November 18, 2012

The Missing Review

People!  You will never believe the enormous oversight I have just discovered in my own reviewing history.  Fellow book bloggers, have you ever gotten so absorbed in the routine of reading and reviewing that you somehow forgot to ever write a review for one of the books that left the greatest impression on you of the whole year?!  Somehow, I managed to never review The Hunger Games!  Because I was taking part in The Hunger Games Read-Along at the time and had to post my review of a specific chapter, I seem to have somehow overlooked my usual habit of posting a full review for the book. Considering how much screen space I dedicated to it, however, I think we can consider my view of The Hunger Games well and truly explored--I found it fascinating and thought-provoking, and gave it 4.5 stars.  Having now corrected that mistake, let us dip once again into my Review Backlog Files.

April 10, 2012

Catching Fire
by Suzanne Collins

After seeing the recently released film of the first Hunger Games book, I was even more determined to read the rest of the trilogy ASAP (even though I'm sure I've got a few years to wait before THOSE movies are released).  I scarfed both of them down very quickly, staying up to unholy hours with each because I couldn't put either of them down until I finished.

Having now read this second book, I have to agree with the Tweet of one of my fellow book bloggers, which said that this book contains too much rehash of the first book.  After all, we go to another Hunger Games, we see the preliminary work of Cinna and Co. again, watch the Tributes settling into their domiciles again, being dangerously defiant before the Gamemakers again, and undergoing their training again. 

It seemed a bit lame to me at first, too, but I pretty much got over that when I reached the quite literally explosive ending, which was very effective and couldn't have happened at all if Collins hadn't taken us back into the arena.  Oh, the cliffhanger!

November 13, 2012

Reviewing My Way to Joy

Friends, unless I'm just going to lie to you all, I have to say that it's only Tuesday and already I've had a shitty week.  I hope and pray that it can only get better from here, that my doctors will continue to make progress in finally diagnosing my mystery illness, that my daughter will be able to overcome her new and worrisome addiction to playing games on my iPod Touch, and that I will stop feeling a bit like Chicken Little, running about screaming, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"  I'm going to take an important first, optimistic step toward this week looking up, and share another review from my Review Backlog Files, which always makes me feel like I've accomplished something worthwhile.  New posts instantly make me feel a bit more chipper, especially when you lovely people stop by and leave encouraging comments.  It's a beautiful circle of blogging friendship, really. 

*I'd like to teach the world to sing/
In perfect harmony* 

Ahem...sorry...moving on...

April 8, 2012

A Light in the Window
by Jan Karon

[I must warn you that there are SPOILERS in this review, but since the book was published in 1998, it's kind of fair game at this point, don't you think?]

So, the second of the Mitford books, and our sweet, kindly, fusty little vicar is engaged, of all things!  Or at least, by the end of the book he is, but there's an extraordinary amount of hemming and hawing about it before he and his lovely next-door neighbor finally get it sorted out.  In other words, when it comes to romance, Fr. Timothy is a scaredy cat!

Of course, you can hardly blame the man, as he's highly distracted by the machinations of a nauseating female parishioner.  She's recently widowed, and as she was never very fond of the poor blighter who was stuck with her for all those years, she's now determined to drag the poor old vicar into her bed by any means necessary!  Naturally, he would rather eat carpet tacks, and on top of everything else, he also has to find some way to keep her from driving the local diner out of business.  Never a dull moment for the harassed, well-meaning clergyman.

Honestly, these books are about 6 parts Mayberry, USA, 3 parts tent revival, and only one part believable plot, but they're soothing to read.  They're not total escapism--the characters do actually have some problems and heartaches--and though I didn't like this one as much as the first, I can still recommend it to anyone who needs something as cozy as an old bathrobe and fuzzy slippers after a long day in a busy, care-worn world.

November 10, 2012

A Review, or Back to Basics

Photo by Andewa
Yes, dear friends, despite a flood of posts lately about mental health, physical health (and the lack thereof), new favorite British comedies and the wonders of the fountain pen, I do consider myself a book blogger in the sense that I do read books--frequently! Constantly!--and I do review each one I finish, even if it takes me a while to get those reviews posted.  The blog is called "The Beauty of Eclecticism" BECAUSE I have all these varied interests, because I'm more than a "one-trick pony," but it's still nice to get back to basics every now and then and just review something.  Here's another golden oldie from the Review Backlog Files, the collection of hand-written reviews that I'm slowly getting transferred to the blog.  I hope you find it informative.

March 28, 2012

The Third Reich in Power
by Richard J. Evans

So, this is the second installment in Evans' trilogy, chronicling the Nazi movement from its antecedents to the unmitigated human tragedy it left in its wake before it was finally defeated.  The horrific saga of human depravity continues in this volume, as the author takes us inside the daily lives of Germans ruled by a newly triumphant Nazi party.

In reading about the Nazis' program and how it developed in The Coming of the Third Reich, I greatly appreciated the fact that, unlike so many historians these days, Richard Evans attempted to tell a single, unified story, presented in as chronological a fashion as possible.  Historical surveys tend to be heavily compartmentalized by subtopic--economic trends, cultural developments, social mores and so forth--and are only arranged chronologically within each of these categories.  It's a format that frankly annoys me, even though I can understand why it is useful or in some cases even necessary.  I so enjoyed the fact that the first volume of this trilogy was NOT arranged in that way.  Unfortunately, this one is arranged in precisely that fashion.

Still, I found that to be the book's only major detracting feature, and as I said, I can understand why Evans felt the subject would be too unwieldy otherwise.  This book is very thorough, and though it would no doubt be boring to those who really dislike non-fiction or have no interest in reading histories, I was absolutely spellbound by it.  Art, literature, films, music--virtually every aspect of human life, the Nazis attempted to control as much as they possibly could, even sex.  This book only covers the period between Hitler's rise to chancellor of Germany and the moment he began annexing other territories, so it really doesn't touch upon the Nazis' treatment of non-Germans, though it certainly covers the early development of their anti-Jewish policies.  The subtlety, the insidious and deceptive--even, at times, self-deceptive--nature of Nazi propaganda was breath-takingly terrifying, something I didn't fully understand until I read this book.  As in the first volume, the subject matter Evans has chosen to cover is chilling, but his handling of it is brilliant.

November 09, 2012

A Quick Look at My Current Report Card

Greetings, loyal supporters and wonderful cheering section!

As the more observant of you may already have noticed, there is a new element in the left sidebar of this blog, my "WIP (Work in Progress) Report."  It's just a little text box, nothing too fancy, but now that I have confessed that I'm in the midst of writing a novel, I decided I would keep you updated on my progress.  Through all of your encouraging words and even the occasional, "Stop obsessing and just write, already!", I managed to commit chapter 3 to the page last night.  I'm not feeling as confident about how it turned out as I was about the first two chapters, but that's what editing and re-writes are for, right?  At least I sat down and actually wrote, which for me is always the really difficult battle.

So, just wanted to let you know that you can follow my progress through the novel, as I will be updating the progress tracker whenever there's actually some to report!  All votes of confidence will be gratefully accepted, as I have a serious confidence deficiency disorder some days.  Here's wishing you brilliant success with all your WIPs!

November 07, 2012

Introducing The Insecure Writers' Support Group

Dear Readers, many of you who have been following The Beauty of Eclecticism for any length of time know that I am an aspiring writer--isn't virtually every book blogger you've ever heard of? However, I haven't mentioned any writing attempts or projects here for quite some time, partly because my life kind of went into the crapper for several months due to health issues, and I haven't felt like writing.  But that's not really how writing works; writers don't control the situation.  Writing does.  This mythical, ethereal power that takes hold of my brain any time I hear something that makes me think, "Ooo! THAT would make an interesting plot!", doesn't care if I'm sick, healthy, sleepy, perky--nothing changes the compelling drive to write.

And so, I will confess that I am, indeed, currently working on a novel.  It is a project that takes me well outside my comfort zone, a way to work through some mental gymnastics that my brain has been performing for some months now, to sort out my views on a controversial topic.  (I prefer not to go into greater detail at present.)  The good news is that I've made it past the dreaded second chapter; I'm sure I'm not the only writer who has stacks of brilliant first chapters lying about my house, that never got their second chapter or any other chapters at all.  The bad news is that I'm now staring down the barrel of chapter 3, and this is where the self-doubts really begin to settle in.  "Why am I bothering? Do I honestly think someone other than me will ever want to read this? I don't even have a literary agent yet; how am I ever going to work up the courage to start approaching them? How I dread the long, hard slog of finding one that is a good fit, IF I ever do!"  A whole spate of really unhelpful thought processes like that come along, and then here I sit, procrastinating about writing chapter 3 because it feels like it will be an exhausting and perhaps pointless exercise.  I even know what I want it to say!  But the act of transferring it from my brain, through my finger tips, to the computer screen as text just feels so daunting.

Am I speaking anybody else's language?  I can't possibly be the only wannabe writer who gets trapped in this death-spiral of unproductivity.  The only answer I've found is:

  1. Wait until the SuperToddler is in bed for the night.
  2. Put on music that I know is conducive, rather than distracting.
  3. Start typing, and don't stop until I've said what I need to say.
  4. Give a deep sigh, and make myself NOT start on the next chapter while I'm "on a roll," or I'll only burn myself out.
All of this is why I have decided to start participating in Alex Cavanaugh's "Insecure Writers' Support Group," and this is my first official post as a member.  The very existence of such a weekly group demonstrates very clearly that I'm NOT alone in these problems, and that in itself can sometimes be enough to get me to my Checklist of Challenges.  Wish me luck!  I certainly wish all of you a continuous flow of brilliant words.

November 06, 2012

I'll Confess Mine If You Confess Yours

Fellow readers, I have a dirty little secret to admit to you today, and I wonder how many of you out there suffer from the same...well, addiction.  What is this horrible malady, this shameful weakness of which I speak?  I think the best, most descriptive title I can give it is Luxuriating.  Book Luxuriating, to be exact, and while it's not illegal or anything, it can certainly be hard on both your wallet and your available shelf space.  Yes, folks, I confess that I sometimes buy another copy of a book that I already own, because some other publisher has released their own edition of it with a gorgeous new cover, or additional appendices--what video afficianados call "better special features"--or has restored the original illustrations.  The list of reasons can be never-ending, really.  Let me give you an example of a book that I have not yet begun Luxuriating in, but am considering it very seriously.  (Obviously, if these books are being simultaneously released by multiple publishers, we know we're dealing with classics, books for which the original publishing copyright has expired.)  Exhibit A:

Jane Eyre

Collector's Library Edition
This is the one I currently own.

Everyman's Library Edition
This is the current movie tie-in, as well.

Penguin Hardback Classics Edition
This whole series is so gorgeous,
and very reasonably priced if bought one or two at a time.
My secret ambition is to someday own them all.

Penguin Drop Caps Edition
To further torment me, Penguin is just getting ready to release
the first few volumes of this new, elegant series as well.

You see my predicament?  If you're thinking that it doesn't get much more "First World Problem" than this, you're absolutely right, and it is that very realization that makes this a problem.  It engenders guilt, you see; I mean, I don't really NEED all these different editions of one book, now do I?  What's a bibliomaniac to do?  Honestly, it's a fun problem to have, but I'd still be interested in hearing how all of you handle the issue, if you've come up with some creative solutions to the problem of Book Luxuriating.

November 04, 2012

Seeking Courage

Well, folks, Friday certainly proved to be an eventful end to my week.  I finally had my appointment with the new gynecologist recommended by my family doctor, and all I can say is, thank God that there are still doctors in the world who actually listen to their patients, and believe that those patients have some idea what is going on in their own bodies! My new doctor took me seriously, listened carefully to everything I had to say, and gave me some rather sobering news--we're probably looking at a large, invasive surgery in the near future. Though that is serious news, it is also EXCELLENT news, in my opinion, if we really have finally found the source of my phantom pain and are going to take decisive action to free me of it!

First off, more of the interminable tests.  The doctors all suspect endometriosis at this point; I have to go in and have an ultrasound Tuesday, to see exactly how bad things have gotten and--hopefully--to verify or disprove that theory.  Depending on what the ultrasound reveals, I may have a hysterectomy before the end of November.  A lot going on, a lot to think about and process, and I'm having many different reactions to all of this from moment to moment, as you might well imagine.  I'm more thankful now than ever that God gave Michael and me our little SuperToddler, and that she is flourishing and healthy, for there will be no more children in our future.  Still, we three form a happy little family, and we are truly blessed.

Image by Robert Diedrichs

Turning to less somber news, some exciting things are coming to The Beauty of Eclecticism.  I wanted to give you the health update in this post, and let you know that there may be a brief interruption in posting if I go into the hospital for surgery, and of course, have to spend some time afterwards recuperating.  But the now-famous list for My Re-Education Reading Challenge 2013 is complete, and I'll be posting more information about it shortly.  Also, there will soon be a regular feature involving the art of a dear friend of mine, who has agreed to hold a weekly showing of one of her works here on my blog.  I know--doesn't that just sound impressively high-class?!  We're pretty excited about it, and hope that all of you will enjoy it, as well.  Exciting things await you, so stay tuned!
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