"The Ideal life"

"Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life."
~ Mark Twain

Happy 176th Birthday to Samuel Langhorne Clemens!  I know most of us are used to seeing pictures of a white-haired Twain, but I wanted to choose a younger photo, especially after coming across this quote: "Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen."  Odd that a man who dreamt of a backwards life is immortalized as an octogenarian!  

I was first introduced to Twain's writing when I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in sixth grade and I really fell in love with his work after reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when I was a junior in high school (okay, I admit, the musical Big River plays a large part in my obsession with that novel).

Do you have a favorite Mark Twain book or quote?

Dracula in Love

I give in to peer pressure.  No, I wouldn't jump off a bridge just because my friends did, but I would certainly read a book that other bloggers raved about.  Such was the case with a recent read that came highly recommended by Stephanie D. over at Misfit Salon!

The idea that a well known story is not the way things really happened is not a new concept for a book, but in Dracula in Love Karen Essex manages to present the idea as fresh and creative. Retelling Bram Stoker's classic from Mina Murray Harker's perspective, Essex reveals a Count Dracula who is perhaps more akin to Shakespeare's Puck than Bela Lugosi's movie monster stereotype.

Mina herself is entirely reinvented from the original book. She is not the helpless victim of a terrifying fiend but rather a strong willed woman with unexplained and somewhat mystical secrets from her childhood. Dracula is not out to destroy her but rather to awaken her own supernatural side. He is her soul mate, who has sought her through multiple lifetimes, rather than a predator intent on her demise. All of the details of Stoker's work fit within the context of Dracula in Love but the expansion and explanations of these details - especially Lucy Westenra's tragic role in the story - provide a thoroughly engaging new perspective on the well known events.

It always seems cliche to me to call a book a "page-turner", but this was definitely a work I could not put down.  Equal parts chilling and romantic, this is definitely a book for fans of the original, and especially for fans of the original who thought Stoker's female characters needed a bit more moxie!
I won a copy of this book through Stephanie's blog and I owe her a huge thanks for the giveaway which rocketed it to the top of my TBR list when it arrived in the mail.  (And if you have not already checked out Misfit Salon, hop over there and start following!  Seriously awesome content and overall a beautifully awesome book blog!)

The Eyre Affair

Sometimes it's the books I love the most that I have the hardest time writing reviews for.  There are certain titles that I just feel rather defensive or possessive about - the books which when others admit to not liking them, I almost feel a bit offended.  Does anyone else have works that they get this emotional about?  For me, one such book is The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.

The bare bones of the plot is a mystery centered around a detective named Thursday Next who lives in an alternate version of England in the 1980's in which the Crimean War is still raging, time travel and dodo cloning are routine occurrences and literature is taken exceptionally seriously. In fact Thursday is no ordinary detective as she works for a low-in-the-pecking-order division of Special Ops - Literary Detection.  When the original manuscript of Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit is stolen all of England is on alert.  And when the super villain targets not just the pages but the characters of Jane Eyre, Thursday must step in - into the story itself - to save Bronte's beloved classic. 

Now the story alone is enough reason for me to enjoy this one, but Fforde's writing is also peppered with wordplay, literary gags, and all sorts of humor for bibliophiles.  Yet, even saying that I know there are still plenty of readers that just never warmed to this book.  And I think I understand why.  The Eyre Affair is the ultimate example of a cross-genre book.  It's satire, mystery, science fiction, and humor.  Numerous classics are referenced, at least one chapter reads like a horror novel; there's a large plot involving time travel that might make your brain hurt if you over analyze it; not to mention a love story; and a good deal of political commentary criticizing war, corporations, and their all too intertwined relationship.  Many negative reviews I've read for the novel point out this mish-mash of details as distracting or unfocused, but to me it just demonstrates Fforde's suave pen at juggling so many seemingly disconnected genres and entwining them all into a clever and cohesive book. 

I first read this book after picking it up at a used bookstore in 2003 or 2004, but I recently reread it and enjoyed it just as much the second time around.  I look to Fforde's novels when I need a happy read, a book I can rely on to make me smile.  Along with picking up more of the jokes and classic references that I had forgotten or missed the first time, I liked this book even more now that I'm closer in age to the protagonist.  It was a fun book when I was ten years Thursday's junior but now that there's only a handful of years between us I can relate to her even more. 

What are your thoughts on The Eyre Affair?  Are you a fan or are you one of the people that failed to be impressed by it?  (You can be honest, I can take it!)  Do you ever have books that you're overly fond of or defensive about people liking?

Turkey, Stuffing, and Literary Greats (Top Ten Tuesday)

I almost skipped this week's Top Ten Tuesday, but the more I pondered the topic, the more I really wanted to post about it!
Today's topic is Top Ten Authors I Want At My Thanksgiving Feast.  
Because this is a glorious flight of imagination many of my choices are deceased and those that aren't likely have families of their own and wouldn't join mine anyway, but I really enjoyed dreaming up this literary dinner table!

10. 9. & 8. Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte
Thanksgiving for me is always about family so there would be something really intriguing for me to sit down with the Bronte sisters as well as my own sisters.  I would be very curious how their family dynamic compared to ours, although to be fair I would have to read something by Anne if she were in attendance!

7. Edgar Allan Poe
I have a feeling that if EAP ever got a taste of my mom's fabulous cooking or any of our many traditional desserts he would have a much sunnier outlook to his writing. Plus, I think Thanksgiving should be about including those that are needy and since Poe never really made it in his own time, I would be glad to save a place at our table for him.

6. Mark Twain
Every conversation - especially among an eclectic group of strangers - is more enjoyable with a storyteller and I can think of none better than Mark Twain to fill the role.  I would love to hear him read some of his own work or regale us with stories from his childhood.

5. Dr. Seuss
I would invite Seuss to entertain all my nieces and nephews while the dinner is cooking.  I feel like he would be a fun guest and in my imagination all the kids would enjoy gathering around him for story time. 

4. Rachael Ray
I adore my mom's cooking, but I'm also a huge fan of RR's 30 minute meals cookbooks.  I wouldn't trade my mom's turkey and stuffing for anything, but if Rachael could come and help us throw all the side dishes together in a jiffy, I would love to let my mom relax and know that it was all taken care of!

3. Lee Strobel
Thanksgiving is also a God-centered holiday in my family so I would love to have Lee Strobel join us to say grace for our dinner.  I've always admired Strobel's writing and his faith journey so I think he would be a great guest to remind us to be thankful to God for all the blessings in our lives.

2. & 1. Christopher Moore and Jasper Fforde
I mentioned Family, Food and Faith and the other "f" that's sure to be found at our Thanksgiving feast is always Fun.  Many a dinner with my parents and siblings has erupted into extensive gales of laughter so I would invite Moore and Fforde to our table since they are two writers that always make me laugh. 

I'm sure if I keep thinking about this topic I'll change my mind a hundred times, but I think I've got a pretty interesting crowd selected.  How about you?  Who of my choices would you like to be seated near?  Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  Check out their blog for future topics and to link up with your own TTT post!  (My previous Top Ten Tuesday posts can be found here.)

Foxy's Tale

I was already a fan of Karen Cantwell when I downloaded Foxy's Tale for my Kindle so I was eager to discover the first in The Reluctant Vampire Series co-written with L.B. Gschwandtner. I expected more of a paranormal story but what I found was a delightfully charming family story with plenty of wit - and just a touch of vampires.
Foxy Anders is a former beauty queen, former wife to a football player, and former all around success. Down on her luck she ventures to Washington D.C. to open an antique store, run a boarding house and try to bridge the ever widening gap between her and her teenage goth daughter Amanda. Though the book bears the title Foxy's Tale I felt that Amanda definitely stole the show! It is through her eyes (and her sardonic blog "Amanda's Life in Hell") that Foxy's selfish tendencies are unveiled, and through Amanda's perspective that the reader becomes better acquainted with Foxy's eccentric boarders: shoe addict and amateur chef Knot Knudsen (pronounce the K's) and the elderly foreigner Myron Standlish who might just be stocking his refrigerator with blood.

As Foxy struggles to get her business off the ground she's saved by Knot's eye for antiques but she's also tempted to rationalize blowing her profits on "business" vacations and a new wardrobe. Meanwhile, Amanda gets sidetracked out of her disdain for Foxy by the entrance of Nick - a boy at school who's harboring some nasty secrets. Mother and daughter have never seen eye to eye but when the supernatural enters the picture, they just may find a way to pull together against a much scarier common foe.

I really enjoyed this novel and loved that it contained the same elements of quirky characters, funny plot, and engaging dialog that I saw in Cantwell's other work Take the Monkeys and Run. Though I would have preferred a more solid ending, I liked the story arc and I'm excited to see where Cantwell and Gschwandtner take the series in future entries.

It's been a while since I called a featured title a KinDEAL and since I love the portmanteau (Kindle + Deal = KinDEAL), I'm definitely giving that label to Foxy's Tale as the Amazon eBook is just $0.99  At that price I can only hope that more readers will take advantage of trying out this super cute series!

Gobbling Up Good Books?

I know there are a ton of books out there about Christmas, but does anyone know of any really great books about Thanksgiving?

I was having a conversation about this earlier today, and aside from some children's picture books, I couldn't think of any titles for adults or young adults that really dealt with - or had important scenes - set around Turkey Day!  Anyone have any suggestions?

(And yes this has been a "busy life - slow blog" week for me.  Reviews of Dracula in Love, Middlesex, The Eyre Affair, and Foxy's Tale will hopefully be along shortly!)

For Rent: Space on my TBR shelf (Top Ten Tuesday)

I know I used to always refer to my To Be Read list as the ginormous entity called Mount TBR, but lately I'm trying to think of it more like an apartment building.  Each book has a room to rent (or a flat, if you prefer the UK term), and they all stay there for varying degrees of time.  Some are more or less permanent residents, where as some move in and then jump ship to the finished shelf almost immediately.  For this week's edition of Top Ten Tuesday I'd like to take you all on a tour of the TBR Apartments and introduce you to a bunch of the tenants (aka heap of books I own) that I have not yet read!

And of course I can't narrow this down to 10 so I came up with categories - or "floors" - since there seem to be different reasons why these are all lingering in TBR land.

Unread Books Residing on Lisa's Shelves

First Floor: 
Books I've Started but Just Never Finished

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
Dreamsongs Vol. 1 by George R.R. Martin
The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide by Douglas Adams

Second Floor: 
Books I Bought Because I Went to an Author Signing

The Ambition by Lee Strobel
Reckless by Cornelia Funke

Third Floor: 
Books I Bought Because Everyone Said They Are Awesome

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Looking For Alaska by John Green

Fourth Floor: 
Books I Bought Because I Love Their Authors

The Outside of a Horse by Ginny Rorby
Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud
Trouble in Spades by Heather Webber

Fifth Floor: 
Books I Bought Because I Should Read More Classics

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

Sixth Floor: 
Books I Bought But Haven't Read Because They Begin a New Series

The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Everlost by Neal Shusterman

Seventh Floor: 
Books I Bought Because They're Next in a Series (YA)

Garden of the Purple Dragon by Carole Wilkinson
Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel
Eldest by Christopher Paolini

Eighth Floor: 
Books I Bought Because They're Next in a Series (Adult)

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher
Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

Ninth Floor: 
Books I Bought on Impulse

Tunnels by Roderick Gordon
Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer by Laini Taylor
Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell

Tenth Floor Penthouse: 
Books I Bought Because I'm Kinda Obsessed with R.A. Salvatore

The Crimson Shadow by R.A. Salvatore
The Highwayman by R.A. Salvatore
Neverwinter Wood by R.A. Salvatore

The crazy thing is - these aren't even ALL the books on my TBR shelves right now! But I hope you've all enjoyed this tour of the - hopefully - temporary housing for many of my owned but unread books!  Are there any that I've listed that you feel I should bump to the top of my reading queue?  Any that you also have sitting in a to-read pile?  

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by the lovely bloggers of The Broke and The Bookish.  Check out their blog to link up your own list this week or to see the schedule of future Top Ten Tuesday themes!  (My previous Top Tens can be found here.)

An Eyre Affair to Remember (A Weekend to ReCOVER)

I know I just did a cover comparison post with my "Dracu-lot of Covers" but as I was cataloging my recent reread of one of my very favorite books, I couldn't help but notice some totally adorable artwork over on LibraryThing for Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair.  This cover holds a special place in my heart since it first caught my eye at a used bookstore circa 2004:

It may be my favorite cover for largely sentimental reasons, but here's a few more I think are fun:

And there are some creative foreign language covers that I think are pretty cool too:

Do you have a favorite of these Jasper Fforde covers? What catches your eye most: colorful cars, cloned dodo birds, books on book covers?
 A Weekend to ReCOVER is a monthly (or so) feature hosted by Her Book Self that is all about discussing eye catching covers and bookish artwork.  Feel free to chime in with your thoughts in the comment section or create a post of your own and leave me a link!

Fables: The Deluxe Edition Book One (Fairy Tale Fridays)

I'm falling woefully behind on my 2011 Fairy Tale Challenge and feeling uninspired by classic fairy tales last week, I sent out a Twitter request to Tif from Tif Talks Books asking her to recommend a tale for me to read and review.  I was expecting something along the lines of HCA or the brothers Grimm, but Tif surprised me by suggesting Fables the graphic novel series by Bill Willingham.  Even more surprising was walking into my local library and spotting book one of the hardbound deluxe edition of the series hours after it was mentioned to me!

Fables: The Deluxe Edition Book One encompasses the first ten issues of the series.  The first five compose the story "Legends in Exile" (Chapter 1: Old Tales Revisited; Chapter 2: The (Un)Usual Suspects; Chapter 3: Blood Tells; Chapter 4: Remembrance Day; and Chapter 5: The Famous Parlor Room Scene (Sans Parlor).)  In this sequence, the characters and world are introduced and the reader discovers a neighborhood of New York City known as Fabletown in which all the classic fairy tale characters are alive and thriving in modern society without the general population having any clue to their existence.  As the introduction by Bill Willingham states, "Welcome to the woods: where all fairy tales take place - even those that don't."  Ruled over by King Cole and his second in command the ever beautiful Snow White (who has a less than amicable relationship with her ex-husband who is not-so Charming), things are far from happily ever after as the main plot of this section of the story involves a murder mystery and the subsequent investigations by Sheriff Bigby Wolf.

The story was bound to hook me in, but as with any graphic novel, the artwork is what kept me glued to the pages.  I love hardbound editions to graphic novels because not only do I love diving into multiple issues at at time but I love that the finishing on the inking and design gives them an even more vibrant look.  Color aside though, I think this is a series that would be enjoyable in any format since I really just loved the way the characters were conceived and drawn.  Take this example of a figurine designed off sketches from issue eight:

Which brings me to the second half of The Deluxe Edition, the story "Animal Farm" (Chapter 1: Road Trip; Chapter 2: The Guns of Fabletown; Chapter 3: The Pirates of Upstate New York; Chapter 4: Warlord of the Flies; and Chapter 5: Twilight of the Dogs.) 
"Animal Farm" comprised a much darker tale involving the non-human residents of the fairy tale community who, unable to blend into normal city life, have their own residence on a farm in upstate New York.  The title taken from Orwell's classic is no coincidence and the literary allusions don't stop with a revolt led by one of the three pigs.  I was really impressed with the more sinister feel of this set of tales.  Willingham creates a story arc that is constantly surprising and I know if I had read this issue by issue I would have been agonizing over each and every cliffhanger.  

All in all, I'm really glad to have discovered Fables.  I'm thankful both for Tif's suggestion that brought it to my attention and for the fact that my local library carries graphic novels.  I know some readers consider "comic books" to be some substandard form of literature, but I can honestly say that the storytelling I found in this series was as complex and intriguing as many of my favorite fantasy works and I find that well done artwork enhances rather than detracts from the narrative.  (This picture is the spread cover of the Deluxe Edition - just had to give another example of the creative and imaginative artwork found in the collection!)

Fables: The Deluxe Edition Book One by Bill Willingham is the latest entry in my 2011 Fairy Tale Challenge (9 out of 12).  Are you familiar with the Fables series?  Is it one you're interested in checking out?  What are your thoughts on graphic novels as literature?  Does your local library carry them?