Saturday, April 13, 2013

Month of the Gadfly Contest

The Year of the Gadfly, a new novel by Jennifer Miller, comes out May 28th, and Miller is in process of trying to set the record for most book club visits in one month. Her goal is to visit 100 book clubs in 30 days by having 30 minute Skype meetings with book clubs all across the nation during the month of July. And, each book club that participates will be mentioned in Therefore, CWAtC is going to try to help her out! We need at least five people to participate. So, if you are interested in joining us in this event, check out her official website and then follow the following instructions:

First, if you aren't already in our Goodreads book club, join our Classics Without all the Class group! We are a great group of individuals that read an eclectic selection of books. As a club, we read classics, ranging from traditional to modern. Next, go to our CWAtC Togather event. Then, pre-order her book so you receive it the day it comes out. Afterward, read the book! Our meeting with Jennifer Miller is on July 17 at 6:00pm Pacific/9:00pm Eastern. 

The Year of the Gadfly has been getting great reviews from just about all who read it. So, I can't wait. It should be a ton of fun and a great way to meet and converse with an awesome author. 

Join us!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday @ the Forums - April 12th

We need to shake the forums up again. They've been too quiet! Some things getting attention:

Shakespeare - We're doing an optional of reading Shakespeare this month. Originally we picked it due to the Bard's birthday, but in a happy coincidence, his works are quoted abundantly in our book choice this month Brave New World. So feel free and open a thread and talk about which one(s) you've tackled. 

Author Biographies - Curious about the authors of the books, we've chosen? Check this thread for some biographies. Or add a few that you've enjoyed! 

Source: Wiki Commons Public Domain

Social Media and Us - Just a reminder of where we hang out besides here and the forums. Make sure you like/follow/whatever! Follow us here on the blog too! 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Review: Blood & Beauty

In Sarah Dunant's latest offering, she's giving us the Borgias in all their glory. Here is where I usually give you a synopsis of the book, but the Borgias's story is so well known it seems redundant. Here is the story of Rodrigo Borgia, better known as Pope Alexander VI and his children, Cesare, Lucrezia, Juan, and Jofre and their family's reign in Renaissance Italy.  

While Blood & Beauty doesn't offer new information that no one has ever heard before, it doesn't matter. Instead, Dunant gives us a story to sink into and immerse our lives into the Rome that was trenched in treachery, betrayal, and politics. 

Why do we keep coming back to the Borgias? They've had countless books, a show on premium television and even an appearance in a popular video game series. My answer? The Borgias were the soap opera family of their times. They were scandalous, daring and decadent. Pope Alexander was more politician than pontiff, more concerned with using his children to gain alliances with surrounding countries and city-states than with the spiritual well being of his people. Cesare, an unhappy cardinal turned soldier, is manipulative and just a little too attached to his younger sister, although the crime of incest doesn't actually occur. The only character you feel sorry for is Lucrezia. There is no indication of the poisoning calculator who makes appearances in previous incarnations of the Borgias story. She is a victim of her family's machinations. 

The storytelling was rich and the characters believable. Dunant gives her version of this infamous family with color and verve. Historical fiction the way I like it, with the historical individuals taking center stage. 

The Verdict

Bookshelf: You love the Borgias? The Italian Renassiance?  Scandal and intrigue? Read this book. 

*Review copy was rewarded through Early Reviewers program*

Review: Gameboard of the Gods

Gameboard of the Gods  is the first of the newest urban fantasy series by Richelle Mead called the Age of X series. She also wrote the Dark Swan series (about a shaman who battles with the fae) and the Georgina Kincaid series (a succubus with a conscience), along with two YA series, Bloodlines and Vampire Academy

In this dystopian novel, Mae Koskinen is a praetorian (an elite soldier with enhanced reflexes and skills) and after a disagreement with a fellow praetorian that lands the other in the hospital, Mae is put on suspension with a special assignment: to protect Justin Marsh, an exiled investigator of religious groups while he solves a case involving ritualistic murders plaguing the government, the RUNA (Republic of United North America).

What sounds like a simple mystery turns into something bigger as Mae and Justin start sensing there is something bigger out there, and humans are merely pieces on a board to maneuver at will. 

This book came at a strange time for me. I had just finished reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, another dystopian novel where religion is a no-no and there is a distinct class hierarchy. I requested this book plot unread as I had previously enjoyed the Dark Swan series as well as the Georgina Kincaid series. That being said I actually had to warm up to the story since I'm not generally a dystopian genre type of girl. Maybe it was a good thing that I had just finished Brave New World as I kept coming back to that book to compare and it made the book better. I did like that Mead doesn't just info dump on you with all the phrases and terms of her world. She gradually tells you the story and explains what the words mean. 

With the gods element, I was hit with the impression of American Gods by Neil Gaiman as well as the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. Actually, I kind of would say this book was Brave New World meets American Gods with a lot of Richelle Mead. Not completely, just the vague sense that I'd read something similar. The characters were fresh, and instead of having a big bad male character always having to save the pretty, but mouthy heroine who's always getting herself into trouble, we have Mae who is the big bad heroine saving Justin, the handsome, mouthy guy. Justin actually wasn't a hundred percent likable, and you kind of hoped Mae would punch him a couple times, but I don't think this is a negative since it gives the character room to grow throughout the series. 

The only negative part to me was that the case that they're pulled in to solve never felt that important. Not even to the characters, but maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that is the point. That there's something brewing that is bigger than the characters themselves. 

The Verdict

Bookshelf: I actually originally had this one as Library Bag, but then I let the book sit with me and I realized I'm really interested to see what happens with Mae and Justin and the potential to converse with the gods. 

*Review galley provided by

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Association: Brave New World - Modern Library

We're in our second week of Brave New World. Last week's BA was about dystopias and we went pretty obvious. Did you think of more? This week we grabbed 5 of the 100 best novels of the 20th century according to Modern Library.

Ulysses - Often this one gets a bad rap, readers either love it or hate it. I prefer to make my own decisions about books. What did you think?

Catch-22 - The source of the phrase "catch-22," this one has been called a keystone work in American literature as well as an insane journey. What did you think?

To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf marked her place in history with this novel. A story ultimately about change as seen through the eyes of the Ramsay family.

A Handful of Dust - One of the first satirists, Evelyn Waugh describes a society where the inhabitants want for nothing, except maybe morals. What do you do when the characters haven't any redeeming qualities whatsoever?

The Grapes of Wrath - As Steinbeck describes the journey of the migrant workers from the Dust Bowl to California, you can't help to be on the journey with them. The pivotal theme of people coming together no matter how dismal their lives are at the moment rings throughout the story.

Any others on the Modern Library list that you enjoyed? 

Next week we take on William Shakespeare. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Kevin Smokler

Hey CWAtCers. We have got wonderful news and it actually fits the title of the blog (I know we confuse you with that one). If you've been with us from the start, you know we started as a book group on Goodreads that specializes in classic books, both traditional and contemporary. On the blog, we decided we wanted to cover a lot more of the literary world. It's still a big part of our goal, but there are so many books out there that it's hard to leave them out. 

This is one of those times we delve into our roots. We've gotten our first author booked for the podcast. Kevin Smokler, author of Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven't Touched Since High School  will be joining us for the mid-May episode. I have some questions of my own, but here's your chance to get a few in as well! Add your questions here and I'll try to get them in during the interview.

I'm really excited about this and hope you guys are as well. More info about Kevin and his book can be found here

P.S. while we were in SF on April 4th, we ran across this at Books, Inc on Van Ness. 

Tator Tuesdays

Now that you've met our Tators, we want you to get to know us a bit. Every week we'll answer book/reading questions.

This week: What is the first line of the book you are currently reading?


"On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, about half way between Marseilles and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-colored hotel."


"A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories."


 “The Prisoner stood with his hands tied in front of him, tired, beaten, and filthy, but with a proud back befitting his royal Indian heritage.”


"I must have been a nightmare in high school English class."


"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

This is from Anna Karenina. It is for CWAtC's book club selection for May. Since it's a long book, I am starting it early and reading a little bit at a time, about 70 pages per week.  I believe anyone can eat an elephant a little bit at a time. 

What is the first line in the book you're  currently reading?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Literary Loot: SF edition

We have a ton of pictures to sort through from our trip in San Francisco this Saturday, traversing a few of the most popular bookstores in the city. While I do that, I thought I'd share my Literary Loot because who can resist that many bookstores without walking out with some souvenirs?

Source: Karena Fagan

Did you pick up any treasures this weekend?

Review: Life After Life

Kate Atkinson's Life After Life is the story of Ursula Todd, who dies minutes after she's born then on that same day is born to live a life that is full of "do-overs." She lives only to die, only to live again. The book takes place from 1910 to the end of the First World War, to the trials and tribulations of the Second, and all the years in between, with Ursula making decisions that have incredible consequences.

As my mother-in-law likes to say "there is more than one way to live a life" and in this case, it's showcased in Ursula's never-ending deja vu. It also fits my husband's favorite phrase "Life is about choices." Every time Ursula lives again and comes to that moment that would take the path it did previously, she chooses to take another route.

I admit to being intrigued just by the very synopsis. Really? She dies? Kind of? How is this going to work? Atkinson handles the story very well. I enjoyed seeing how one simple event could change Ursula's life for better or for worse. I do wish her "deja vu" moments had been explained a bit each time she lives again, just so we know why she just doesn't do the same thing she did the last time. It's toyed with a bit during her childhood, but later in adulthood there seems to be very little "ah ha" moments for the character to take the other road.

I found Ursula's family to be very realistic, especially for the time period. I really loved her father Hugh.  He was a father and husband who generally just wanted a peaceful household so ignored a lot, but loved his family. Ursula also a great character. With each decision and event, I couldn't help, but empathize with her when I took into account the time period, her social class, her family. How no matter how dramatic the choice and its outcome, you still saw her core and understood her motives.

The Verdict
Bookshelf: If you ever wonder about the what-ifs in your life, this is your book. The paths we could all take in our lives and where they could ultimately lead up.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Review: From Frazzled to Focused


In From Frazzled to Focus by Rivka Caroline, the author shares many organizational philosophies and techniques on a room by room basis.

By reminding you that you do not to achieve perfection to become focused, she presents the concept of becoming organized as something achievable instead of a daunting, intimidating undertaking.  In fact, she says that perfectionism and procrastination are "evil twins."  Her philosophy is to simplify and de-clutter your life and home.  

In the book, which can be read in parts or cover to cover, Ms. Caroline shows how what you don’t do can actually be more important than what is actually on your to do list. She encourages you to make a TO DON’T list of activities that make you feel overwhelmed and can sabotage your schedule. 

When you feel overwhelmed, you often do nothing.  She encourages the frazzled person to do something instead of nothing.  "A good plan executed now is better than an excellent plan executed never" (Location 105).  

The first section of the books discusses her philosophy of simplicity.

Ms. Caroline then takes you into each room of the house and gives many practical techniques for maintaining order. For each room, she reviews:

1. What is your vision?
2. How can you achieve that vision?
3. How can you remember the system? 
4. How can you keep the system alive?  

Her philosophy in these sections of the book is rooted in a simple concept - routine. the more of a routine you get into, the less decisions have to be made because you are now completing your tasks automatically.  For example, brushing your teeth every night is routine for many people. They don't need to give it any thought or make decisions about something so simple that is done so frequently. Therefore, why not have this same approach with making dinner or cleaning the kitchen counter? 

The Verdict

Bookshelf for busy people who feel overwhelmed and are ready to just get it done and become organized with some quick tips, tricks and techniques.  

However, for those who are disorganized due to a deep seated issue, this book may only be a starting point. The author does not deal with the root of a deeper problem, if one exists. For example, in the case of hoarders, there are more psychological reasons for being disorganized rather than simply needing to get into a routine. For those individuals I would recommend books by Julie Morgenstern.  Even so, this book is a good resource with a lot of good takeaways. 

Library bag for those who have a good handle on organization but need a refresher or some inspiration.

I know I will be reviewing some of her techniques...just in time for spring cleaning.  

*Mrs. Hoffman was provided with a free copy of “From Frazzled to Focused” by*