possibly have a cassette tape of it somewhere in the "remnants of high school" storage bin...definitely have to find that...) but then I'm all "Ugh! He's leading her on again!!" So now I must continue the series since I would love to hear more from Jessica and I just have to know whether I like Marcus or not. I've already requested 3, 4, and 5 from the library. They should be in any day now...

8 out of 10 stars. This series is PERFECT for summer!

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
by J.K. Rowling
652 pages

I've been rereading this series in preparation for the release of the 6th movie (which is based on this book). I just love Harry Potter. It's going to sit on my bookshelf forever so one day my kids then my grandkids can read it, I swear!!!

I had only read this one once, when it first came out so there was plenty of stuff that I had forgotten. Harry has mostly gotten past his angsty stage that occurred during all of the fifth book, so I was back to really enjoying his character. And Dumbledore was back to being involved in Harry's life and giving him lessons, which were really just preparing Harry for what he must do to defeat Voldemort in the end. There is just so much foreshadowing in these books, I can hardly believe it. I think that that is what makes them so interesting to reread. You can pick up on things that you know hint to things ahead (since you know what happens in the future) but of course, you didn't see it the first time around. So great. JK Rowling is a purty smart lady.

I'm not going to bore you all with a synopsis since I'm sure most people have read it and if you haven't then READ THIS SERIES! I highly doubt that anyone would regret reading HP. But, here are a few of my favorite parts:
  • Hearing about the early memories of Tom Riddle.
  • Harry taking the Liquid Luck and getting the memory from Slughorn.
  • Harry realizing that he likes Ginny and Ron and Hermione finally figuring out that they like eachother!
  • Hermione getting huffy about Harry doing better than her in potions.
  • Hermione losing a bit of the goody-goody-ness and Confunding Cormac! LOL
  • The Tonks/Lupin thing...LOVE!
  • Draco not being able to do it...there's hope for him, really!
  • and the end...oh Dumbledore...sooooo sad.

Then I went and saw the movie...and I really think that they did a pretty good job! Especially after the suckfest that was the fifth movie. I still don't know why they don't mention that Ron and Hermione are prefects and that Harry is Quidditch Captain, but I guess that isn't TOO important really. There were some really hilarious parts and while I was nervous that they would focus too much on the teenage love fest, it really was smoothly put in (except the beginning with the Underground coffee shop girl? what was that?). The fight in the end wasn't what I expected either, and the Tonks/Lupin story was pretty much entirely left out so I don't know exactly how they will deal with that story line during Bill and Fleur's wedding (oh and Fleur wasn't in the movie, so how will that work?). I wish that the fight scene would have been more dramatic and had more of the Order involved (like in the book) and I wish that they would have actually shown some of the funeral scene with the white tomb because that really could have been beautiful, but overall not bad for a movie adaptation.

10 out of 10 stars for the book. 8 out of 10 for movie.

BTT: Locating Mt. TBR

Do you keep all your unread books together, like books in a waiting room? Or are they scattered throughout your shelves, mingling like party-goers waiting for the host to come along?
I definitely do not keep all my unread books together, although it would probably be a good idea! Right now, they are scattered all over the place. I have a good chunk on my nightstand, some in the office on both bookshelves and some on the office floor in a bag (yet to be put away since uh, the beginng of June...), and yet a couple more on the bookshelf in the living room. Not to mention, the couple that I've gotten in the mail this past week that still haven't left their coveted spot on the dining room table... But, I kind of like the disorder of it all. I'm not really good at "scheduled" reading so when I finish a book, I like to meander around the house, picking up a book here and there and THEN decided which one I'm in the mood for. The only drawback right now is that I think that I might have too many books laying-in-wait and making the decision of which one to read next is getting tougher!

Review: Sweeping Up Glass

Sweeping Up Glass
By Carolyn Wall
319 pages

I got a copy of this book a while back as an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) from Random House Publishing Group. It was described as "a mystery, a love story, and a haunting rumination on secrets" and it's definitely all of that and more!

Sweeping Up Glass begins with the grown main character, Olivia Harker Cross, living in the house that she grew up in in Pope County, Kentucky with her crazy mother and beloved grandson, Will'm. The wolves that her ancestors had brought to their land are being killed as a warning and she needs to get to the bottom of it before the hunters come after her and Will'm. In order to find out the reason behind the killing of the wolves, Olivia must delve into her troubled past (living with her bootlegger father while her mother is in an asylum, understanding segregation, the return of her mother, a terrible accident, the loss of her love, the birth of her daughter, and the pain of her daughter running away and leaving her infant grandson there for her to raise, etc!). As Olivia looks back, she thought then that she was so smart and understood what was going on around her when really, things occurred that she didn't see at all. Once she figures it out, it changes her life completely.

There were great twists in this book that I really enjoyed. The writing style really brought me into the story by using just enough dialect from the time and location. The only thing that was slightly confusing to me was the time period. It seems like between her childhood and the present time (in the story) there was about a 40 year lapse putting the years of her childhood around 1910-1920s maybe? then her present time around 1950-1960's? But that just didn't seem right to me since things around her didn't change very much technology-wise and there was no mention of the World Wars or any events of the time. I guess maybe things don't change too much when you are in the country...but I think that some time references that the beginning of the chapters or putting the book into sections based on years would have been helpful while reading. Other than that, I really liked it and would recommend it to others if you're looking for a fast-paced, interesting read.

7.5 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Review: Sloppy Firsts

Sloppy Firsts
by Megan McCafferty

304 pages
First in Jessica Darling series.

I've been hearing a lot of great things about this book (the entire series really) lately. I figured that it would be a book that would be just perfect to read while laying in the sun...light read, not needing a lot of thought, if I drift off, no big deal I pick it up later...and I was definitely right. I read this entire book on the 4th of July while laying out on the pontoon boat at my in-laws' lake cottage! It was perfect.

The novel is about Jessica Darling. It follows her through the second half of her sophomore year of high school until the middle of her junior year. The actual dates? January 2000 through December 31st 2000. And ya know what? That's the exact same years that I was a sophomore and junior in high school. Hmmmm...this could be interesting! The novel is also told in monthly letters to her best friend, Hope, who was forced to move away after her older brother had dies of a drug overdose and Jessica's journal entries. Guess what? When I was in high school, at this exact age, I kept journals too. Yup. Sure did. And, they sounded a lot like some of Jessica's entries dealing with the cliques, being a brainiac, nerdy type, captain of a sports team, trying to not be defined by the super jock who may like all hits close to home. And makes me kind of want to read those old journals again (except I can't because I shredded all that incriminating evidence long ago!) All this just shows that Jessica Darling is REAL. and funny. and refreshing. She's not the typical popular high school girl that everyone LOVES but secretly hates. She's friendly but not overly so, sometimes angsty, argues with her parents, and ends up having a pseudo non-relationship with a guy that she probably shouldn't.

Anyways, for this review, I don't think that the plot matters so much. I mean, we've all been to high school and remember what it was like. A lot of Jessica's experiences are ones that we've all had or heard about or were there watching. So far, I'm really enjoying looking back at the high school experience through Jessica's eyes. Just so long as I don't ACTUALLY have to relive it! Oh, and everyone I know LOVES Marcus, except I kinda don' I going to start liking him? when?? I know in high school, I probably would have had a huge crush on him least that shows that I've grown up a bit right?? hahaha :)

8.5 out of 10. great for the beach/lake/pool. Now on the Second Helpings!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

BTT: Celebrity memoirs

Suggested by Callista83:
Do you read celebrity memoirs? Which ones have you read or do you want to read? Which nonexistent celebrity memoirs would you like to see?

I'm not a huge reader of celebrity memoirs. Right now, the only one that I can think of that I've read is Tito Ortiz's...and that's only because my husband has it (and many other memoirs of UFC fighters) and I was looking for something light and easy to read. It definitely fit the bill! Other than that, I have Annie Duke's memoir sitting on the bookshelf (picked the hardcover up at a garage sale for 50 cents) and I'm kind of looking forward to reading Forrest Griffin's new (ish) book since I think that he's hilarious and adorable (in an I-punch-people-in-the-face kind of way I suppose). Also, if I find Chelsea Handler's books somewhere on the cheap, then I'd probably pick up those...but other than that, I'm just not too motivated to read a celebrity memoir. I just like novels too much!

As for a non-existent celebrity memoir that I'd like to see? Hmm...well...I don't know! I get all my celebrity juice cravings satisfied by Perez!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Summer Book Challenge List!

I'm pretty excited for this one. Hopefully I'll be able to do a little better this time around. And I'd like to actually complete one sometime! We'll see though. For now, here's the list! I've put in a couple ideas or books that I'll definitely read, but I'm planning on leaving a lot open since some of the books I want to read will fit into several of the categories.

5 Point Tasks:
1. IHO the Beautiful weather read a book while enjoying the outdoors.
· Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
2. Take 10 books you want to read and put the titles in a hat, pick one at random and read that book.
3. Read a book with a Summer word in the title (sun, heat, sand, hot, etc).
4. Read a book considered a beach read (Chick lit, etc.).
5. IHO Friendship day (August 2nd) read a book about friends or siblings.
6. Read a book with a food or drink in the title.
7. Post a poll on NBC of 5 books of your choice and let the nesties pick your next book (leave up for at least a day)
· Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty
8. Read a book that takes place at a beach, ocean, lake, or resort.
9. Christmas in July, Read a book about/set during Christmas
10. IHO Dog days of Summer read a book with the word dog in the title or about a dog.
10 Point Tasks:
1. IHO summer blockbusters read a book of your choice and then choose your cast, then share with NBC
2. IHO Fourth of July read a book about the revolutionary war or any other important time in your Country’s history.
3. IHO Women’s equality day (August 26th) read a book with a woman as the main character or about a woman you admire.
· Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall
4. Read a book set in a place you have, will, or would like to travel to.
5. Read a book about a Summer romance or a romance book.
6. Read a book about a library, librarian, book store, or anything else book related.
· The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
7. Read a book about getting married, weddings, being married.
8. Read a book with a verb in the title (Walk, run, talk, etc).
9. Read a book you first heard about on NBC.
· Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
10. Read a book with a teenager as the main character or set in a high school.
· Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty
15 Point Tasks:

1. Read a book that an author you enjoy has read or suggested.
· All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris, rec by D. Gabaldon
2. IHO back to school in August read a book off your high school’s summer reading list.
· A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
3. Read a book by an author born in July, August, September.
· Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling
4. Read a book about a disaster or tragedy (Tornado, hurricane, 9/11, plane crash, personal, etc.)
· The Soloist by Steve Lopez
5. Judge a book by its cover, read a book based solely on the cover or title.
· Gifts of War by Mackenzie Ford
6. Read a book about Royalty (Tudors, Princess Diaries, etc)
7. Read July, August, or September’s NBC book and participate in the discussions.
8. Read the first and second (or 3rd and 4th) book in a series
· Charmed Thirds and Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty
9. Read a book that is at least 500 pages.
· The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon or Harry Potter 7
10. Second chances- Read a book by an author you didn’t enjoy the first time around.
25 Point Tasks:
1. Read a book then do an activity that the people in the book did (swim, bike, run, picnic, etc.)
2. Read a book and cook a meal inspired by it.
3. Read a book with 700+ pages
· Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon
4. Read a book recommended by the staff at your local library or bookstore. Complete the task by posting a review of the book with no spoilers so we can all learn your opinion of the book.
· Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
5. Read a book that you've never read before because it has always intimidated you. Afterward, make a non-spoiler WIJFR post about how you feel about the book now that you've finally read it, and if you feel the original intimidation was justified.
6. Read a book written by or about a famous person (living or dead) that you would like to meet. Post a list of questions you would like to ask them, based on what you read in the book.
· Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent by Anthony Rapp

Spring Book Challenge Wrap Up

So the Spring Book Challenge has officially ended. I didn't feel like I did as well with this challenge as I did for the winter one. I read a couple of books that didn't fit in anywhere and some books took longer for me to finish than I anticipated. But I still managed to read 7,4, and 8 books in April, May, and June, respectively. Not too shabby! Although, May was a little rough. With those numbers, I'm officially on my 40th book of the year! So I've upped my Total Books In 2009 challenge up to 75. Hopefully I can keep going at this pace, or even up it for the rest of the year.

So my favorites from the past three months? Hmm...I guess I'll go with a top 3:
  1. They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky by Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, and Benjamin Ajak
  2. Voyager by Diana Gabaldon
  3. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Interesting that my three favorites were all from extremely different genres. I also really enjoyed Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay but didn't finish the nonfiction book on the Vel d'Hiv in time for the end of the challenge in order to count it. I will hopefully finish it soon and post of review of Sarah's Key and the nonfiction book within the next week or two!

My goals for the next challenge (Summer Book Challenge, which I'll be posting next) are to be able to fit more of my books on the TBR pile in and to keep up with the book bloggin' a little better! My poor blog has been a little neglected the past couple months.