Friday, May 31, 2013

Bookshelf, Library Bag, or Donation Box

In Bookshelf, Library Bag or Donation Box, our Tators give their verdict on the books they read, whether they're keepers for the shelves, one you borrow from your local library, or just give to your local used bookstore. 

I'm not going to make you wait until the end of this post for the verdict -- I liked it. It's a quick read; I finished it in under 24 hours. Once you crack open Defending Jacob, it becomes quite difficult to put down because it's full of page-turning twists!

I have always liked mysteries -- the first ones I remember reading were Agatha Christie novels. This book takes a step in a different direction. Defending Jacob is a mystery wrapped in a legal thriller. The author, William Landay, has experience with the law as a graduate of Boston College Law School and a former Assistant District Attorney. This really comes through as you're reading the book; you get a sense that Landay has an intimate knowledge of the subject matter as he explains legal terms in a simple and easy-to-understand manner. It doesn't feel forced. Landay's writing is as accessible as a John Grisham novel.

The story is told as a first-person narrative from the perspective of Andy Barber, father to Jacob and first District Attorney in the small town of Newton, Massachusetts. After a local boy is found murdered, finger pointing begins and the Barber family is caught in the cross hairs. The novel follows their struggles as their son, Jacob, is accused of murder. It's about making difficult choices, what we chose to include in our realities, and the importance of family.

Defending Jacob's strengths are the strong voice and guidance of the narrator coupled with a compelling story that always keeps you second guessing. At the beginning, Andy Barber cozies right up next to you and becomes your new best friend. He expertly navigates you through interactions with the community, the police, the courts, and his family. But when doubt creeps into Andy's mind, it creeps into yours, too.

There were some problems with the book -- one of which was Jacob's mother Laurie and how she was written. She was very one-dimensional, something I wasn't expecting from a small family unit facing adversity. I don't want to outline any more because then I'd just be getting nit-picky and end up spoiling the book. The less you know when you start, the better!


Library Bag. Overall this was an engaging read. I'd recommend borrowing it from the library if you're looking for a suspenseful summer read.

You can read more about the author on his website or chat him up on Twitter.

[Thank you to the author for making the image of his book available for reuse.]

Friday @ the Forums

It's that time of the week where we look at what's going on in our Goodreads forums.

Source: Jared Fagan
Failure is Near - Despite the fatalistic title, this is actually a great place for everyone to go if they're not quite finished with Anna Karenina and need the extra motivation. 

The Year of the Gadfly event - So if you're participating in this event you probably received your notification your book has shipped! Yay! If you're not participating, why the heck not? You should! It'll be fun and also might be part of the CWAtC podcast.

Character Attachment - This thread has been revived lately. Any characters that you have a strong attachment to? Share them here. We won't judge!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

In Short...Honoring Short Story Month

In honor of Short Story Month our ContribuTator Heather wrote some thoughts about one of her favorite stories. 

Joyce Carol Oates' famous short story, Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been? is centered around a beautiful, blonde, 15 year old -- dare I say naive -- girl named Connie. The story is split into two parts: the first half describes Connie almost in reaction to the world around her. It details her in comparison to her family members (mother, sister June, and father) and her experimenting with who is she outside of the home while she's out with girl friends and boys. The second half of the story depicts Connie's encounter with Arnold Friend, a strange man who pulls into parent's driveway while the rest of the family is away at a BBQ.

Where Are You Going? … is richly layered. There is so much to see and absorb here it definitely deserves more than one read through. Easily recommendable if you're interested in fiction, short stories, and/or women's literature. It's also good exercise for the analytically minded because Oates creates a world that is meant to be explored. It's a great example of what's makes extraordinary short stories so compelling: there's a lot of punch in a small package.

I discovered Where Are You Going? ... while reading through the Love and Pain section of Kevin Smokler's Practical Classics. Prior to this short story, I had no experience with Oates. I had seen her name on countless books, none of which had ever landed in my hands until Smokler's chapter convinced me that I needed to change that in short order. When I finished it, I wondered whether or not it was something my mother had read and whether or not it had influenced the way in which she raised me: cautious, don't talk to strangers (especially men), be careful of who you interact with. My childhood wasn't paranoid, but my mother made sure to instill the need to be alert and aware of my surroundings at all times. It's something that served me well as a teenager and into my adult years living in a major metropolitan area. Where Are You Going? … on the surface, it acts as a beware tale of what happens if you aren't careful.

Where Are You Going? … captures the feeling of being a young, female teenager. You're on the precipice of the freedom adulthood brings -- intensely curious and desirous of it, but simultaneously nervous and afraid. You try and imitate what you think adulthood is and what it means but in reality, you aren't prepared emotionally. It's in the cat-and-mouse game of pretend where valuable lessons are learned that help you on your path to adulthood. The bravado instilled by nervousness and fear pushes you forward -- just the right amount and it's a learning experience, too much and you're centered directly in harm's way.

What are some of your favorite short stories?

Truthful Tales: Exploring Non-Fiction

In Truthful Tales: Exploring Non-Fiction, CWAtC will be exploring new non-fiction each month that contains a 5th Thursday. Writers will rotate, so expect a wide variety of non-fiction reviews! For May, Book-tator Jeane, reviews My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf. Enjoy!

Written by an author who was a friend of and went to high school with Jeffrey Dahmer, My Friend Dahmer is a graphic novel about the infamous, cannibalistic serial killer. Interestingly, Derf Backderf tries to present a humanistic side to Dahmer. Backderf does an excellent job of showing how the murderer inside Dahmer could have been subdued had he received the help he needed during his troubled teenage years. 

My Friend Dahmer is well-written and super creepy. It freaked me out in parts and made me a little sad for Dahmer when I learned what he went through.  


Library Bag: I believe My Friend Dahmer would be great people who already enjoy graphic novels, those who enjoy crime or true crime stories, and might even be fun for reluctant readers. In addition, I think some people might enjoy this graphic novel as a first-time experience in the graphic novel world because it gives an insider perspective of a world that most of us, thank goodness, will never experience. And, it is an illustrated format! How cool is that?!?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bookshelf, Library Bag, or Donation Box

While combing through Kickstarter's publishing projects, I discovered Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo. This project appealed to me right away. Author Matthew Amster-Burton had completed the manuscript for Pretty Good Number One and was looking to publish it as an ebook. He needed money to hire an artist to create the cover and pay for a professional copy editor. Better yet, he already had people in mind. Yes! My kind of project.

The premise is what truly inspired me to back the project. Pretty Good Number One is the story of the author, his wife, and eight year old daughter living and eating their way through Japan over the course of one, hot summer month in a cramped apartment. I'm an only child and all of my family vacations were confined to a small trailer camping along the Northern California coast. The cramped part I could understand, but the idea of living for a month, overseas with my parents was remarkable to me -- unfathomable even. But I have a special place in my heart for Japan. I also bought this book because I thought my husband and I would both enjoy it together -- which is exactly what we did when I would read snippets to him aloud. My husband has been traveling to Tokyo for over a decade on work-related business. He has been trying to convince me to go there on vacation with him since we started dating almost ten years ago. But this little thing has prevented me from saying yes: the 12 hour flight. And that's just flying one way. He has had to settle for taking me to Japanese restaurants, shops, and Japantown here in the city. But I think that is all going to change very soon.

Pretty Good Number One has been a joy to read from start to finish. It is the author's love letter to Tokyo -- and if you don't already have a place in your heart for the famous city, you will by the end of the book. You can easily imagine yourself there, among the people and the shops and the food. You can almost smell and taste it as Amster-Burton and his family eat through the repertoire of Japanese cuisine. More than once I looked over at my husband to ask whether or not he had tried this dish or that one, and whether or not we could find it locally -- and subsequently, how long before we could eat it. Maybe you want to purchase a screen protector for your e-reader so you don't soil it with the inevitable drool that will escape from your lips as you click through the pages. 

Another part of what makes Pretty Good Number One hard to put down is its accessibility. The author writes in a laid-back conversational tone peppered with self-deprecating humor, silly jokes, and humorous observations. There is no pretentiousness despite Amster-Burton's extensive knowledge of Japanese culture and cuisine, which is refreshing in a day and age where it's fashionable to be a foodie. He even takes the time to explain the vocabulary and pronunciations of many Japanese words you will encounter on your inevitable culinary journey.

Lastly, it's the sweet story of a husband and father sharing his love of all things Japanese with his family. It's especially endearing to read the stories centered around the author and his daughter, Iris. She's a curious and adventurous eater -- something we can all learn a lesson from.

How do you say no to this adorable face? You just don't!

The Verdict

Bookshelf. Well, let's make that a digital bookshelf since the title is only available in ebook format. Start packing your bags now because by the time you're finished, you'll be booking your flight to Japan.

You can follow Amster-Burton on Twitter @mamster or check out his website Roots and Grubs. You can also like Pretty Good Number One on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tator Tuesdays

Every week we interview our Tators and ask them bookish questions. This week's question:

What was the first book that made you cry?



I think it was Patricia Hermes’ My Girl.

Source: Jared Fagan


Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner


I have no idea what the first one was, but one that sticks out though is My Sister’s Keeper.


Flowers for Algernon. I remember crying on the walk back to the library to return the book.

What was the first book you remember making you cry?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Tomes For Tots Chapter 3

Photo courtesy of

Hello and welcome to Chapter 3 of Tomes for Tots in which I chronicle my efforts to start a book club for my 4 year old son and other children in his age group. As last discussed, my challenge was in getting people together to actually start up the club.

I am happy to report that since then, it has been a little easier in getting parents willing to share in a book discussion with their children or grandchildren. I still had the contact information of some of the parents from a Circle Time class my husband and I would attend when my son was an infant. Two parents responded saying they would be happy to join, depending on the date. My mother-in-law has also helped in asking her grandparent friends to join in and has a tentative commitment from 2-3 of them. So far, the number of children would equal 7 to 8 total which is actually a little more than the amount I imagined we would have, which is more than fine with me.

My next step was in obtaining a venue in which to actually host the book discussion. Since it will most likely be followed by a short craft and snack, I needed a place that would be understanding to this. My goal was to get a library room so that it isn't just neutral, but also conducive to discussing books. After all, I wanted it to have a book club feel to it.

I called my mother-in-law's library and my own to see if either would allow us to use a room. Her library said it was ok to use a certain room as long as the it isn't already wasn't being used of course. My own library will at most allow us to use their park when not holding an event, which is across their parking lot and actually very beautiful. Their inside rooms are currently under renovation and they are not even able to host their own usual events. 

I have a small group of people now in place and just need to finalize the venue and date for sure. I am happy to see that Tomes for Tots is coming along nicely.

The concept of a book club for preschoolers started as an idea for me a few months ago, and this is great to see this club finally coming together now. My son is looking forward to spending time with other children, which is especially important since school is almost finished for the year, and I really think this is something he will very much enjoy.

All I really need to do now is to decide what book to read together and a craft or snack that coincides with the theme of the book. Thinking up of this will actually be most enjoyable.

Next article I will report to you how our discussion goes! Feel free to leave comments, ideas, or feedback below.

Thank you for reading through this journey with me.

Angie & Laura Go to the Movies

Welcome to "Angie & Laura Go to the Movies," where we compare movie adaptations of classic novels we read in the book club. For the ranking system, Angie and Laura will determine if you should, "Go see it at the theater," "Rent it," or "Walk out." Enjoy! For this edition, Angie and Laura watched Ang Lee's adaptation of Yann Martel's Life of Pi, which we read in February 2013

Life of Pi is a story of Pi Patel, the son of a zookeeper, who is the sole human survivor of a  violent shipwreck. We see his struggle for survival aboard a 26 foot boat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker who is initially a threat to Pi's life, but ultimately saves his life.

Laura Says: See It At the Theater! 

This movie certainly did the book justice for me. A visual feast for the eyes, the film lives up to the imagery described in the novel. I did not see the movie when it came out in the theatres, but I can imagine how even more beautiful it must have been. It was as if someone took the color on my TV screen and turned it up to number 12.

One such beautiful scene is when suddenly at night, Pi is surrounded by glowing jellyfish which light up the night; meanwhile, a whale rises and soars out from underneath the water. It is one of the most visually impressive scenes I have ever seen and Ang Lee’s visual effects team is deserving of the Oscar.

Many scenes I was looking forward to being in the movie were actually in the film. One is the scene where Pi writes his name on the board at the start of each class to best make his name memorable to his classmates and teachers. Also true to the novel, we also see the alternate ending Pi gives to the detectives.

In terms of differences, while the movie is very close to the storyline novel, the book is much more in depth. The scenes with Pi's religious contemplation is much more involved as well as his survival on the boat. On the contrary, the scene when the boat is caught up in the storm and about to sink is actually more intense than that scene in the book itself.

Another difference to note is that the movie is not as graphic as some scenes in the book. With scenes of some of the animals attacking and killing each other on the boat, as well as the "interesting" food choices Pi is forced to make trying to survive, I expected a little more gore...although I cannot say I am disappointed to be spared seeing such moments, especially since I watched it with my four year old son! I suppose in order to appeal to children and maintain a PG-13 rating, these graphic elements could not be included.

My verdict is to see it at the movie theater! Definitely the movie theater. In fact, I am positive I would have enjoyed Lee’s Life of Pi even more had I experienced the visual effects on the big screen. This is definitely an enjoyable film, even to those who adore the book. 

Angie Says: Rent it!

I agree with much of what Laura says. The movie was much better than I thought it was going to be. I, also, didn’t see it at the theater. Even so, it was visually appealing and mostly true to the book. Also, I particularly enjoyed seeing Pi pelted by flying fish. It was quite entertaining! 

That being said, there were several differences between the book and the movie. One, that Laura mentions, is when Pi writes his name on the board, emphasizing that he wants to be called Pi, rather than his birth name, Piscine, because it sounds too much like “pissing.” While, in the book, Pi does write his name on the board, he does not have the mathematical equation memorized. He does not write it down on the board. There is never a teacher confirming that he has the number correct. Pi is not a genius.

In addition, in order to truly grasp the violence that Pi is exposed to in the boat, the audience should have experienced more of it with him. Instead, we were given a modified version in order to appease the masses, which, in my opinion, makes the movie benign and boring.

One of the most obscure scenes from the book is also left out of the movie: when Pi and Richard Parker are both blind (which doesn’t really happen in the movie either), Pi’s boat bumps into another man’s boat, a French cook, who ultimately tries to eat him. Most likely, this moment in the book is a brief window into Pi’s psyche and the reality that Pi is trying to deal with. This scene would have been difficult to portray in the film, so I can see why the director chose to leave it out.

A scene I was glad to see was left out was when Pi tries to eat Richard Parker’s feces while on the boat. It was bad enough reading it and then reading the alternate ending, realizing he likely was eating his own feces. This was probably best left out of the film.

Verdict: Rent it if you have read the book. I was kind of bored by the overuse of computer animation and lack of violence. Both stories that Pi tells are equally horrific, but I think the movie makes both too easy to take. We feel bad for Pi, but we aren't as horrified by what he has gone through as we are when we read the book. However, if you are someone who has not read the book, you probably would have enjoyed it in the theater more than me because you wouldn't feel like you were being cheated by during certain scenes.

So, what's your verdict? Did you see Life of Pi? Please share with us what you think! 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

LitStarter: Bringing You the Best in Bookish Projects

Welcome to another installment of LitStarter! This is a regular look at some of my favorite projects I discovered through two popular crowd funding websites: Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The featured projects will be related to literature and comics, but not limited to publishing or writing projects.

The project featured this week is Comics With A Cause: Speaking Up On Violence Against Women! A small, but mighty team of activists in Vancouver, Canada want to spread awareness about -- and ultimately end -- violence against women. They want achieve this goal by creating a series of three comics books entitled BRANDED and make them available for free online to everyone. Their Indiegogo campaign aims at funding the first comic in the series. They're asking for $15,000 in order to pencil, ink, letter, color, research, and publish the comic. The team behind Comics With A Cause wants to make their message accessible to everyone, which is their reason for the choice of comic book format.

Here at Classics Without All the Class, we are all about making reading accessible to everyone and we think comics are a great way to do that. We are also a team of female writers (with the exception of Karena's husband and our Tech-tator, Jared). At some point, one -- or all -- of us have experienced violence against women ourselves or know a loved one or friend who has been affected by it. While the thought of eradicating it seems insurmountable, it can become a reality. Projects like Comics With A Cause are working toward that reality by educating others and bringing positive attention to the survivors, rather than the perpetrators, of assault.

Please consider backing this project. Help take step toward creating a better, safer future for all women. 

Required Reading

Our Tators are always reading. Here are their favorite books for the month of May.
May's Required Reading

More of All's books »

Book recommendations, book reviews, quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists

I recently finished the short story supplements to the Chaos Walking trilogy, entitled The New World, The Wide, Wide Sea, and Snowscape. If you have read the series, you should definitely read these short stories. They are great additions to the plot and gave me just the closure I needed after the final book in the original trilogy

My Required Reading is Matthew Amster-Burton's Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo. It's about fun, family, and food in Japan as the author spends a summer in Tokyo with his wife and eight year-old daughter in a tiny apartment. It is equal parts laugh-out-loud funny, saliva-inducing, and wanderlust string-pulling. You will probably be packing your bags for Japan mid-book. Full review forthcoming!

Bonk is a refreshing, realistic view on a topic that is often shied away from in the mainstream. It also has some well done studies that aren't in the public eye. I'm not all the way finished with it, but loving it so far.

 I listened to The First Part Last on audio and I think that the narrator did an absolutely fantastic job. When I started I wasn't sure if I would life this book, but I ended up loving it.  I also liked that this is a look at not only teenage fatherhood, but teenage single fatherhood which is a whole other ball game!  

I really enjoyed Where'd You Go, Bernadette as I mentioned in my review earlier this month. It was snarky, funny and at its core, heartwarming. 

Like the main character in Cat's Eye, a few years ago, I just moved back to the town where I grew up. I strongly identify with Elaine's feelings and how she is reminded of her childhood by her familiar surroundings.  She is wants to see her old friends yet is hesitant at the same time.

Did you have any favorites this month?