I Love London

london-loveDid I mention that we’re getting ready to take a trip to London in a couple of weeks? We have a cousin who is getting married to an English girl, so we’re taking this lovely opportunity to spend a few days in one of my favorite cities in the world. My husband has actually never been (a bit shocking considering he grew up just across the pond), and neither have my two daughters. So I’m busily trying to create an itinerary that will appeal to everyone while also trying to sneak in some of my personal favorite things to do.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1. Catching a production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe Theatre. Seeing Shakespeare in this (albeit recreated) original setting has been on my literary to-do list for a while now.

2. Riding a double-decker bus. My girls really want to ride one of the big red buses, so I’ve found one that I think will take us past most of the touristy highlights.

3. Visiting the British Library. Last time I was in London I attended a conference that was held here, and it is just such a cool place. I’m especially looking forward to sharing it with my book-loving eldest daughter.

4. Having the Harry Potter experience. That same daughter is a big HP fan, so we’re planning to stop by platform 9 3/4 as well as do the Warner Bros. studio tour and catch some of the sights seen in the films.

5. Seeing the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. My youngest daughter really wants to do this, and I’ve actually never seen it myself. There is also a guards’ museum at the palace that is supposed to be a fun stop for kids.

6. Strolling along the South Bank of the Thames. I was talking to an English friend recently who told me they’ve really renovated this area and it’s great for pedestrians. The girls are trying to talk me into riding on the London Eye, too, but the jury is still out on that one. For anyone who’s done it–is it worth the money?

7. Visiting the Tower of London. I think this will be a kid-friendly stop, and I haven’t done the proper tour myself in years. Plus we’ll have a nice view of Tower Bridge.

8. Paying my respects to some the greats at Westminster Abbey. I may end up doing this one on my own if the rest of the family isn’t interested, but I love strolling through the church and seeing the graves and memorials for the many writers who are honored there.

9. Eating, eating and more eating. One of my favorite things about London is the food, as there is such a great variety of ethnic food (something a bit lacking in France). I especially want to have a proper curry while I’m there. Oh, and the English food, too! Tea with scones, fish and chips, a real English breakfast…I could go on and on.

10. Shopping for books. You didn’t think I would forget this one, did you? Granted, we’re going to be a bit limited on space as we’re sharing one suitcase between the four of us, but I’m sure I can manage to squeeze in one or two. I’d love to have a chance to visit Persephone Books, in particular.

What do you think–am I leaving out any must-do things? There’s only so much we’ll have time for in three days, but I intend to make the most of our time there.

March Wrap-Up and April Reads

jackson-squareMarch was a whirlwind, with my trip to the U.S. taking up most of the month. I read quite a bit but not exactly as I had planned, and my regular reading habits got a bit off-track. I was able to attend a great talk given by Chimamanda Adichie in Atlanta, and I marveled over the difficulty I had finding bookstores in the U.S.–crazy! Luckily my trusty favorite used book store was still there, and I scored some books for my daughters as well as one for myself.

During the month of March I read six books:

I LOVED both I Capture the Castle and Where’d You Go Bernadette, but there wasn’t much else to get excited about in there. I’ve been in a bit of a reading funk since finishing Bernadette and I really need something good to get me over it. Any suggestions?

Here’s what I’ve got lined up for April:

  1. The Quick by Lauren Owen - I’m looking forward to digging into this one, a sprawling debut novel set in Victorian London.
  2. And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass - This upcoming release picks up on characters from Glass’ first novel, Three Junes, which is one of my all-time favorites.
  3. When the Cypress Whispers by Yvette Manessis Corporon - This novel centers around the life of the daughter of Greek immigrants and her relationship to her homeland.
  4. The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings - I was lucky enough to win this one in a giveaway recently, and I’m hoping to read it before I tackle Hemmings’ latest novel for review next month.

I’m participating in Carl’s Once Upon a Time reading event between now and June, and I will probably do some reading for that this month. There is also a Dewey’s coming up on the weekend of April 26th, so mark your calendars!

What are you reading this month? Do you have any other exciting plans for April?

Classics Club: March Meme

classics_club_buttonNothing like leaving it until the last minute, right?

The Classics Club has put up their monthly meme question:

What is your favorite “classic” literary period and why?

This is a pretty easy question for me to answer–Victorian. I’ve always had a fascination with this period, as it was such a time of social upheaval and contradiction. I love the juxtaposition of repression and freedom, of clinging to the past while a whole new world of science and technology is opening up. It made for some very interesting reading, to say the least. And as much as I love the writers of the day (Dickens and the Brontës, Eliot and Gaskell…), I equally enjoy some of the modern writers who revisit this period and all its complexity. Some of my favorite takes on the Victorian period include The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles (a must-read) and The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber, both classics in their own right.

Head over to The Classics Club to see what other members are talking about…

Currently…

currently

Wow–it’s been a doozy of a few days. I had my bag stolen from my office on Friday and spent the evening at the police station. Then, yesterday morning I got a call from a woman who had found it (outside her apartment building) and we met up so she could return it to me. The thieves left everything inside except for the cash, of which there was very little, my phone and my umbrella (?). Being without a phone is a bit of a pain, but I’m going to try and get it sorted out this week. In any case, I’m definitely feeling like my glass is half-full.

Here’s what I’m doing currently…

Loving: The springlike weather this weekend and having nothing in particular to do. I could get used to it.

Thinking about: How thankful I am that there are good people in this world.

Anticipating: All the lovely things that spring brings, including flowers, sunshine, trips, and my birthday (woo-hoo). We’ll celebrate carnaval in the village next weekend, with the theme this year being the circus. My oldest daughter is planning to dress up as a ringmaster while the younger will be a ferocious circus cat (or just a cute one).

Watching: Re-runs of Gilmore Girls. I started watching it again a while back and I’m about halfway through the third season. That Jess is such a bad boyfriend!

Listening to: Tracks from the forthcoming Nickel Creek album, which comes out this week! I’m so excited and have already pre-ordered it as my birthday present. So good.

Eating: Nothing particularly healthy. My eating habits have been all out of whack since my trip to the U.S., and I haven’t had much desire to cook. I’m going to try to get motivated to make a meal plan for this week.

Wishing: I didn’t have to go back to the police station tomorrow to update them about the robbery. Hopefully it will go quickly and smoothly and I can move on.

What are you up to today?

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

frangipane-hotelFormat: E-book galley

Length: 256 pages

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Source: TLC Book Tours / NetGalley

From the publisher:

Based on traditional Vietnamese ghost stories told to the author by her Vietnamese grandmother but updated to reflect the contemporary ghost of the Vietnam War, here is a mesmerizing collection of thematically linked stories, united by the first and last story of the collection.

Violet wrote these unusually accomplished stories as an undergraduate at Mt. Holyoke College in an attempt to update the traditional Vietnamese ghost stories her grandmother had told her to incorporate the more relevant ghosts of the aftermath of the Vietnam War on a generation of displaced Vietnamese immigrants as well as those who remained in Vietnam. From the story about a beautiful young woman who shows up thirsty in the bathtub of the Frangipani Hotel in Saigon many years after her first sighting there to a young woman in Houston who befriends an old Vietnamese man she discovers naked behind a dumpster to a truck driver asked to drive a young man with an unnamed ailment home to die, to the story of two American sisters sent to Vietnam to visit their elderly grandmother who is not what she appears to be, these stories blend the old world with the new while providing a new angle of insight into the after-effects of the war.

Here’s what I thought:

I have a particular weakness for short story collections and this one intrigued me, being influenced by the author’s Vietnamese cultural background. The stories blend elements of traditional Vietnamese ghost stories with more modern settings and characters. It presents a view of the country and its people which is interesting and unique in my reading experience.

For some reason I had gotten it into my head that these stories were inspired by Vietnamese folk tales, but that is not really the case–they are definitely more ghost or even horror stories, as the characters that are dredged from the past into the present are often quite horrific. From beautiful, man-eating women to teenagers who literally suck the life out of someone (I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere), each story in the book includes a menacing element–a monster from the deep, if you will–that interacts with the story’s characters in such a way that the threat they represent remains undetected until the vital moment.

I enjoyed the deeper thematic undertones of what are otherwise fairly straightforward stories. Kupersmith is giving the reader a glimpse of the demons that lie in a country’s past, the complicated ways in which history continues to intrude upon the present. Even though the war and the circumstances which surrounded it are only alluded to in rather indirect ways in the book, it is a presence which can be felt and demands to be recognized. The characters in Kupersmith’s stories include, quite literally, the ghosts of the past which cannot be laid to rest.

The writing style is very readable, although I didn’t care for the first person narration of most of the stories and felt that they were lacking in something–a certain sense of atmosphere, maybe. Still, The Frangipani Hotel is an interesting collection and recommended to anyone who likes ghost stories or short stories with a cultural perspective.

About the author:

!cid_850B029A-6D83-4A28-89B7-4749041192E4Violet Kupersmith was born in rural Pennsylvania in 1989 and grew up outside of Philadelphia. Her father is American and her mother is a former boat refugee from Vietnam. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2011 and then spent a year in Vietnam on a Fulbright teaching fellowship.

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book and giving me a chance to share my review.

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Once Upon a Time VIII

onceup8275Carl does some of the best reading events around. I’ve participated in his R.I.P. challenge for two (three?) years running now, and this year I’ve decided to jump into his Once Upon a Time challenge, which asks readers to 1. Have fun! and 2. Participate by reading as few or as many books as they want that fall into one of the following broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology.

My plan is to join in by reading at least one book in any of the four categories as well as hopefully participating in the read-along of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in June.

I’m not sure yet exactly what I’ll be reading, with the exception of Violet Kupersmith’s The Frangipani Hotel, which I’m reviewing later this week. This is a book of short stories based on Vietnamese folk tales, so it segues nicely with the challenge.

If you have recommendations of books I should consider reading for Once Upon a Time, please feel free to let me know in the comments!

once8jquest3

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

statistical-probabilityFormat: E-book galley

Length: 236 pages

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Source: NetGalley

From the publisher:

Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan’s life. Having missed her flight, she’s stuck at JFK airport and late to her father’s second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon-to-be stepmother Hadley’s never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport’s cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he’s British, and he’s sitting in her row. 

A long night on the plane passes in the blink of an eye, and Hadley and Oliver lose track of each other in the airport chaos upon arrival. Can fate intervene to bring them together once more?

Here’s what I thought:

I got an email right before Valentine’s Day offering me the chance to read this “romantic” book for the holiday, which sounded like fun. I actually ended up reading it towards the end of February, but then I promptly forgot about it and never posted my review. Thus I’m playing catch up with this one, while the story has pretty much faded from my memory (so please bear with me.)

The plot revolves around the characters of Hadley and Oliver, who meet on a red-eye flight to London and become friends. Hadley is on her way to her Dad’s wedding while Oliver is on his way to…something. Oliver is actually British, although he attends university in the U.S., so he is of course attractive to high-school senior Hadley (cute: check, older: check, accent: check check check).

So far so good, right? Except not so much. Even though all the elements were there for a sweet YA love story, this one did absolutely nothing for me. Both Oliver and Hadley come across as pretty bland, and Hadley is immature in a way that is annoying rather than charming. I also found it vaguely creepy that Oliver is into a 17-year-old girl (although admittedly I dated a guy in college while still in high school, so this is probably a sign that I’m officially an old fart.)

The aspects of the story that deal with family issues, particularly Hadley’s relationship with her dad, were probably the most interesting part of the book to me. The writing is not bad, but overall this one just fell flat for me. I didn’t feel any connection to the characters or spark in the romance, which for me was not even a love-at-first-sight scenario, regardless of the book’s title. I have to give this one a ‘meh’.

Ranty P.S. As someone who travels across the Atlantic on a bi-annual basis, there is NO WAY that Hadley is planning to fly to England, stay for one day, then return to the U.S. This makes absolutely no sense. It takes at least a week to get over the jet lag going in this direction, and why would she pay all that money to stay for one day? Seriously?

Non-Ranty P.P.S. I have said it before, but it bears repeating that I am picky about YA. This book wasn’t my thing, but it might be someone else’s. Grain of salt and all that.

Thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing me with a copy of this book.

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