Thursday, May 3, 2018

I'm back again.

You know, it's really easy to get wrapped up in life and work and forget about your various side projects. AKA this blog. And the amusing thing is that I've been reading, and even tracking my books on Goodreads. I just haven't been reviewing them. Granted, work takes up a lot of my time. I'm at the library often, and I spend a lot of time at home working on my essential oils business, and now I even have a food and cooking blog. (Check that out here if you wish!) So, you know, balance and all that.

Anyway, this post is just to say hi, I'm still here, and will return to sharing reviews and participating in challenges and whatnot. And since I've been working at the library, I've branched out a lot in my reading, even reading some romances! -gasp- Currently my obsession is comics...I mean, Avengers: Infinity War came out a week ago and I'm still processing that. But in my anticipation for the movie, I delved into the Marvel comics and have been really enjoying them, and kind of wish I had started sooner.

Currently I am reading I think 8 books...well two of them are audiobooks. But I'm still reading a lot. This weekend I am going to marathon the Iron Man movies and work on some behind the scenes stuff here. Look for more posts soon!

Happy Reading!

Monday, October 30, 2017

It's been a long time...

Plenty of reading has been done since I last wrote here. Unfortunately, like I have done more than once, I let my reviewing fall to the wayside. However, I wanted to let you all know I'm still here and now that the colder days are setting in, I shall be reviewing books again. For now, here are a few recommendations from what I've read in the last year. (Links will take you to Goodreads.)

Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly (WWII historical fiction)

House of Living Stones (and the other two in the Anthems of Zion trilogy), by Katie Schuermann (modern fiction, Lutheran, and utterly amazing)

The Whiskey Sea, by Ann Howard Creel (historical fiction)

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction)

Radiance, by Catherynne M. Valente (alternate history/space opera/beautiful prose fiction)

The Martian, by Andy Weir (science fiction)

The Girl in the Castle, by Santa Montefiore (historical fiction/family saga)

I've read about three times this, but these are the ones that stood out to me the most. The last book listen totally ruined me. It was beautiful and I can't believe I've never read anything by Santa Montefiore before. Her prose was lovely, her characters are incredible, and I truly cared about each and every person who was focused on.

So. There you have it. I'm currently reading a few books, but the one at the top is Stars Over Sunset Boulevard, by Susan Meissner. It's good so far.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

Let me begin this review by saying a couple of things.

One, I never read nonfiction on my own time growing up, and only when I was nearly done with college did I realize that maybe I would like it. After all, I have always loved learning about multiple subjects, be it history or science or music, etc. Being in love with a man who prefers nonfiction really opened my eyes to what is out there. The nonfiction and fiction vie for room on our overflowing bookshelves. My mental state and hunger for knowledge have been infinitely rewarded.

Two, I am so ashamed to even admit that I know next to nothing about Russia and it's history. I knew the story of the downfall of the Tsar and of the tales surrounding the Princess Anastasia, but that was it. Honestly, I still love the children's movie, despite how far from the truth it really is. But really, my knowledge didn't stretch much further, other than knowing who Marx and Lenin and Stalin were. It was appalling. But, this book changed all that.


Symphony for the City of the Dead was first published in autumn of 2015, but I hadn't even heard of it. I am so thankful that I was listening to the satellite radio channel Symphony Hall on a Monday morning a few weeks ago. The radio DJ (who, incidentally, used to be on my local classical station back in Illinois!), was talking about Shostakovich and mentioned this book. I filed the title away in my mind and then forgot about it while at work (the library, no less, silly me). The next day, I was at work again and suddenly remembered it, but struggled to recall the title. I furiously googled and found it, so I searched our library system and requested a copy from another library, since we didn't have it. It came the next day and I put all my other reading on hold to read this. I was not disappointed. It took a couple weeks to read only because life unfortunately does not allow for as much reading time as I would want, but I was also able to absorb each section thoroughly. So, thank you Martin Goldsmith of Symphony Hall, for mentioning this book. I am much the better for it.


Dmitri Shostakovich was born in the city of St Petersburg on the eve of the reign of the Tsars of Russia. He lives and survives through the rise of Lenin and Stalin and all the horrors that come with their dictatorships. He began playing the piano at the age of nine, By the time he was thirteen, the city of St Petersburg had been renamed Petrograd, and young Dmitri was admitted to the musical conservatory. His first symphony was composed as his graduation piece; it premiered in 1926. (It was in 1924, after the death of Vladimir Lenin, that the city was renamed Leningrad. This was to be the city's name until 1991, when the Soviet Union finally collapsed.) Throughout the years in which Shostakovich composed his next few symphonies, he was watched closely by the government, especially after his 4th Symphony. Joseph Stalin came to power and his purge of literally everything hurt the Russian people heavily. I mean, the guy even purged his own army, which was pretty idiotic...people were afraid to even tell him the truth, because they could be killed for it! (I could go on about the horrors of Stalin's purge, but that's not the point and this is long already, sorry!)

 Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, an opera that Shostakovich composed, was the beginning of his being officially watched by the government, and the composer fell deeply out of favor with the people. Stalin despised the opera, which of course meant that the people did, too. He struggled to stay low profile and essentially stay alive during this time, this purge, the Great Terror. He wasn't the only artist who was under surveillance, but he was one of the lucky ones who came through it with his life. He composed film music for a time, and also his 4th Symphony, which he eventually withdrew, for reasons which we are not fully certain. (The 4th Symphony finally had a premiere in 1961.) But his 5th Symphony was Shostakovich's response to being denounced, and it was incredibly successful. It's a beautiful symphony, and a favorite of many who listen to Shostakovich's music now.

In the interest of moving forward and not making this too long, we're going to jump into WWII. This is where the book got seriously interesting because I learned so much about Stalin and his cruelty and also how he trusted Hitler even when his intelligence was telling him that Hitler was going to attack. I was so shocked; Stalin set up the potential for his own defeat SO WELL. It was nuts. Anyway, the German army, the largest land force assembled in history, invaded Russia on the longest day of the year, June 22nd, 1941. By September, they were at the gates of Leningrad; September 8th marked the beginning of a nearly three year long siege. The Germans destroyed the supply of food that the government had put up for the winter, because of course it was all in one large and easy to find building. The Russian winter is harsh to begin with, but the lack of food, heat, electricity, and even decent habitable buildings took their toll. My heart broke for what these people went through. So many died of starvation, and some of the population even pretty much went crazy from hunger and turned to cannibalism. All through this time, Shostakovich remained in the city, because he initially tried to volunteer for the army, but they didn't take him. It could have been because of his celebrity, but it could also have been because of his eyesight, we don't fully know. But throughout the siege, he worked on composing his 7th Symphony, which became known as the Leningrad Symphony.  He composed three movements while living in the city, and the fourth came together after his harrowing evacuation with other artists to the city of Kuibyshev (present-day Samara).

Honestly, this is where the entirety of the story came together for me. Everything in the book was leading up to this, obviously. But like each separate movement of a symphony, each section of Dmitri Shostakovich's life and the trials of the Russian people played their parts. The explosive finish came when the symphony was at last performed in the city for which it was written. The music had been performed around the world to thunderous applause, but the most moving and perfect moment was when it came home. In 1942 the Radio Orchestra was given the score to rehearse; there were only fourteen members left alive. The conductor found others who could play instruments, and members of the military bands were brought in, and through their hunger and pain they learned the piece. On August 9th, the date Hitler had claimed he would be celebrating inside the city, the Leningrad Symphony was performed. Philharmonia Hall was lit brightly with electricity for the occasion, and the Red Army even made sure to draw German fire away from the bright target; his diversionary attack wasn't even learned of by the people till twenty years later. Many of the people in the city went without their meager rations to purchase a ticket to the performance. And during the performance, everyone was uplifted. Even the Germans, hearing it over the radio, were stunned. The siege was not over (it lasted for another year and a half, amazingly), but for many people, the worst had passed.


The book goes on to wrap up Shostakovich's life. I was so dazed by the end, though, because the way that M.T. Anderson writes is just so amazing. There were so many sentences and even whole paragraphs that I wanted to commit to memory. I cried over what the Russian people suffered, at the hands of their own leader and at the hands of their enemy. And through it all, Shostakovich was so selfless. He never thought of himself; always would he give to his family and others first. I've always enjoyed his music, but this book brought him to life for me. And the power of music? Well, that much is obvious. It can bring people together and lift up the downtrodden in ways that can be hard to understand. Music touches the soul. I feel like Shostakovich was one of those composers who really understood that, too. He knew what suffering was; almost his entire life was full of it. And yet he kept going.

If I keep going, this will turn into a post of epic proportions and will likely end up not being coherent. So I shall leave you with this recording of the Leningrad Symphony, and insist (not even just recommend) that you pick up this book, because Symphony for the City of the Dead is so much more about truly living.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Villains

Happy Tuesday and happy October! And because it's Tuesday, it's time for the weekly meme from The Broke and the Bookish. I didn't participate last week because the theme was October reads, and I had already shared my reading list with you lovely people haha. So. This week's theme is.... VILLAINS. Pick your top ten villains in books, movies, tv shows, whatever. I'm gonna go with books, because well...this is a book blog. Though I could easily give you a list of favorite villains in other media. I mean, I watch enough tv...

Anyway. My top villains in books. Which is basically going to come down to my favorite books.


1. Voldemort
     Because obviously. I mean, he's an incredibly well crafted character.

2. Saruman
     I could have picked Sauron, but honestly Saruman has more to him and he becomes such pure evil while under Sauron's influence. It's creepy. Plus the movies don't show you what he does to the Shire and what the hobbits come home to.

3. Jadis/The White Witch/etc.
     I've read the Chronicles of Narnia so many times, which is kind of obvious haha. The White Witch always fascinated me as a child, but it was more because of her control over the weather (winter has long been my favorite season) than anything else. She's also pretty pure evil when we first meet her as Jadis in The Magician's Nephew. Like...there's nothing good there. Most other villains start off semi good, but not her. She's pretty well depraved already and only wants to benefit herself.

4. Cluny the Scourge
     I think I'm really dating myself here because it seems that I haven't read many books recently with great villains. But anyway, I couldn't forget to include the infamous rat from the Redwall series. This guy freaked me out hardcore, but his death was pretty cool...getting killed by a bell is good.

5. Grand Admiral Thrawn
     Because all the Star Wars books that came before are still canon, damn it. And Thrawn is amazing. And honestly people just aren't going to read these books anymore and it makes me so sad. Especially because they also brought forth my favorite Star Wars character of all time...but that's beside the point I suppose. (Actually I could highlight multiple villains from the Star Wars books.)

6. Prince Humperdinck
     Because The Princess Bride is an amazing movie and an even better book. Humperdinck is bumbling and really a total idiot (the six-fingered man is the real villain, one could argue), but we all love to hate him.

7. Captain Hook
     I'm talking about the original Peter Pan novel here. Nuff said.

8. The Dead
     One of my favorite fantasy trilogies of all time is the Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix. The dead/undead creatures that he created and the mythos surrounding necromancy in his world building is just fantastic.

9. L
     Death Note is one of the best manga I ever read, and while L might not qualify as a villain for some people, he definitely does for at least part of the time. But then again, so does Light. The crazy thing about the series is that anyone can be a villain.

10. Count Olaf
     Last but not least, I can't forget Lemony Snicket's terribly infuriating villain. I mean, he was trying to kill children, for heaven's sake.


So that was a lot harder than I anticipated it to be! None of these are recent reads, and it made me realize it's time to get back into some classic good versus evil. But it also helped me remember a couple books/series that I adored and should probably re-read soon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Reading plans for the rest of the year

If there were a way to read multiple books at once, I would be doing it. As there is clearly not, I have to pace myself, which we all know has never been my strong suit. Anyway, I've decided on a reading list through the end of 2016, that also includes some room to read books I grab on a whim at the library or that may show up in reading challenges. So, here we go.



To finish:
  • Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (This one is obvious...I've been reading it since February.)
  • Eve of a Hundred Midnights, by Bill Lascher (WWII China/America nonfiction)
  • Symphony for the City of the Dead, by M.T. Anderson (WWII Russian nonfiction)
To read:
  • The Life Changing Magic of Tidying-Up, by Marie Kondo (Finally got my hands on it!)
  • Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly (new WWII novel...clearly I'm on a WWII kick)

  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe (I have tried and failed to start this for years.)
  • The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter (a scifi series I've wanted to read)
  • The Book of Chameleons, by Jose Eduardo Agualusa (for a Goodreads group read) 

  • The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
  • The rest of this month is open

December (my Christmas re-reads month)
  • A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  • The Legend of Holly Claus, by Brittany Ryan
  • Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen
  • Redwall, by Brian Jacques (this will probably stretch into 2017 as I re-read the whole series)
  • The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien


I am telling myself to stick to this list, even though there are books I have from the library right now that are not on it. Doesn't matter, I will read and review those as well. I look forward to December with all my re-reads though. I might even begin Redwall or LotR in November. The cold months are the best time to read those. What are you planning to read for the rest of the year??

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: All About Audio

Happy Tuesday! I missed a couple of these again, and today's topic is a little tough for me. Audiobooks are just not for me most of the time. I really do try, but I'm too easily distracted by literally everything, among other reasons I have mentioned before. However, this week's topic is a freebie, which means I don't have to list just books, but I can pick anything audio related. So, I'm going to list five audio related things that have to do with books and stories in general. I'm only doing five because I just don't have enough experience in this area.

1. The Redwall series, by Brian Jacques
     This is one of my favorite books series of all time anyway, and the audiobooks that were made were full cast dramas, narrated by Jacques himself. The world of Redwall Abbey, Mossflower, and all its creatures came to life in a big way through these, and I was sad that there weren't more of them done; only a handful of the books were ever performed.

2. The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
     In all likelihood I have read the Narnia series more than any other books in my life. The radio dramas that were produced by the BBC only made the stories come even more to life for me. I listen to them every single winter; so perfect on a chilly and snowy evening with a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

3. EOS 10, a sci-fi radio play
     This is a podcast I stumbled across on the Podcast app on my phone; EOS 10 is a space station. I would listen to it while cleaning, and it's a really fascinating and funny story. The voice actors are so great too. Worth checking out if you like audio dramas and sci-fi. I've only listened to the first season, so I need to play catch up here soon.

4. Welcome to Night Vale
     An audio drama that runs the gamut from fantasy to sci-fi to musical theatre to just plain weird, I fell in love with Welcome to Night Vale pretty quickly. I am way behind on episodes (also on the Podcast app) because it's tough to remember to listen, but I liken it to The Twilight Zone in some ways. I've also discovered new music through listening, so that's a bonus.

5. Zombies, Run!
     This is maybe a weird one to include, but it's a fitness app that actually does follow a story, and it kinda like virtual reality. It's actually super motivating because each episode/session leaves you hanging so that you want to go out running (or walking; you don't HAVE to run!) to hear more of the story. Plus you collect items and meet new people and your map expands as you learn more about the area your character explores. So totally cool, and a unique concept that I'm pretty thankful is a thing. Check it out!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

End of summer catch up reviews

Hi, my name is Elisabeth and I read too fast for my own good and then don't stop to think. I'm behind on book reviews, so in order to not have too many new posts suddenly, I'm going to write short reviews in this post, Twitter-style. For those of you who have followed my blog for a few years, I've done this before. Clearly, I have a problem.

Anyway, I have eight books to talk about, not counting the three cookbooks I've read cover-to-cover. I haven't tried any recipes from those yet, so I don't feel I can give an accurate review. (All links lead to Amazon. Not affiliate links.)


Anya's Ghost, by Vera Brosgol
     This fell off the shelf at work while I was putting other graphic novels away, so I thought I'd give it a go. Perfect for Halloween, even though I read it in early summer, it's a creepy tale of a girl who learns all too quickly that ghosts may appear friendly but generally have their own agenda. It was a really quick read and I enjoyed all the Russian references too.

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, by Amy E. Reichert
     I don't normally go for modern romances, but when it's set in Milwaukee and revolves around food, it's hard not to take that chance. A super quick and absolutely adorable read about a chef and the restaurant critic who causes her to lose her restaurant (sounds bad, but trust me!); anyone who likes Milwaukee and food and the romance that can result from serious misconceptions would love this story! It's not the best written book, but the descriptions of Milwaukee and the food we love so much here in Wisconsin totally make it worth it. And like I said, it's adorable.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling
     Hah, so I'm not actually linking to the Amazon page for this book because it's not even worth it. No, it wasn't because it's in script form; that didn't bother me in the least. It's not worth it because, quite simply, it's crap. It's utterly deplorable, and J.K. Rowling must be stopped. She's writing her own fanfiction, and quite frankly I feel like she's turning into George Lucas...which is never a good thing. Leave your own work alone, the original is JUST FINE. *hides in a corner with original unedited Star Wars* Wait, what was I talking about? Oh right. Don't bother with Cursed Child. Just. Don't.

Pretty Happy: Healthy Ways to Love Your Body, by Kate Hudson
     This was a totally fun book to read, and while there were some weird Buddhist things I had to wade through, the gist of it was that there's no one way to love the skin you're in. And it's the only one you're getting, so you'd do well to take care of it and not hate it because it's easier to love and care for others if you love and care for yourself. She's got all kinds of great tips on exercising and eating and being mindful. Really nice.

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, by Paul Krueger
     Another one that I found by accident (released in June) and really loved, this is a crazy romp through Chicago where alcohol is magical and bartenders are on the front lines to protect humanity from disgusting creatures called tremens. Taking the classic cocktails to a new level, Bailey Chen learns that each basic liquor has it's own magical effect, and that she's a natural at bartending. The fictional lore about each drink (think old fashioned, gin and tonic, margarita, long island iced tea) is super cool too. Be careful though, you might get thirsty!

Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies, by Lindsay Ribar
     This is a brand new YA novel (I know, it's weird!) that had an intriguing premise...there's a boy named Aspen who has the magical ability to reach inside people and steal...whatever he wants. Pain, memories, loves, likes, etc. His grandmother and aunt can do the same. One summer he is called to the ancestral home in the small town of Three Peaks where he has to be a part of the ritual. This ritual keeps the cliff above the town from falling on everyone. Little does Aspen know what lies ahead of him as he keeps stealing from his friends and expecting no consequences. It was a fascinating tale with a couple idiotic characters, but maybe I only thought they were idiotic because I'm not a teenager anymore. Still worth reading, and the system of magic was one I hadn't seen before, so that was cool.

The Leaving, by Tara Altebrando
     Also a brand new YA novel, The Leaving is about a group of teens who have been returned to their town after having been kidnapped eleven years previously. None of the five who came back can remember anything, not even about the sixth child who didn't return. The story is told from the perspective of a few of the returned kids, and also the younger sister of the boy who didn't come back. There's some fancy typography in this novel that definitely kept me engrossed. But the ending left a lot to be desired...there were a couple plotlines that were promising and led nowhere, and I was hoping for a more supernatural ending, but that's not really what happened. But well written, for the story that we are given.

Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, by Agnes Martin-Lugand
     I just read this today; it took a couple hours. Honestly, by the title and the fact that it was translated from French...I was mildly disappointed. Also, character development was rather odd. It's about a woman named Diane who loses her husband and young daughter in a car accident and then a year later jets off to Ireland to try to recover. There's some romance, but it didn't build up accurately in my opinion. The descriptions are what I really loved, especially of Paris and then Ireland's rocky coast. Kind of a cute story, and there's a sequel out now (soon?) which I'll probably read as well.


There you have it, I am now caught up. I have approximately 43782 books from the library to read yet, and I'm still slogging my way through Anna Karenina. I had no idea that would take me so long!!