Audiobook Review: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch

Audiobook Review: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina SankovitchTolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch
Published: June 7, 2011
Narrator: Coleen Marlo
Audiobook Length: 6 hrs and 41 mins
Genres: Memoir
Source: Purchased

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

After the death of her sister, Nina Sankovitch found herself caught up in grief, dashing from one activity to the next to keep her mind occupied. But on her forty-sixth birthday she decided to stop running and start reading.
3 Stars

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair reminded me of Eat, Pray, Love. The author, Nina, uses reading to deal with her grief instead of travel like in Eat, Pray, Love, but both books had very interesting insights and growth from their experiences.  Nina sets out to read a book a day for a year and also blogs a review about each book.  This obviously took a huge amount of time and because of that she let a lot of unimportant things slip out of her life.  For example, she didn’t obsess about sending out tons of Christmas cards or putting up tons of decorations.  She got her family to help with dishes more.  Nina describes books as an escape back to life and it was easy to see how having a time consuming hobby helped her get her priorities in life straight again.

The title was very misleading.  While it was interesting to see the kinds of books you could read in one day, I was expecting a book about someone who reads all of Tolstoy’s works or something.  Tolstoy doesn’t even show up until the very end and she obviously doesn’t read any of his major works since they are way too long to read in one day.  I can’t remember what of Tolstoy’s she did read. Even though I was disappointed that there was hardly anything in the whole novel about Tolstoy, it was a good way to find out about new books.

I found some interesting insights about reading and books while listening to this, but overall it was actually kind of dry.  In between the boring stuff I found a few thoughts that I really enjoyed.

  • Why are kids encouraged to read every day but adults aren’t?
  • There is always beauty to live for whether it’s in memories of the past, blessings in the present, and the idea that beauty will come again.
  • Good fiction IS truth.
  • Books don’t have to be hard work to do you some good.

Mostly, this book made me want to read a book a day for maybe a month.  A year is kind of crazy, but it did sound fun to just read a ton of books.

Narrator Rating: ★★

This book did not translate well into an audiobook.  It was very hard to tell when the author was quoting a book or was speaking in her own words.  I think it would be better to read this one especially since the narrator sounded like Siri.  She just sounded so robotic that I’m not 100% convinced this was narrated by a person.

Overall, it was kind of a dry read but had a few insights about reading that I liked.  It also gave me the idea of reading a book a day which seems like a really fun idea.

Content Rating: High, for a chapter that talks about sex. It does not go into specific or graphic detail but it is probably geared more for adults.

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About Nina Sankovitch

Nina Sankovitch

Nina Sankovitch has written two books of non-fiction. The first, her memoir of a life of reading, entitled Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, came out in 2011. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair not only tells the story of Nina's life of reading but of how books helped her to cope with the death of her oldest sister. Described as a must-read by Oprah Magazine and hailed as an outstanding debut by Kirkus Reviews, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is for anyone who has ever found refuge -- or comfort or escape or joy - in a book.

Nina was born in Evanston, Illinois, and is a graduate of Evanston Township High School, Tufts University, and Harvard Law School. She lives with her four children, husband, and three cats in Connecticut.

Book Review: A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

Book Review: A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam GidwitzA Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
Series: A Tale Dark & Grimm #1
Published: October 28, 2010
256 pages
Genres: Childrens, Fairy Tale
Source: Purchased

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

In this mischievous and utterly original debut, Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and into eight other classic Grimm-inspired tales. As readers follow the siblings through a forest brimming with menacing foes, they learn the true story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches.

Fairy tales have never been more irreverent or subversive as Hansel and Gretel learn to take charge of their destinies and become the clever architects of their own happily ever after.
4 Stars

A Tale Dark & Grimm stays true to the spirit of the original Grimm fairy tales which were stark, disturbing, and usually tragic with characters who acted like idiots.  A Tale Dark & Grimm retells and weaves together fairy tales but adds humor to balance out the violence.  The humor comes in a wonderfully written voice from the narrator that acts like the best audio commentary you’ve ever heard about these fairy tales.  The narrator even suggests that maybe little kids should stop reading because there are some gross scenes coming up.  I’m pretty sure that would make any kid on the planet keep reading.  If you’ve ever wanted to read a fairy tale with snarky commentary then you need to read this book.

A Tale Dark & Grimm doesn’t glamorize violence though.  There are definitely morals and cautionary tales that add depth to these tales.  It reminded me of The Tales of Beedle the Bard where Dumbledore talks about how fairy tales are too watered down now and they fail to teach kids anymore by covering up anything bad or scary.  Learning about the evils of life is best done in a story where kids can learn from the mistakes of others and realize that there is true evil out there.  I loved this quote about how even when we don’t deserve it sometimes bad things happen to us and there can be some good in that.

For, in life, it is in the darkest zones one finds the brightest beauty and the most luminous wisdom.

– Adam Gidwitz,  A Tale Dark and Grimm (Prologue)

Overall, it was a wonderfully written snarky retelling of Grimm fairy tales that doesn’t shy away from the scary things in life and what they can teach us.

Content Rating: Mild, for some very mild violence and gore.

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About Adam Gidwitz

Adam Gidwitz

Adam Gidwitz grew up in Baltimore. Now he lives in Brooklyn and teaches kids large and slightly less large at Saint Ann's School. Adam only writes about what he's experienced personally. So, while all of the strange, hilarious, and frightening things in A TALE DARK AND GRIMM really did happen to Hansel and Gretel, they also happened to Adam. Of course, if you've ever had a childhood, they've probably happened to you, too.

Book Review: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Book Review: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson BurnettA Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Published: 1905
242 pages
Genres: Childrens, Classic
Source: Purchased

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

Sara Crewe, an exceptionally intelligent and imaginative student at Miss Minchin's Select Seminary for Young Ladies, is devastated when her adored, indulgent father dies. Now penniless and banished to a room in the attic, Sara is demeaned, abused, and forced to work as a servant. How this resourceful girl's fortunes change again is at the center of A Little Princess, one of the best-loved stories in all of children's literature.
4 Stars

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s way of writing, even in the author’s note, has a whimsical, magical child-like tone to it that is very endearing.  And like a child, the author can also be bluntly honest which made me laugh.

I loved reading about Sarah and the teacher that is jealous of her.  In all honesty, the imaginative and optimistic Sarah was a much better teacher to the girls at the school.  The teacher and other adults in the story seemed to delight in other’s misfortunes while Sarah felt deep empathy towards them and tried her best to help them. I loved Sarah’s imagination and her ability to use it to bring happiness to her and others around her no matter how bad things in their life were.  Sarah had a beautiful ability to see things from someone else’s view.  She even befriends a rat. I couldn’t help thinking that even though Sarah is just a child, I would like to be as kind, loving, and happy and she is.

When you will not fly into a passion people know you are stronger than they are, because you are strong enough to hold in your rage, and they are not, and they say stupid things they wish they hadn’t said afterward. There’s nothing so strong as rage, except what makes you hold it in— that’s stronger.

– Frances Hodgson Burnett,  A Little Princess (p. 94).

A Little Princess was one of my favorite movies as a kid and although the movie was different than the book it was based on, it still had the great characters and imagination that I loved in the movie.  The movie amped up the conflict and made it a little more sad than the book, but if you liked the movie you will definitely like the book.

Overall, it’s a beautifully written classic about the power of imagination. 

Content Rating: None. Clean read.

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About Frances Hodgson Burnett

Frances Hodgson Burnett

Frances Eliza Hodgson was the daughter of ironmonger Edwin Hodgson, who died three years after her birth, and his wife Eliza Boond. She was educated at The Select Seminary for Young Ladies and Gentleman until the age of fifteen, at which point the family ironmongery, then being run by her mother, failed, and the family emigrated to Knoxville, Tennessee. Here Hodgson began to write, in order to supplement the family income, assuming full responsibility for the family upon the death of her mother, in 1870. In 1872 she married Dr. Swan Burnett, with whom she had two sons, Lionel and Vivian. The marriage was dissolved in 1898, and Burnett was briefly remarried, to actor Stephen Townsend. That marriage too, ended in divorce. Following her great success as a novelist, playwright, and children's author, Burnett maintained homes in both England and America, traveling back and forth quite frequently. She died in her Long Island, New York home, in 1924.

Book Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

Book Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae CarsonThe Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
Series: Fire and Thorns #3
Published: August 27, 2013
433 pages
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Library

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

Elisa is a fugitive.

Her enemies have stolen the man she loves, and they await her at the gate of darkness. Her country is on the brink of civil war, with her own soldiers ordered to kill her on sight.

Her Royal Majesty, Queen Lucero-Elisa né Riqueza de Vega, bearer of the Godstone, will lead her three loyal companions deep into the enemy's kingdom, a land of ice and snow and brutal magic, to win back her throne. Her power grows with every step, and the shocking secrets she will uncover on this, her final journey, could change the course of history.
4 Stars

Spoiler free even if you haven’t read the first book in this series. 

Elisa has been growing and changing throughout the series and The Bitter Kingdom was no exception.  She starts to define herself by trying new things and seeing what she likes instead of focusing on comparing herself to others, especially her sister, and coming up short.  In fact, she purposefully learns and pursues the things that were hidden from her or that scare her and it made her a fascinating character to read about.

I liked the friendship that developed between Elisa and Storm.  He seems to be a very loyal friend but the culture that he grew up in makes him not completely trustworthy.  His culture also gives him a very literal personality that I found endearing.  One of my favorite quotes from the novel came from Storm when he’s explaining the Joyan culture to someone and how it’s different from his own.

“Joyans consider it rude to express one’s true opinion unless it is unequivocally flattering.”

– Rae Carson, The Bitter Kingdom, pg 235

There has been romance throughout the series, but it starts to rival The Princess Bride with the devotion and the kissing scenes that have lots of spark that I know the kid from the Princess Bride movie would definitely want to skip.

The writing had a few cliche moments.  I liked the writing from the first two books better.  Each book has a journey, but for some reason this one felt a tad bit long. However, the plot was such a fun adventure that reminded me of entering the mines of Moria that it kept my interest very well.  There was also a very brief reference to “machine magic” that isn’t really expanded on, but it does support my theory that I discussed in my Crown of Embers review that perhaps the Joyan race came from our world.

Overall, it was a fun adventure with epic romance and a main character who is constantly growing and changing into someone I would want to be.

Content Rating: Medium, for mildly graphic violence and a suggestive scene.

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About Rae Carson

Rae Carson

I write books about teens who must do brave things. I'm originally from California, but I moved to Ohio to marry my husband, who is the smartest and therefore sexiest man I know. We live in Columbus with my teenaged stepsons, who are awesome. My books tend to contain lots of adventure, a little magic and romance, and smart girls who make (mostly) smart choices. I especially love to write about questions I don't know the answers to.

Book Review: Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr.

Book Review: Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr.Cheaper by the Dozen by Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, Frank B. Gilbreth Jr.
Published: 1948
224 pages
Genres: Humor, Memoir, Non-fiction
Source: Library

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

What do you get when you put twelve lively kids together with a father -- a famous efficiency expert -- who believes families can run like factories, and a mother who is his partner in everything except discipline? You get a hilarious tale of growing up that has made generations of kids and adults alike laugh along with the Gilbreths in Cheaper by the Dozen.
4 Stars

Cheaper by the Dozen is a charming story about a dad full of personality and how he raises his twelve kids.  The dad is witty, blunt, sarcastic, slightly over protective, eccentric and a little strict.  The father is what really makes this story because it was delightful to read about him.  There’s some back story about the dad and my favorite story from his childhood was when he was talking to a brick foreman about how to do things more efficiently and no matter how much the foreman threatens and swears at him, he carries on about his ideas without missing a beat.

I admired the way he parented his children.  He always had them learning things by turning them into games.  He plays jokes on the kids and has a lot of fun with them.  He was such a bad driver that the kids voluntarily became look outs. Even though he was a really strict dad and never dreamed of bending the rules, he knew when to show them extra love, too.  The story of the roller skates was such a touching story of teaching his kids a lesson but in a loving way.

As much as I enjoyed all of the stories about the family, I thought the father was a little too eccentric and strict until I read the ending.  The ending was so beautiful and not at all what I expected.  The father is adamant about saving time when doing even the smallest tasks.  I think he would have been a huge fan of life hacks.  People would ask him “But what do you want to save time FOR?”  It was a reminder how precious time is and to spend as much of it with your family as you can.

Overall, it was a charming story about his dad and his eccentric ways of raising a family that had a beautiful message and ending.

Content Rating: None.  Clean read.

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About Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Ernestine Moller Gilbreth, Mrs. Carey (April 5, 1908 – November 4, 2006) was an American author.

Born in New York City, she was the daughter of Lillian Moller Gilbreth and Frank Bunker Gilbreth, early 20th-century pioneers of time and motion study and what would now be called organizational behavior.

The upbringing of the twelve Gilbreth children was chronicled in the successful, comic memoir Cheaper by the Dozen (1948, adapted in a 1950 film). The book, as well as a sequel, Belles on Their Toes (1952), was written by Carey with one of her younger brothers, Frank B. Gilbreth Jr.

About Frank B. Gilbreth Jr.

Frank Gilbreth Jr

Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. (March 17, 1911 – February 18, 2001) was co-author, with his sister Ernestine, of Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes. Under his own name, he wrote Time Out for Happiness and Ancestors of the Dozen.

He was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, the 5th child (and first boy) of the 12 children born to efficiency experts Frank Gilbreth, Sr. and Lillian Moller Gilbreth, and grew up in the family home in Montclair, New Jersey.

During World War II, he served as a naval officer in the South Pacific. In 1947, he returned to The Post and Courier as an editorial writer and columnist. In his later years, he relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, where he went on to be a journalist, author and newspaper executive. Under nom de plume Ashley Cooper, he wrote a long-running column, "Doing the Charleston," for the Charleston paper The Post and Courier; it ran until 1993.