Monday, August 29, 2005

Book 59: Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague

TITLE: Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague
AUTHOR: Geraldine Brooks
STARTED: August 24, 2005
FINISHED: August 27, 2005
PAGES: 308
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: I used to love this season.

SUMMARY: [From] When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated mountain village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna's eyes, we follow the story of the plague year, 1666, as her fellow villagers make an extraordinary choice. Convinced by a visionary young minister, they elect to quarantine themselves within the village boundaries to arrest the spread of the disease. But as death reaches into every household, faith frays. When villagers turn from prayers and herbal cures to sorcery and murderous witch-hunting, Anna must confront the deaths of family, the disintegration of her community, and the lure of a dangerous and illicit love. As she struggles to survive, a year of plague becomes, instead, annus mirabilis, a "year of wonders." Inspired by the true story of Eyam, a village in the rugged mountain spine of England. Year of Wonders is a detailed evocation of a singular moment in history.


THOUGHTS: This book was a joy to read. The prose was so lyrical and descriptive that I could almost smell apples on the air. Anna and Michael are amazing characters that I wish interacted more. The way that Brooks sets-up and describes the "year of wonders" is absolutely addicting.

The book made me think about what I would do in the character's situation. Any book that makes you think about something outside of the plot is okay by me. The amount of detail and description that went into writing this text made reading it all that more enjoyable.

MISCELLANEOUS: Note to self: Death by plague is not the preferable way to go.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Putting up on
RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

CR: Devil Takes a Bride by Gaelen Foley
RN: I'll be deep into school work soon... I can't think that far ahead.

Book 58: Sex, Lies, and Vampires

TITLE: Sex, Lies, and Vampires
AUTHOR: Katie MacAlister
STARTED: August 20, 2005
FINISHED: August 23, 2005
PAGES: 342
GENRE: Romance


SUMMARY: [From] As far as she can tell, Nell Harris is either going insane or she is in love. Nell thought she had been summoned to Prague to work on an inscription in a rare fourteenth-century breastplate. Instead, she is immersed in the world of the Moravian Dark Ones (think vampires) when she is swept up in the search for a boy held captive by the demon lord Asmodeus. Although Nell would like nothing better than to use her powers as a "Charmer" to help find the missing boy, the last time she dabbled in magic the consequences were dire. Then Nell meets Adrian Tomas. Bound to serve Asmodeus and forced to betray his fellow Dark Ones, Adrian desperately needs Nell to charm away his curse. One look into Adrian's haunted eyes, and Nell discovers she will do just about anything to save the soul of her new beloved. The third in Mac-Alister's wickedly sexy and wildly humorous Dark Ones series.


THOUGHTS: This is not the best book in the series. It follows MacAlister's formula of witty and romantic tension. There were a few decent one liners but I felt as if MacAlister was settling into a rhythm. I used to love her imagination and creativity... I'm kind of let down. Not a bad read, but not an amazing one either.

MISCELLANEOUS: I want a Dark One.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Sent out over
RATING: 6/10 [Good]

CR: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
RN: Devil Takes a Bride by Gaelen Foley

Book 57: Mr. and Mrs. Smith

TITLE: Mr. and Mrs. Smith
AUTHOR: Cathy East Dubowksi
STARTED: August 16, 2005
FINISHED: August 19, 2005
PAGES: 275
GENRE: Movie Tie-In

FIRST SENTENCE: Katrina - Is the tape on?

SUMMARY: [From] Jane Smith is charming, sexy, successful, and intelligent, a rare combination of domestic goddess and savvy businesswoman. Although she and her equally perfect husband seem to be the ideal couple, the spark has faded from their marriage. That is, until they win free sessions with a counselor. What they keep hidden from their therapist and each other, they confide in the journals they've been coaxed to keep.

John Smith is wealthy, daring, athletic, and smart, a guy who drinks his scotch the way he's climbed to the top of the construction business: straight up. Although he and his equally perfect wife seem to be the ideal couple, the spark has faded from their marriage. That is, until they win free sessions with a counselor. What they keep hidden from their therapist and each other, they confide in the journals they've been coaxed to keep.

Jane and John Smith are actually hired assassins working for rival organizations - and their next assignments are... each other! And so begins the kind of cat-and-mouse game that attracted Jane to John in the first place - a roulette dangereuse that will either lead to a rekindled passion most married couples can only dream about... or to cold-blooded murder.

REASON FOR READING: Saw the movie and thought the book would be better.

THOUGHTS: The book and the movie are almost exactly the same. They have the same tone, the same snappy zest, and the same lines. Since I saw the movie was I was reliving it in my head as I read the book. I liked the diaryish set-up of the plot. I only wish that the novelization was meatier than the film.

MISCELLANEOUS: Brad Pitt... mmmm.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Putting on
RATING: 5/10 [I didn't particularly like it or dislike it; mixed review]

CR: Sex, Lies, and Vampires by Katie MacAlister
RN: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Monday, August 15, 2005

Book 56: From Hell

TITLE: From Hell
AUTHOR: Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
STARTED: August 9, 2005
FINISHED: August 15, 2005
PAGES: 560
GENRE: Graphic Novel

FIRST SENTENCE: "Bloody shambles this last six years."

SUMMARY: [From] The mad, shaggy genius of the comics world dips deeply into the well of history and pulls up a cup filled with blood in From Hell. Alan Moore did a couple of Ph.D.'s worth of research into the Whitechapel murders for this copiously annotated collection of the independently published series. The web of facts, opinion, hearsay, and imaginative invention draws the reader in from the first page. Eddie Campbell's scratchy ink drawings evoke a dark and dirty Victorian London and help to humanize characters that have been caricatured into obscurity for decades. Moore, having decided that the evidence best fits the theory of a Masonic conspiracy to cover up a scandal involving Victoria's grandson, goes to work telling the story with relish from the point of view of the victims, the chief inspector, and the killer--the Queen's physician. His characterization is just as vibrant as Campbell's; even the minor characters feel fully real. Looking more deeply than most, the author finds in the "great work" of the Ripper a ritual magic working intended to give birth to the 20th century in all its horrid glory. Maps, characters, and settings are all as accurate as possible, and while the reader might not ultimately agree with Moore and Campbell's thesis, From Hell is still a great work of literature.

REASON FOR READING: Someone told me I should.

THOUGHTS: I don't think I'm made to read graphic novels. I speed through the text and barely look at the pictures. That in mind, From Hell was not bad. The art was not exactly to my liking, but I like comics to be in color with easily definable lines and such. This art was black and white drawn in slashy lines and shadow.

The text was interesting and I believe Moore puts together a passingly plausible take on Jack the Ripper. Moore doesn't just show us the killer and his work, he gets inside his head. That was the best part of From Hell, you got to see what the killer was thinking. The end notes are both informative and funny.

The novel was, however, quite disturbing.

MISCELLANEOUS: I might give other graphic novels a shot.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): I have to give back to the library from whence it came.
RATING: 6/10 [Good]

CR: Mr. and Mrs. Smith by Cathy East Dubowski
RN: Not a clue. Hopefully not something for school.

Book 55: Beyond Temptation

TITLE: Beyond Temptation
AUTHOR: Mary Reed McCall
STARTED: August 6, 2005
FINISHED: August 8, 2005
PAGES: 365
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: Rain slashed down, the wind sounding an eerie moan as it swept over the leafy grove where Richard de Cantor crouched, gasping, next to the shuddering flanks of his horse. [READER'S NOTE: Seems like a take on "It was a dark and stormy night." to me.]

SUMMARY: [From] Beyond duty...

A proud yet haunted warrior, Sir Richard de Cantor left his past behind when he joined the secret brotherhood of Templar Knights. Now he is returning home to face a challenge greater than any he has ever known: a forbidden promise of ecstasy that dwells in the gentle heart of a fallen noblewoman.

Beyond desire...

Lady Margaret Newcomb has paid dearly for her sins of long ago, her good name stripped away as she was forced into seclusion. Yet such torment is nothing compared to what she suffers when Richard de Cantor enters her world of penance. Here is a man, brave and strong yet tender, whose breathtaking masculinity tempts her to sin once more. To want him is dangerous and taboo. But to deny her passion is to deny life itself and the one chance for a love beyond limits, beyond rapture...


THOUGHTS: I've not read many books set during this time period. For a book that was suppose to be about a Templar Knight there was very little in the way of Templar Knights. I was disappointed. Despite the summer on the back cover I was expecting more action. Particularly more action involving swords. This book could have used some action.

While the plot was interesting, there was just something lacking (and I think it was action - as mention previously). I got bored reading this and my mind wandered. There were so many directions McCall could have taken this book but she chose the tried and true romance novel method. Blah. Even a romance novel can be inventive from time to time.

MISCELLANEOUS: This is one series that I shall not continue.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Share and the send to Melanie.
RATING: 4/10 [An "okay" book, but I don't recommend it]

CR: From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
RN: Mr. and Mrs. Smith by Cathy East Dubowski

Book 54: Her Perfect Earl

TITLE: Her Perfect Earl
AUTHOR: Bethany Brooks
STARTED: August 2, 2005
FINISHED: August 4, 2005
PAGES: 218
GENRE: Romance


SUMMARY: [From] Esmerelda Fortune would never have accepted the position of governess to the Earl of Ashforth's infamous brood of five children were it not for the lure of the Corinna-the ancient manuscript in the widower's possession, which Esmie desperately needs to complete her studies. Besides, her employer will only need her for the three months until his wedding.

REASON FOR READING: Beth told me it was cute and then she handed it to me.

THOUGHTS: Just meh. The story was cute and different from your typical romance, but there was nothing "Wow!" about it.

MISCELLANEOUS: Why can't I have a private library?

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Give back to Beth.
RATING: 4/10 [An "okay" book, but I don't recommend it]

CR: Beyond Temptation by Mary Reed McCall
RN: From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

Book 53: Kushiel's Avatar

TITLE: Kushiel's Avatar
AUTHOR: Jacqueline Carey
STARTED: July 23, 2005
FINISHED: August 1, 2005
PAGES: 750
GENRE: Fantasy

FIRST SENTENCE: It ended with a dream.

SUMMARY: [From] Trained as a courtesan and dedicated to the service of Naamah, the goddess of love, and Kushiel, the god of pain and punishment, Phedre no Dalauney, now a countess and friend of the Queen of Terre d'Ange, finds herself drawn reluctantly into the service of a former enemy. When the traitor Melisande Shahrizai's child disappears, she offers Phedre a bargain: find her son, and she will give Phedre the information she needs to rescue a childhood friend trapped in perpetual service to the gods as the Master of the Straits between Terre d'Ange and the rest of the world. Phedre's search takes her on a trip to exotic and dangerous lands, from the fabled court of the Pharaoh of Mnekhet to the dark and deadly land of Drujan, where a mad king serves a dark god and makes plans to conquer the world. The dramatic conclusion of Carey's trilogy (Kushiel's Dart, Kushiel's Chosen) provides enough loose ends for possible future tales set in an alternate Earth ruled by the descendants of fallen angels and forgotten gods.

REASON FOR READING: Conclusion to a series.

THOUGHTS: This novel was by far the darkest and the best of the trilogy. I felt the characters grow and morph as I read the book. Carey has the unique ability to make the reader actually feel what the characters are living throw. Her ability to explain and draw out Joscelin in particular made this book an extremely enjoyable read.

The plot was, as always, intriguing and addictive. Carey greets a world that is like non-other. The read is both drawn into the story and repulsed by it. In the end, however, they cannot stop reading. The narrative is complete in both style and substance.

This book, as opposed to the others, also made me think about matters brought up by the story. Carey's depictions of god/gods is so intricate that one cannot help but think about their own take on the matter.

Kushiel's Avatar is a phenomenal conclusion to a marvelous series.

MISCELLANEOUS: Another winner.

RATING: 9/10 [Excellent! Couldn't put it down]

CR: Her Perfect Earl by Bethany Brooks
RN: Beyond Temptation by Mary Reed McCall

Monday, August 08, 2005

Book Crawl

Friday was my last day at home until Thanksgiving break. I had not seen my father all week. The Hall of Fame ate him and I was busy with appointments. After my dentist appointment, my father decided that before he took me to Albany airport to fly back to DC we would go on a book crawl through upstate New York.

And by book crawl, I really mean pit stop in Hobart, NY. It's this really small town that has about 5 booksellers within 5 miles of one another. All the other stores in town were closed. My father saw an add for it in some magazine and decided that the two of us should go. I had no problem with that. An afternoon in bookstores with my father. What could be better?

On the way there I was reading the brochure. It turned out that only one of the bookstores was open during the week. How booksellers manage to make a living by only being open on the weekends I'll never know. Lucky for us, the store that was open was the best of the bunch. It was called Bibliobarn and it was situated on a hillside overlooking a gorgeous valley. I was immediately struck by the silence of the area. No cars on the road, no people, nothing. Cooperstown may be a small village, but it's always busy. Even in the winter. One would think that snow would muffle sound. It doesn't. Cooperstown (even though it claims to be a quite, one stoplight town) is still a happening place. Tourists are a noisy bunch. Baseball teams with families and kids in tow take noise to another level.

This hillside, on the other hand, was remarkably quiet and calm. The only sounds I could here was the wind, footsteps on the gravel drive, and the the jolly "Hello" of the bookseller from inside.

The bookseller had renovated an old barn into a two story bookstore. It was packed from end to end and top to bottom with books on every subject, of every size and style. It was like sinking into a warm and soft easy chair; comfortable and familiar.

The bookseller was a man that one would be inclined to be wary of if they met him outside of this specific environment. He was thin and of normal height with long stringy white hair that reached half-way down his back. His thin, wire-framed glasses slipped to the end of his nose. His clothes were not dirty, but they were not pristine either. They hung on his frame, as if they were an afterthought. When the man walked he did so with a hunch. His stride should have been slow and laborious. Instead, the bookseller walked with determination and vigor. He looked happy that someone had taken there time to drive to upstate New York and dawdle in his store. He had a soft southern accent that reminded me of reading Gone With the Wind. When he talked he always said "we." I never learned who the other person was. I just assumed he was talking about the books.

The bookseller immediately asked where my father and I were from and how we found him.

Booksellers are always the same. Librarians and bibliophiles are always stereotyped as these quite, inner people who would rather be holed up with a book than drawn into an actual conversation. (Or, in the Hollywood standard, as mean spinsters with glasses and a pencil through their hair.) But I've never encountered a quite bookseller, bookworm, or librarian. In every instance, they're talkative, intelligent, and almost overly interested in the world around them. I think it's becase they (or should I say "we") read so much, we have so much to share. What's the point of having all this knowledge of the world and tales of adventure if we don't want to share it. It's almost impossible to silence a bookseller once they get on a roll. Let them know one thing about you or your interests and you'll have a tough time prying yourself out of a conversation.

This bookseller was no different. He wanted to help us find the genres we enjoyed. Then he wanted to tell us how he came to be located on a hillside in the middle of nowhere. I wish I had listened to his story, but I was drawn more the shelves upon shelves of books.

I could not quite figure out his shelving system (every bookseller has there own), but there really is no need for order in a used bookstore. I was surprised by the lack of books on the floor. Used book dealers are notorious for piling books on the floor, when they run out of room on the shelves. (Then again, when you have a mouse in resident, you probably don't want him chewing the merchandise.) The bookseller had genres I'd never heard of, along with others I could not pronounce. There were books published from as recently as 2005 to as far back as 1600. He had hardbacks, paperbacks, vellum covers, leather covers, sheet music, stamps, postcards, ephemera; I could go on.

He had chairs and cushioned window seats throughout the store that would be perfect to curl up in, book in hand. I don't see how anyone could sit in Bibliobarn; there was too much to look at. Each bookseller gives their domain a special touch. This one decided to post witty reference notes, cartoons, and book sayings around the barn. These touches were sprinkled every where. In every nook and cranny there was something to see; something to read.

While in the store, I ran into a dealer who often frequented Willis Monie's Used & Rare Books (the store I worked at during High School). We talked as we browsed before he realized that he had better leave before his pile took over the check-out counter. That's another similarity between booksellers. They'll only stop buying when they can no longer carry or pay for their stacks. And they always buy in stacks - not once have I seen a bookseller leave a store with only one book.

My father and I wandered around for about 2 hours. We could have stayed longer but the barn turned book heaven was hot, and we had other stores to go to. At the end of the day, I was still unable to figure out his shelving system, but I find joy in simply browsing and being surprised by the treasures I come across. That day I walked out with a novel set in ancient Rome (Gods and Legions), a book on a topic I've never read before (The Holy Grail), and a travel memoir (Bella Tuscany). I should have walked out of there with more, but I didn't have the money. And, the bookseller looked like he did not accept credit cards. There was no computer in the store, just an antique cashier's machine.

On our way out, the bookseller thanked us for stopping by. The aroma of the store lingered in the air as my father and I walked to the car, purchases in hand, slight smiles on our faces.

We ended up visiting two more of the local bookshop (that were - surprisingly - open), but none of them had the life that Bibliobarn and his proprietor held. We even stopped at a Barnes & Noble five minutes from the airport. B&Ns usually send my into shivers of ecstasy, but not that day. I had already found my bookstore for the day.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Book 52: Carnal Gift

TITLE: Carnal Gift
AUTHOR: Pamela Clare
STARTED: July 17, 2005
FINISHED: July 22, 2005
PAGES: 372
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: Brighid Ni Maelsechnaill put the bacon and oatcakes on the table, her heart hammering with excitement.

SUMMARY: [From] Offered to a stranger in exchange for her brother's life, a young Irish woman must confront her desire for her new lord and precariously toe the line between hate and love.

REASON FOR READING: I've read her before and thought I would try again.

THOUGHTS: This was not as good as the other Clare book I read, but it was till enjoyable. The writing was fine and the characters were well developed. I thought the book was a tad bit drawn out, but it didn't really hurt the story. I only wish that Clare spent more time in the colonies. She created this great back story and I would have loved to see it carried over into the future.

MISCELLANEOUS: She likes the steamy covers.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

CR: Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey
RN: Probably another romance novel.