Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Butterfly Swords

Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin
Harlequin, 2010
282 pages
Historical; Romance
3.5/5 stars

Source: Netgalley

Summary: Princess Ai Li flees her wedding processional and runs in to westerner Ryam, a foreigner but someone she feels she can trust.  Now they must return to her home city so she can warn her emperor father about betrayal all the while fighting her off her fiance's warriors and their own growing attraction.

Thoughts: I thought the red on the cover was very striking and I was interested to try a historical romance that wasn't set during Regency times (although that is still my preferred time period).  I was a bit confused about everything; although I have taken a Chinese imperial history class, it was a while ago.  Thus I recognized the Tang dynasty and I quickly figured out that this story was set during a time of upheaval, even as the period as a whole was enhancing culture.  Although this is a romance, I was much more interested in the historical aspects than the love story.

The main characters are Ai Li, an imperial princess, and Ryam, a western barbarian.  I really liked Ai Li; she was strong, had talent with her butterfly swords, had the capacity for love, and high standards for honor.  Ryam is struggling more because he believes himself a failure in command and that he doesn't fit in with her culture.  I really enjoyed reading about them trying not to succumb to lust and I liked it less once they did.  I much preferred the sexual tension.

And at the ending, the main problem seemed resolved fairly quickly.  Ai Li was supposed to marry warrior Li Tao and thus secure his loyalty to her father the emperor but instead Li Tao and Ryam fight for her.  And then Ryam and Ai Li go off together with her father's acceptance.  It might help if there's a sequel showing Li Tao raising a rebellion against her family or something because I didn't get closure from that aspect.

There were also four secondary characters I really liked. Lady Ling, a former courtesan at court; Princess Miya, a former princess now married to a westerner; Ai Li's mother, a stoic, honorable woman; and Ai Li's grandmother, who was supposed to fight Ryam to see if he was worthy of Ai Li.  I enjoyed their brief appearances and I would especially like to know more about the grandmother.

Overall: Okay romance but I wanted more of the history!

Cover: Beautiful-I love the bold red!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Grace

Grace by Elizabeth Scott
Dutton Books, 2010
200 pages
YA; Dystopian
3.5/5 stars

Source: Bought

Summary: In a dystopian future, Grace has been raised to be a suicide bomber.  But she doesn't want to do that; she wants to get out.  Now she's traveling with a mysterious stranger on her way to escape although in a place of uncertain loyalties, she might not make it...

Thoughts: I love Elizabeth Scott, as I believe I've mentioned but I tend to prefer her romantic comedies to her darker stories.  I recognize her talent and the power of those stories (especially Living Dead Girl) but I like lighter stories. Very personal preference.

I really enjoyed the backstory as Grace described her history and the expectations of her people on her.  She was not loved by her family but it was considered a great honor to be chosen to serve as an Angel.  There are really only four characters: Grace, her "friend," the man who helped her escape, and the man she's traveling with.  Additionally there are the moral questions raised about the government and the rebel group's philosophies.

My quibble is about the format of the book: it's a huge font, with extraordinarily big spacing, and thus while it's technically 200 pages, it reads much shorter.

Overall: Nice story from Scott but not her best.

Cover: Haunting.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke
Bloomsbury, 2006
235 pages
Short stories; fairy tale
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: A collection of short stories with magical elements and fairy tale aspects.

Thoughts: I put this on my list after reading Irena's review at This Miss Loves to Read and after remembering how much I enjoyed reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (pre-blog with delightful footnotes!) I found the writing lovely, at some points reminiscent of Jane Austen (high praise from me!)  I enjoyed the variety of style, tone, theme, and length in the stories. Now for a closer but brief look at each.

The  Ladies of Grace Adieu: Set in the universe of Jonathan Strange and apparently referenced in the book itself; this is about ladies using magic which was frowned on by Mr Norrell. I liked the ladies but not fantastic. 4/5

On Lickerish Hill: Retelling of Rumpelstiltskin with archaic spelling that made it difficult to read thus only 3.5/5

Mrs Mabb: A lady returns from nursing her friend to find that her beloved has fallen under the sway of Mrs. Mabb.  She attempts to fight for him, despite the magical confusion around.  I really felt for Venetia as she bravely fought for Captain Fox who she was certain had not abandoned her.  4.5/5

The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse: Very short, set in the same world as Stardust. The Duke of Wellington plays with the thread of time and fate. 4/5

Mr Simonelli or The Fairy Widower: Mr Simonelli is the new rector who ends up matching wits with a fairy lord and ensnaring himself in romantic entanglements; told through his journal entries, a format I really love. 5/5

Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby: A Jew and a fairy king travel to Lincoln and end up constructing a bridge. 4.5/5

Antickes and Frets: This is about Mary, Queen of Scots and her imprisonment by Elizabeth I.  While she attempted to leave, she couldn't and used embroidery as a coping mechanism. 4/5

John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner: Possibly my favorite. A charcoal burner lives in isolation and gets revenge on Fairy King John Uskglass multiple times; quite funny and very quick. 5/5

Overall: Very enjoyable even without having read Jonathan Strange (I can barely remember anything about it) and highly recommended!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Breakfast at Tiffany's (Film)

Breakfast at Tiffany's, 1961
Starring Audrey Hepburn and Mickey Rooney
Directed by Blake Edwards
Based on a novella by Truman Capote

I will admit that I'm not a big fan of this movie but after watching some really violent war films, my friend and I wanted to watch a film that a. featured no deaths and b. had some women.  Check and check plus the bonus of an adorable cat!  Of course there is Rooney's awful racist portrayal of a Japanese landlord which left us cringing and is definitely a minus.

But I loved her clothes and I could almost buy this as a romance, especially with the ending in the rain.  Overall I would say that you should see this film if you haven't!

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Amy Einhorn Books, 2009
444 pages
Historical; Women's Fiction
4.5/5 stars

Source: Bought

Summary: This novel is told from the perspective of three women: Aibileen, an African-American maid who's worked in white households for years; Minny, an African-American maid who frequently offends her bosses despite her excellent cooking; and Skeeter, a white woman looking for a purpose.  It is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s.

Thoughts: My mom was talking about books with friends and was recommended this; she wasn't sure.  Then she told me about it and I looked at her (via Skype) and said that it was exactly the kind of book she'd love.  So she bought it, read it, loved it (of course-I know what my mama likes!) and then she lent it to me to read as well.  I wasn't sure how I'd feel about it but it struck my eye so I picked it up off the shelf.

Well, I really liked it!  I flew through it and this plus Revolution helped me get back in to reading again!  I was definitely thinking about the movie as I read it; I can see Viola Davis as Aibileen and Octavia Spencer as Minny but I'm not sure about Emma Stone as Skeeter-I think she's a talented actress but I've only seen her in comedies so I'm excited to see how she handles this.  To be honest, I mostly read it due to the hype and the fact that it will be turned in to a movie.  That doesn't make it a bad book (I loved it), it's just what I was more focused on.

Overall: Good story; excited for the movie!

Cover: At first I didn't even notice that these were birds; I just remembered the purple part for the title.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!



To my American friends: Happy Thanksgiving!  Enjoy your meal and I'll see you tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Revolution

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
Delacorte Press, 2010
472 pages
Historical/Contemporary; YA
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: Andi's father is absent, her mother is crazy, and her brother is dead.  All that consoles her are her drugs and music and lately they haven't been too helpful.  When her father finally wakes up to her failing grades, he drags her to Paris on a business trip so that she can do research for a paper.  While there she finds the remarkable story of a young woman during the French Revolution that changes her life.

Thoughts: I've been in a bit of a reading slump lately (luckily I had prepared posts far in advance).  I just kept reading books that weren't grabbing me.  So one day I walked in to my library and I saw Revolution staring at me; it looked familiar because a. it was on my goodreads to-read list and b. it had been featured on some blogs (although not as many as I would have thought, probably because it's not paranormal/dystopian).  I went over to it and was surprised at its bulk (I mean 472 pages?! Crazy!) but decided to check it out anyway.  I'm very glad I did as I devoured it and feel over my reading slump! Let's break it down in to categories.

Angst: So much angst! Andi doesn't want to do anything and contemplates suicide multiple times in the book.  Additionally, there is the strained relationship between her and her father (each thinks the one blames the other for the brother's death) which is not completely resolved at the end.  Usually that bothers me, but it worked here as both Andi and her mother have healed enormously from their situations at the beginning.

Love story: Andi does meet a guy while in Paris, Virgil (ugh-name) who is a Frenchman of Algerian descent-I really enjoyed the hints at the conflict in France between the former colonizer and colonized; I would like to read more fiction about that.  I wasn't really invested in their relationship beyond the fact that it made Andi happy.

History: I'm not a big fan of a. French history in general or b. the French Revolution in particular (I have attitude about the French) but this focuses on a much different aspect than usually presented in history books. Instead it looks at the dauphin, Louis-Charles, who was kept confined in a tower after the Revolution until he died and the young woman, Alex, who committed herself to keeping up his spirits.  This is mostly told through diary entries and sometimes they seemed a bit long to me; that is the part I probably would have tried to trim a bit.

Time Travel: Andi ends up going back in time and replacing the young woman which is what leads her to her insights. She meets the composer she's writing about and she gains some closure about her angst.  I thought this played a bigger role based on the synopsis I had read but it's actually quite short.

Music: Andi is a guitarist which means there are a lot of references to music throughout the book.  I didn't know many of the artists (I like musicals and country) and it had a composer who I'd never heard of!  Luckily it turns out he was fake so that Donnelly could create the backstory she wanted for him.

Overall: Fantastic! My first Jennifer Donnelly but not my last (I have The Tea Rose at home and others on my tbr list).

Cover: I'm not sold on the black and white picture next to the color but I really like the red ribbon.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It Started With a Dare

It Started With a Dare by Lindsay Faith Rech
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010
305 pages
YA; Contemporary
3.5/5 stars

Source: Netgalley

Summary: CG has moved to a new school and sees this as her opportunity to make herself over as a popular rebellious girl with a mysterious background.  Along the way she is entangled in two romantic relationships and is enmeshed in all of her lies.

Thoughts: Wow-does CG lie a lot! I really liked her at the beginning (she lives in southeastern Pennsylvania, roughly where I'm originally from) and she was funny and an outcast.  But then she starts lying and lying and lying.  She starts up an online flirtation with her English teacher; she starts up a flirtation with her friend's older brother, who has a girlfriend; she lies about having been an alcoholic; she shuns the one girl who genuinely likes her; she lies about her relationship experience; etc.  I was disgusted most particularly with the way she brushed off how the affair with the teacher was inappropriate and she whined a lot about all of her lying without doing anything to remedy it.

At the end, her parents find out mostly everything and punish her. I am somewhat uncomfortable with her parents' invading her privacy; although she is a minor (she turns 16 toward the end of the book), I do believe that she is deserving of some privacy.  Of course she was doing awful things with little thought to the consequences and she definitely deserved punishment.  I'm turn on this aspect.  She ends the book pretty happy with herself, but I wasn't.

Overall: Unlikeable main character with a few funny turn of phrases and an almost redemption

Cover: It's very cute with the cherry lollipop.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Seeds of Turmoil

Seeds of Turmoil by Bryant Wright
Thomas Nelson, 2010
173 pages
Non-fiction; Christian
3/5 stars

Source: Received for review via Booksneeze

Summary: Wright argues a. that the roots of the conflict in the Middle East are inevitable and b. in favor of Israel.

Thoughts: I requested to review this because I don't know much about this conflict and I wanted to see a Christian perspective.  Now this certainly has a lot of Scripture references; in fact it tells the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar repeatedly in the first part.  That is where the conflict comes from.  Abraham and Sarah were supposed to have a child who would be the covenant child from God (Isaac).  Instead he sins with Hagar, fathering Ishmael the father of Muslims and planting the seeds of conflict.

He also argues that God promised the land of Israel (and actually even more territory) to the Jewish people making it theirs and that all Bible-believing Christians should support Israel.  I feel like I don't know enough about this to decide where I stand but that was at least somewhat convincing.

Overall: Too repetitive and not fully tied together in a cohesive convincing way.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Absolute Value of -1

The Absolute Value of -1 by Steve Brezenoff
Lerner, 2010
289 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Netgalley

Summary: Told from multiple perspectives, looking at the entwined lives of four young people as they try to live their lives.

Thoughts: It opens with someone named Suzanne in a way that confused me.  Then it jumps to the first part with Lily sharing about her awful family and telling her story about her love for Simon; I really identified with her feelings about the boy even though her copious drug use was off-putting.  Unfortunately her feelings are not reciprocated; we get more insight in to why during Simon's section.

Then it goes to misguided drug dealer Noah who likes Lily/Lily's chest but knows no way of wooing her; not that it would matter because he can see that she's crazy for Simon, his best friend.  His family life is also awful with a father who likes to beat on his mother and seems to hate him.

Then we go to the longest section of the book which is told from Simon's point of view.  He writes stream of conscious stories (blech) and his father has cancer, which is the catalyst for Simon making a complete 180 from a loser stoner to runner with a runner girlfriend.  I already didn't like Simon for breaking Lily's heart but I can understand it a bit more.

I don't think this is really my kind of book as it's almost too realistic (maybe I'm sheltered-do teenagers really smoke so many cigarettes and pot? My friends and I certainly didn't) with teens dealing with many difficult issues and there's no happy ending.  I much prefer funny books with a happily ever after-that is not found here.

Overall: Not my taste. But still well-written and interesting.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Hurt Locker (Film)

The Hurt Locker, 2009
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Starring Jeremy Renner and Guy Pearce
131 minutes
Academy Award Winner-Best Picture

Summary: A look at a team that disarms improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and the brash team leader and his two compatriots in post-invasion Iraq, 2004.

Thoughts: I was so excited about this and I couldn't wait to see it, whether by buying the DVD or renting it from the library.  A couple weeks ago I finally had the chance to see it.  And well...I really didn't like it.  I don't know if I overhyped it in my head, if I was a bit worn out because I watched it right after Saving Private Ryan, or if it's just not the kind of film I like (quite probably all of those reasons).

It opened strongly with a suspenseful ten minutes that had me sitting on the edge of my seat (not literally, I sprawl when I watch movies).  And then it just went on and I didn't like it.  I really like Pearce (Memento-yeah!) and Renner (I loved him on The Unusuals which is on hulu for Americans who might be interested).  I didn't know the other actors but they were fine.  It was the story I didn't like.

I'm really disappointed that I didn't love this movie.  But it still counts toward me watching all of the best picture winners (remember I'm over halfway there!)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry, A History

Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli
Pocket Books, 2008
330 pages
Non-fiction; Harry
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: Anelli started as a fan of HP and soon emerged as the webmistress of the Leaky Cauldron.  She sets out to investigate the phenomenon that is Harry in this book.

Thoughts: I grew up with Harry although I cannot claim to have been one of the first readers; I was probably 8 when I read Sorcerer's Stone and then I was 17 for Deathly Hallows.  Thus I missed out on a lot of the sensation at the beginning being a. young and b. rather sheltered.  It was interesting to read about the passionate immediate fans and the explosion.  From my POV, it really exploded in anticipation of HP5 but this book helps fill in the spaces.

I understand Anelli's point with this book but I felt that she would have been better off writing more about the world of Harry.  She ends talking about an eight-hour interview she conducted with JK Rowling and that's the place where she's most passionate.  When she talks about the minutiae of the series and the themes, she's golden.  When she talks about the outside, it's less interesting.

Two particular things bugged me.  First Anelli's description of herself immediately post-graduation.  Basically she sat around mooching off of her parents and complaining; that really turned me off.  Second, she's kind of a ***** about people who shipped H/H.  Now that bothered me as someone who yes does like Harry and Hermione.  I feel like the smart heroine and the very heroic hero could belong together; Ginny is still a bit of a Mary Sue to me; and I just never really liked Ron-he rubbed me the wrong way.  I do not persist in championing H/H because the books are done although I do block out the epilogue (there are other reasons for that).  But I hated the way she wrote about H/H vs R/H and that soured me on the book.

Overall: A competent narrative although I wish she had changed her focus to inside rather than outside the books.

Cover: Cute.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Deathly Hallows Lectures

The Deathly Hallows Lectures by John Granger
Zossima, 2008
276 pages
Non-fiction; Harry Potter
2/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: An examination of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to look at its multiple layers and meanings and argue for the greater significance of these children's books.

Thoughts: I had read some other Granger books and while there were some boring sections, I thought it would be worth it to read some more.  I was wrong-I was so bored and I struggled to finish it (I'm not sure why I didn't just give up).  I liked the parts where he actually talks about Harry but not the long discussions about alchemical literature and I did not enjoy the exhortations to buy his other books.

The part I liked the most was the FAQ at the end. It was shorter and focused more on the books instead of the possible influences.

Overall: Boring; not recommended.

Cover: Combines Harry with lecturing in a cute way.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Terry Pratchett Challenge Completed

Completed:

Unseen Academicals
Thud
Small Gods
Mort
Hogfather
Guards! Guards!

Four of these were on my original list while the other two I added in based on convenience. I originally thought I wasn't going to be able to do this but I buckled down and get it done. I pronounce this challenge successful!

Guards! Guards!

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
HarperTorch, 1989
355 pages
Discworld; Fantasy; Comic
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: A mysterious group decides to summon a dragon in order to overthrow the Patrician and install a king who will malleable to their will.  Meanwhile Sam Vimes is an alcoholic captain of the laughable Watch who finds hidden strength when confronting this crisis. [But really the plot's not that important.]

Thoughts: After reading Thud, I really wanted to read more novels of the Watch.  This is the first one focused on the Watch and it is far different from the much later Thud.  Here the Watch is a joke with four (loyal) members; this is also the novel where he meets his wife, Lady Sybil who I adore.  Their love story, which is not the focus if you're someone who doesn't like love stories, was my favorite part.

But there are also a lot of funny bits.  Carrot is a human raised by dwarves who does not understand figures of speech and has tremendous strength.  He is important to revitalizing the Watch. We also see Nobby and Colon who continue in the Guard.  Then there is the Patrician, my third favorite Discworld character (after Death and Moist von Lipwig).  He gets some great lines here and I loved getting to read more about him.

Overall: Another funny story with a bit of a romance that really elevates the book for me.

Quotes:
"A book  has been taken. A book has been taken? You summoned the Watch...because someone's taken a book? You think that's worse than murder?" -Yes the Librarian does think that, p.108

"Never trust a ruler who puts his faith in tunnels and bunkers and escape routes. The chances are that his heart isn't in the job." -Sound advice from the Patrician, p. 286

Cover: Love the green! And the dragon is fitting.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hogfather

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
HarperPrism, 1996
292 pages
Discworld; Fantasy; Comedy
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: The Auditors exist as a blob with no distinguishable traits.  They hate people for messing up the world and consequently have decided to "kill" the Hogfather (he can't exactly be killed like a human but it's similar).  In order to maintain the very fabric of the universe Death assumes the role of the Hogfather and very definitely does not ask his granddaughter Susan to interfere.

Thoughts: I was a little confused about everything going on here.  There are basically three threads: Death fulfilling the Hogfather's duties, Susan tracking down what's going on, and occasionally the Auditors would show up for short stretches of the book.  Death and Susan each had their own plans and couldn't communicate straightforwardly which caused my confusion.  I love Death as I think I've mentioned a lot.  Susan was a great character.  Having read Mort and knowing about her family, I could appreciate her more.

Quotes:

"If you left off traditions because you didn't know why they started you'd be no better than a foreigner." -footnote on page 115

"It's amazing how good governments are, given their track record in almost every other field, at hushing up things like alien encounters." -footnote on page 155

Lawyer slam! "It's a nicer version of Death Row, with the bonus of now lawyers." -footnote on page 213 (I guess I really enjoy the footnotes!)

Overall: A very funny story although I was a little confused.

Challenge: This is book 5 of 6 for the TP challenge and guess what's tomorrow?

Monday, November 15, 2010

1 Year

This is technically my one-year blogoversary; however I don't really think of it as such because I basically took a break for most of January and February.  Thus I will not be celebrating anything at this point.  Hopefully I will plan something awesome next year in February to celebrate my entry in to sustained blogging.

Otherwise, thank you for reading and have a great day!

The Last Full Measure

The Last Full Measure by Ann Rinaldi
Harcourt, 2010
209 pages
Historical Fiction; Middle-Grade
3/5 stars

Source: Netgalley

Summary: Tacy is a young girl in the town of Gettysburg, PA with two brothers serving in the army and her father gone as a doctor in 1863.  This leaves her at home with her crippled older brother and her mother as battle approaches.  The battle and its aftermath challenge Tacy and leave her scrambling to make sense of this terrible war.

Thoughts: I remember loving Ann Rinaldi's fiction especially Time Enough for Drums and In My Father's Room; I remember them seeming terribly romantic. This one though is more middle-grade with a 14-year old protagonist who seems a lot younger.  This is not helped by her language which is not always perfectly correct English by today's standards but probably good enough back then.  I think the fact that Tacy is so young was a reason that I didn't like this book; I had trouble connecting with her youth as I prefer an older protagonist.

Her brother David was a bewildering character.  One minute he's loving, then he's angry.  He wants to be helpful, he's outraged and making Tacy cry.  I could not get a handle on him and did not enjoy reading about him.  His role in the story is rather important but I did not care about it.

Then there is the speed of the plot: perhaps it's an accurate representation of war.  Sometimes everything was happening so fast and then it seemed like nothing was happening.  The ending in particular moved fast, with two important deaths, Lincoln's visit to Gettysburg, and a bit of happy news.

I did appreciate the fact that it looked at the civilian population of Gettysburg though.  I feel like most Civil War books focus on the Southern perspective where the war was literally fought instead of examining the North (the winners-woot!)  I've never read a novel focusing on this aspect so I liked that.  Historically it seemed pretty accurate.  I was surprised by how much food they had but then the North was not under a blockade and was perfectly capable of supporting itself unlike the South.

Something Rinaldi shared in her author's note is that she wanted to discuss the presence of a free black community in Gettysburg, something I knew nothing about and I bet most people don't either.  Tacy has a black friend Marvelous and some tensions develop that Tacy has to deal with as she learns and grows from the experience.

Overall: Youngness of main character off-putting to me; Different side of Civil War shown.

Cover: Her hair is weird to me-I feel like it's too light compared with all of the other colors on the cover.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mort

Mort by Terry Pratchett
Signet, 1987
181 pages
Discworld; Comedy; Fantasy
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: Mort has been chosen as an apprentice to Death.  As Mort tries to tamp down his human side (which keeps insisting on fairness), Death tries to experience the life of a human.  Neither is quite successful and Death and Mort end up dueling.  But all ends well in Discworld!

Thoughts: This is actually the fourth Discworld novel to be published.  I'm more familiar with Pratchett's later work so it was interesting to read a book from the start of the series.  I was super excited about this because Death is my favorite character in Discworld (well tied with Moist von Lipwig).  He is an anthropomorphic personification and he is so much better in these books than in other books which have also used Death as a character.  In this book, he takes Mort on as an apprentice.  Mort is introduced to the mysterious Albert and to Death's daughter Ysabell.  On one of his first solo jobs, Mort accidentally doesn't kill a princess which sets in motion the main plot.

Meanwhile Death is off trying to experience happiness through gambling, drinking, and other human activities.  He also has a fondness for cats, which endears him even more to me; you know, people can be so mean to cats sometimes and it just breaks my heart.

You can kind of tell that it's an early book because it's so narrowly focused; I feel like the later books I've read tie together more strings and are just generally more ambitious.  That doesn't make this a bad book; it's just one of the differences I noticed.

Overall: A good entry in the Discworld series; recommended for fans of Death.

Challenge: This is the fourth book for my Terry Pratchett challenge.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saving Private Ryan (Film)

Saving Private Ryan, 1997
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Edward Burns, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Ted Danson, Paul Giamatti, Nathan Fillion
169 minutes
Rated R

Summary: Beginning on D-Day, this traces a group of American men who must find Private Ryan to return him home to his mother as his three brothers have all died in the war.

Thoughts: I had started to watch this another time but got derailed because it is so long and difficult to watch.  Then my friend found out that I hadn't seen it so she said we should.  I don't really have much to say. Tom Hanks is amazing of course. The ending made me cry and as I type this I'm tearing up again remembering it.

I mentioned Nathan Fillion above even though he has a very small role because it made me smile and I was so pleased to recognize him.

I'm not sure how realistic all of the battle scenes are (re troop actions, weapons used) but it was an awful experience to watch the men fall and hear all of the noise.  While I already knew that war was hellish, this confirms that impression.

To go in a different direction, I've heard it said that Shakespeare in Love should not have won the Best Picture Oscar over this film.  I personally prefer SiL to SPR because it had a female lead (SPR has no major female characters) and it's a comedy, a genre frequently ignored or denigrated by the Academy in my observations.  Of course it's hard because both are really good films and in different years each could have emerged as the clear contender.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Once Upon a Mattress

Once Upon a Mattress
Composed by Mary Rodgers
Premiered 1959

This is a fun musical with music provided by Mary Rodgers, daughter of Richard Rodgers and mother of Adam Guettel (I think it's awesome that they're a family with three generations of Broadway composers.)

It is basically the tale of "The Princess and the Pea" but with a few twists and plenty of references to other fairy tales.  It has been on Broadway twice, the first time starring Carol Burnett and the second time with Sarah Jessica Parker.  Cast recordings of both are available and I would definitely recommend them.  There was also a TV movie version that I do not recommend although it features Zooey Deschanel, who I adore, and Matthew Morrison, who of course has now found greater fame through Glee as the secondary couple.  Carol Burnett also shows up this time as the antagonist.

I'm not sure any of the songs are famous on their own but I include the list here in case they are:
Overture
Many Moons Ago
An Opening for a Princess
In a Little While
Shy
The Minstrel, the Jester, and I
Sensitivity
The Swamps of Home
Normandy
Spanish Panic
A Girl Named Fred
Entr'acte
Quiet
Goodnight Sweet Princess
Happily Ever After
Man to Man Talk
Very Soft Shoes
Yesterday I Loved You
Nightingale Lullaby
Finale

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rites of Spring

Rites of Spring by Modris Eksteins
First Mariner Books, 2000
Originally published 1989
331 pages
Non-fiction; History; WWI
4/5 stars

Summary: A new examination of WWI, its origins, actions, and aftermath on the twentieth century.

Thoughts: I read this for class and I enjoyed it a lot.  It's not too scholarly (ie not esoteric) but it is in depth looking at motivations for war on all sides, art, literature, the battles, etc. as well as looking at the end and the lead up to Hitler.  I appreciated the fact that I didn't have to be a WWI scholar to follow what was happening.

One problem I had was that he had the war ending and then jumped ahead to Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic, which skipped almost ten years.  I'm not sure I understand the reason for doing so.

Overall: An interesting cultural history of WWI.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In For a Penny

In For a Penny by Rose Lerner
Leisure Books, 2010
310 pages
Romance; Historical
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: After Nev's father dies, he is in desperate need of money.  He turns to fabulously wealthy but untitled Penny, asking for her hand in marriage because he needs money.  While Penny is pleased in her elevation in status, she finds that her new role comes with the pressures of restoring Nev's family's estate, navigating her role in the family, dealing with his aggrieved tenants, and a menacing neighbor.  Nev and Penny must rely on each other...will it be enough?

Thoughts: I saw this when it first came out, mentioned on quite a few blogs and I was intrigued especially because of the glowing reviews I read.  I was pretty pleased with the novel as a whole with a few big problems.

I fell in love immediately with the very charming Nev and Penny.  I was very invested in their relationship and I liked that they got married earlier on so that most of their romance was them learning to navigate marriage.  They really grew to love and care for each other.  I also adored her parents and I even kind of liked his mother although she's a total snob and is rather mean to Penny.

Then there are the things I didn't like. I did not really enjoy the social commentary; it's very different from the romance novels I know best.  I could have appreciated it more if I had been expecting it.  Basically the tenants on Nev's lands have been oppressed leading to them poaching and violent retribution in turn from Nev's neighbor.

While the couple started out charming, they got a bit old with their constant worrying about the other.  Penny worried about being a lady, about being charming enough, and about Nev lying to her.  Nev thinks he's not good enough for her (rather true!)  They both want the other to love them but are too embarrassed to speak truthfully with each other.  I can handle a bit of that in a romance novel but it went on too long for my taste.

And a few quick ones that make more sense if you've read it: The villain was a bit overdone.  I did not appreciate seeing Nev's ex-mistress resurface.  Louisa=brat!  I did not gain closure from Lerner's treatment of her and I maintain a grudge.

Overall: I'm happy that I read this and I will keep an eye out for Lerner's next novel, A Lily Among Thorns.

Cover: Very different from other romance novels (nothing embarrassing) and the somewhat melancholy air captures the social commentary aspect of the novel while the gold relates to money, in my interpretation.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tarzan of the Apes

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Signet,
Originally published 1914
294 pages
Classic; Adventure
4/5 stars

Source: Bought

Summary: The classic adventure of Tarzan, the child of English gentry raised by apes who combines the best of both worlds.

Thoughts: I read this for school and I was really interested to a. see how it related to our topics of imperialism and social Darwinism and b. compare it to the Disney film Tarzan.

Let's start with the second part; Disney definitely made good changes in my book.  First they made Tarzan's mother a bit stronger. In the book she basically dies of weakness; that's all.  There are not as many scenes of Tarzan fighting in the movie which would have been brutal for the young audience at which it is aimed. And the humans arrive much earlier in the film; additionally they cut out the unnecessary Mr Philander and the horrifically stereotyped Esmeralda.  Clayton, the villain in the film, is an okay guy here although obviously not as heroic as Tarzan.  The ending is also very different because this has twenty-two sequels!

As to the topics of my course, both can be seen here.  The main thread is that Burroughs constantly (or at least it feels like) praises Tarzan's white male brain as being so superior to everyone else.  He combines brutal strength with that magnificent brain in order to be king of the jungle and defeat all of his opponents.  The African tribal people we see are cannibals, superstitious, and they don't wear many (or any?) clothes. Tarzan is shown as very obviously superior in his ability to manipulate them; this ability is his because he is white.  There are other moments to mention but I don't want this to be a long academic review so I will end there.

Overall: It's an interesting adventure story with a suspenseful style but I don't love it.  Worth a read if you see it in your library but not a must.

Cover: I like the green and the tree as representative of the jungle.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Originally published 1966
110 pages
Feminist; Classic
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: A postcolonial and feminist novel exploring the life of "Bertha Rochester," immortalized as the madwoman in the attic, the wife of Jane Eyre's love Rochester.  But was she a madwoman? Where did she come from? How did she come to such an end?

Thoughts: Somehow I thought this was part of my FITG challenge which is why I picked it up.  But apparently my memory fails because it is not.  Still I wanted to read this response to Jane Eyre; I'm not a big fan of the Bront√ęs as I think I've made clear but I still keep trying to force myself to like them.

I really liked it.  I wasn't sure what to expect and it was confusing at first as I tried to understand the social position of the Cosways.  They are a former slave owning family, surrounded by former slaves who loathe them.  Yet they are not rich and are not fully European.  They are caught between two worlds and this is particularly important to understanding Antoinette (Bertha).

It alternates between Antoinette and Rochester's point of view (although I'm not sure he was ever named).  She narrates her childhood.  Then he comes.  He is slime; sent there by his family to marry wealth, he grows to despise her.  He takes her money, has a sexual encounter with a servant right next to her room, and hates her.  She wants his love desperately and he refuses.  In the end, he takes her to England where she eventually starts the fire that takes her own life.  She feels it's better that way...and I don't think she's wrong.

The importance of names and their power is seen here.  Originally she is born Antoinette Cosway; then her mother remarries and her last name becomes Mason; then she marries and is known as Antoinette Rochester; then he renames her Bertha.  He ******* RENAMES her because he doesn't like her original name! I'm so angry about that.

As a next step, I would like to read literary criticism of it because I think that will help me get more out of it.  Although I am not the best reader of classics, I am trying to read more in order to become a more well-read person.  There are probably a lot of things I missed, although I still enjoyed the book.

Overall: I would recommend this to people who've read Jane Eyre with the caveat that the style is very different.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Effi Briest

Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane
Translated by Douglas Parmee
Penguin, 1989/Originally 1895
267 pages
Classic
4/5 stars

Source: Bought

I guess kind of spoilers but the book's over 100 years old so I'm not sure it really matters.

Summary: Effi Briest is a young Prussian aristocratic girl who makes a smart match with Baron Geert von Instetten.  But Geert is didactic and doesn't treat Effi as she might wish.  Thus she has an affair.  Six years later, he discovers her indiscretion and duels her lover. Additionally he divorces her and she ends up dying at the age of 29.

Thoughts: I read this for a class and as I was doing research was surprised to find that it is kind of considered part of an adultery trilogy with the far more famous (although I haven't read them yet) Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina.  I had never heard of it until it was assigned but Thomas Mann has considered it one of the greatest six books.  I'm not sure if I concur but it was a pretty good read.

We read it because of its observations about the stratified nature of Prussian society.  While it is technically unified Germany (post 1871), the main characters are all Prussian aristocrats who live their lives of privilege rather separately from the rising bourgeoisie and certainly from the peasants and workers.

Effi is a sweet girl.  She's 16/17 when we first meet her and her husband Geert is 38 and was kind of a boyfriend of her mother's-ew! But she accepts this as an appropriate match, rejecting the bourgeois notion of marriage for love.  He treats her like a child but they are mostly happy excepting the affair.

The thing about the affair is that if you didn't know what this book is about, it's a revelation that she had an affair.  It's incredibly subtle to modern readers (or at least most of the people in my class including my professor the first time he read it).  She goes off in the woods alone and we never really see the couple interacting.  I mentioned that her husband discovers letters six years later; first Effi is an idiot for not burning the letters but second it's important that it was more than five years because that's the end of the statute of limitations.  That's right, if a woman committed adultery and her husband found out within five years, he could prosecute her.  Note male adultery was not even a misdemeanor.  While he cannot legally take action, he still has internalized aristocratic notions of honor and thus challenges her aristocratic lover.  If the lover hadn't been an aristocrat, then he could not have given satisfaction to Geert.

After the affair, she lives alone without her daughter who Geert turns against her (heartbreaking!) Then she returns home to her parents where she eventually dies.  Speaking of her parents, Parmee in the introduction mentions that some of their scenes could almost come out of Jane Austen; I approve of that statement and enjoyed reading those parts because of that.

Overall: Rather good; important historically but that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable.

Recommendations: I would definitely recommend this if you've read Madame Bovary and/or Anna Karenina so that you can tell me about similarities and differences between them.  Also if you're interested in reading more German literature.  I really only know Goethe but I would like to read more.

Sorry this was so long but thank you for reading or even skimming it.  I actually have still more to say and would love to talk about it with you if you've read it.  My email is on the side and in my profile.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Little Princess (Film)

A Little Princes, 1995
Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Summary: Sara Crewe is going to boarding school as her father goes off to war.  While there, she shakes the establishment up. Then comes news that her father is dead and his assets have been seized; because of this, Sara is now a poor orphan forced to work at the school she formerly attended.  But she maintains her belief that all girls are princesses which helps her keep up her spirits.

Thoughts: I watched this because my friend loves it and I had only seen it the once a long time ago.  I remembered the story but not all of the specific details. It was also great watching with her because she laughed at all my silly comments.  One serious comment though is that her father goes to serve England in WWI as it's 1914.  They arrive in New York and we see another guy going off to serve.  But America didn't enter until 1917.  Are we supposed to believe that guy is British? Because there are no indications of that.  There were a couple of other incidents (race is blipped over...in 1914 America-come on; latex balloons appear) but that was the most egregious.

There were some very cute scenes and it made me a bit teary-eyed at the end.  I don't think I've read the book but after skimming the internet, it seems that there were a lot of changes and I'm not sure I'd like it as much.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Sevenfold Spell

The Sevenfold Spell by Tia Nevitt
Carina Press, 2010
70 pages
Fairy Tale; Adult
4/5 stars

Source: Netgalley

Summary: When Princess Aurora had a curse placed on her, all of the spinning wheels in the land were destroyed.  What happens to the women dependent on them for their living?  For Talia, a very plain girl, a new future is self-created no matter the whispers and rumors and begets the legend of the Sleeping Beauty.

Thoughts: I love fairy-tale retellings so requesting this was a no brainer.  I was a bit shocked at the romantic aspects that occur almost from the start.  When Talia is unable to marry her betrothed due to the loss of her income, she invites him in to her bed.  Continually.  And when he goes off to a monastery, she meets many other men who become her lovers.  I still think of fairy-tales as more meant for children so the descriptions were shocking to me. They made up a larger portion of the narrative, I felt, and that detracted from the quality.  After all there are only seventy pages, so you have to make them count.

But I soon got past it, eager to see how Nevitt would twist the Sleeping Beauty story.  It seems as if the curse is compelling certain events to occur, such as the creation of a spinning wheel and the introduction of Rose, unlike in the Disney film.  I liked all of those changes and I sped through the story.  And of course there's a happy ending!

Overall: Quick-moving, for the mature lover of fairy tales.

Cover: I think the cover is lovely, capturing several of the ideas of the book.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Disappearing Spoon

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
Little, Brown, and Company. 2010
346 pages
Non-fiction; Science
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library (I was browsing through the stacks despite the massive pile I had already checked out and I remembered hearing about this somewhere so I grabbed it)

Summary: The subtitle is "And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements," which I think does a pretty good job of summarizing what this is about.

Thoughts: The best part of this book is that Kean clearly loves the subject.  He is so passionate and he shares that he's been collecting these stories for much all his life.  His particular fascination is with mercury but he covers all the elements (I think) at least once, whether it's its initial discovery or with a new use that it's been put to.

I would also say that he does a good job of breaking down the science bits.  I'm a history person and there is some history here but there is more explanation of the chemistry and physics of the elements.  I'm not sure I understand everything but I know more now than I did before starting the book.

The stories themselves are really interesting and he also gives recommendations of some other books to give a try which I have added to my list.

Explanation of Title: (Not a spoiler, it's on the dust jacket) Apparently gallium melts at 84 degrees Fahrenheit.  Thus some pranksters would take it and mold it into a spoon.  They would serve it with tea and watch their guests' baffled expressions when the spoon disappeared.

Overall: Enjoyable and approachable science/history book.

Cover: I like the incorporation of the spoon and the green seems sciencey.  I think I would have liked to have seen part of the periodic table though.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pearl in the Sand

Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar
Moody Publishers, 2010
317 pages
Inspirational; Historical
4.5/5 stars

Source: Netgalley

Summary: Rahab, the former zonah and yet faithful servant of God, wife of Salmone and mother of Boaz, husband of Ruth and what do we know about her? Afshar takes on her story in this lovely historical book.

Thoughts: I chose to read this because of the Christian Book Club but I wasn't sure what it would be like.  I was intrigued by the idea of this Canaanite harlot marrying a Jewish leader and bearing Boaz who marries Ruth, probably my favorite Biblical female.  I'm really glad I read it though.

Rahab obviously has some serious issues to lay before God.  First her family sent her in to prostitution at the age of 15.  And she harbors anger at especially her father for this, shame at the fact that she did so willingly in order to take care of the family, and fear about being left by a man because she thinks she's unlovable. But she has a deep thirst for God as soon as she hears about Him.  Even before she knew, she recoiled at much of the Canaanite idolatry.  As she learns, she has an almost innate understanding of God but she maintains her amazement at His glory.

Salmone also has issues as he struggles with pride and his role as a leader of Judah.  He had previously been married but had not shared a deep spiritual life with his wife.  He thinks that he could have that with Rabah but he worries about dirtying his lineage by mingling with a Canaanite.  God teaches them both a lot.

The other characters were good particularly Salmone's sister Miriam and Joshua who plays a pretty big role.  These and other characters are useful in demonstrating God's character.  For example, Rahab's sister feels God's forgiveness for her idolatry and He fills the biggest gap in her life.  Miriam struggles with graciousness among other issues.

The epilogue was also great; while I don't usually like them, this introduces Boaz and his parents muse about what kind of woman he'll grow up to marry and how his children will be used by God.

There were two things I didn't really like. First, as a personal preference, I didn't really like the battle scenes.  I understand that Israel is fighting and claiming the Promised Land but I don't like to read those kinds of stories.  Luckily there is a lot more emphasis on the personal side than on the war.  The other problem I had was in the writing style.  Sometimes there were long monologues for characters and it seemed more didactic than how people actually speak.  Some of those passages I liked; some of them I skimmed.

Quotes: I don't usually include quotes but there were two I loved so I'm including them (quotes come from an ARC on Netgalley so they are not necessarily the actual page numbers).

"Son, a woman needs to feel safe in love. She needs to know her husband accepts everything about her and still loves her. To be known through and through, including the failures of her past, the shortcomings of her character, and still be loved, that's the Promised Land of a woman's heart" (238) -Joshua educating Salmone

"It was as if a shaft of love pierced her walled-in soul, and she felt for the first time that she was loved beyond reason, and esteemed far beyond what she deserved...She was worth being cherished..." (294)  -Rahab feeling God's love

Overall: An excellent novel with two very likable main characters; fantastic for those interested in Biblical stories.

Cover: I was not impressed by the cover and only picked it up for the Christian Book Club.  I think I don't like the two faces separated; I'm not sure what exactly displeases me about it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Cinderella Society

The Cinderella Society by Kay Cassidy
Egmont, 2010
322 pages
YA; Contemporary
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: Jess is looking forward to the summer when she can escape Lexy, the bully who has targeted her for the past few months.  Until the last day of school when she receives an invitation in to the Cinderella Society.  These Cindys fight the Wickeds (Lexy being a member) and help protect the Reggies (regular kids) from their influence.  Suddenly everything changes for Jess.

Thoughts: I love anything to do with Cinderella so when I saw the title of this, I knew that I'd be reading it at some point.  But it wasn't quite what I expected.  In some places it read like a self-help guide.  And sometimes it was very shallow as Jess focused on clothes and outer appearances when that was obviously not what the Cindys were about.  Jess's extremely low self-confidence was also annoying; I understand that the teenage years are tough (um, I was a teenager) but when she dwelled on how perfect the other girls were and how not she was, I just wanted to throttle her.  She's been chosen to be part of this awesome organization and she persists in thinking she's not worthy.

Speaking of the organization, I like the idea of powerful ambitious women coming together and working to improve the world but the level of secrecy and not completely understanding the power structure makes me leery of it.  They also seemed a bit simplistic at times; the fact that the Wickeds bear that name seemed unfair as they have some good in them (probably).

Another issue I had was the portrayal of Jess's crush Ryan who had some extreme mood changes although it seems like they're pretty settled in the status of their relationship by the end (whether that's friendship, love, or hate would be a spoiler).

Overall: Cute story bogged down with self-help guidance.  Not sure if I want to read the sequel.

Cover: So pretty with the glass slipper and the pink!

Monday, November 1, 2010

October Stats

October Sum Up:

Books Read This Month: 21
Favorite Book: Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar (review upcoming this week)
Least Favorite Book: The Deathly Hallows Lectures by John Granger (review before the film comes out)
Longest Book: Bleak House by Charles Dickens (finally finished this 817 page tome)
Shortest Book: The Sevenfold Spell by Tia Nevitt, a novella of 70 pages
Most Read Genre: I actually had 5 classics this month (yay-me!) but 7 non-fiction books for school and for fun comprise the most read genre. Oddly I only read 1 YA which I hope to fix this month, I have 6 with me right now plus some other books for review.

Total Pages Read This Year: 72,876
Total Books Read: 231

Plans for November: I have decided that it will be Netgalley November for me; I have some great books on there and I want to read them and promote them.  The other thing is that I will be doing Movie Saturdays where I talk about a film that I've watched lately; one of my best friends and I are watching movies Saturday evenings so I'll talk about the previous week.

Gladiator (Film)

Gladiator, 2000
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, and Richard Harris

I watched this as part of my quest to watch all of the best picture winners.  My friend said it was really good and I mostly agree.  It was very different from what I expected.

I thought that Russell Crowe pissed off the emperor Joaquin Phoenix and was then forced to participate in Gladiator games to his death.  There is actually more to the story.  Emperor Richard Harris wants Russell Crowe to take over and restore Rome to a republic; presumptive heir Joaquin Phoenix does not like that and wants Crowe dead.  Crowe manages to survive and ends up a slave fighting for sport before appearing before emperor Phoenix.

There is a lot of violence, blood, and death (after all the film is rated R).  I generally prefer funny movies and well this is not one but it is still worth watching when you have a chance.
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