Saturday, October 29, 2005

National Book Festival

I should have done this update a month ago, but I have been lazy

* * *

On Saturday morning, September 24th, I was up way too early (8 a.m.!) for such a late night like the one I had before. But it was for a good reason.

My friend Melanie was up for the weekend and the two of use were headed to the National Mall for the National Book Festival. This is the second year I've gone to the festival and it was better than the last time. Last year, I went because it was a program for my campus housing. This year I went with a purpose. One of my favorite fiction authors, Diana Gabaldon, was scheduled to speek and sign copies of her new book, A Breath of Snow and Ashes. The book was, technically, not supposed to be released until September 27th, but she talked her publisher into releasing a few copies early. Bless them both.

Gabaldon is the author of the "Outlander" series and Melanie introduced me to it during our freshman year of college. I've read all the books in the series since then... more than once in fact.

So! Melanie and I trek out to the Mall on our mission. The metro trains were crowded beyond all reason. (I don't know who decided it would be fun to schedule the Book Festival, Anti-War Rally, and Greenpeace Festival on the same day, near the same area... but I would like to have a word with them. Several in fact.)

Melanie and I jumped off the train at the Smithsonian stop and it was like entering a magical world. There were signs for the Festival everywhere, people handing out fliers, and book nerds galore. We were in our element. We grabbed a map of the Festival grounds and proceeded to plan our attack. First stop, the book sales tent. We actually arrived 45 minutes before the Festival was to officially open, but it was a good thing we did. The Sales tent was open and hopping. We were able to purchase ourselves copies of A Breath of Snow and Ashes before they sold out. We bought our copies at 9:45a.m. and they sold out at 10:15 a.m.. You should have seen the pair of us, petting our books and craddling them as if they were some precious gem. I noticed that almost every one (and more than some of the men) in the sales line also had their own copy of the book. Mel and I bonded with the people around us because we all had a common love of the series. (For anyone who has not read the books, try them. You won't regret it.) I also picked up a copy of Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons. I've read it before but loved it so much that I just couldn't turn it down.

After we made our purchases, we noticed the Target tent was handing out seat cushions. Clearly, twenty-one year olds are attracted to random things. We then proceeded to the “Fiction and Fantasy” tent to claim our seats for our favorite author’s talk. We ended up walking in on the middle of another author’s talk. The tent was pretty full but (unfortunately for this author) it was clear that most of the audience was waiting for Diana Gabaldon. After she finished a reading from her book, most of the audience stayed and the rest of the chairs rapidly filled. It was standing room only in less than 5 minutes.

The best part of the morning followed when we heard Diana Gabaldon speak. She is much shorter than I expected. Also, I – for some reason – expected her voice to be different. I don’t know why I thought that, but I’ll blame that dream I had earlier this year. (See a previous entry for more on that.) The applause for her entrance took forever to die down. Gabaldon started out talking about how her height and brightly colored scarf ensured that she got to stand in front, next to First Lady Laura Bush for the official portrait of authors. Well done. I will say one main thing for Gabaldon, she is witty and knows a number of dirty limericks. One of which I have reproduced below:

In days of old,
When knights were bold,
And condoms not invented….[dramatic pause]

They wrapped old socks
Around their cocks,
And babies were prevented!


She followed with another, dirtier one, but I don’t remember it.

The best part about hearing her speak was that she went EVERYWHERE with her talk. She discussed how her fans sent her the most random things while she was writing and how they brought her beautiful gifts when she was signing. Gabaldon talked about the new book and the editing process it has to go through. (As a side note: I have read the new book and, sadly, there are a number of typos in it. No word I know of has ‘rrr’ in it.) She talked about the release process of the book and how she’s going to be on tour forever. At one point, Gabaldon mentioned that the Sales tent nearest her talk was already sold out and I would guess that at least 20 women got up and sprinted to the other side of the Festival grounds to get to the other Sales tent. Gabaldon finished with a reading from her new book before taking questions.

Melanie left me at the beginning of the questions to see if she could get a last minute signature from the guy who draws Eloise. I stood on the edge of the tent until the questions finished before I power walked by but down to the other end of the Festival grounds to get in line for the Gabaldon signing.

The rain that had been threatening all day started to release a few drops. There was no way I was going to let it damage my precious new books. I whipped out my umbrella and protected those things within an inch of my life as I dodged other Festival goers. The rain actually stopped and the books were safe and cozy in the bright green Festival bag they handed out this year.

Then it was time to wait in line for an hour. It was a good thing I sprinted down there when I did… the line reached a 3 hour wait in a matter of minutes. I heard that the Festival workers cut it off after an hour wait because Gabaldon was on a tight schedule. Melanie was unable to get her author’s signature so she joined me in line and we commenced our giddiness. The line was in two parts… the long long long line, and the short line across a gravel path of doom that was right in front of the tent. We inched along and once we crossed the gravel path of doom, we knew that our books would be signed. (Eep! Happy Meghan.) It was quite the exciting. When we finally got to the table I had no idea what to say. I think I said something stupid about how I now knew where all the witty one-liners came from. It was awesome. *does happy meeting the author dance* Not only was she smiley and gracious, but she had cute shoes (and writes great books,) so I can't complain.

Melanie and I did our crazy little excited hopping and gabbing all at once before we wandered around the rest of the festival. We were mainly tent hopping to get all the free stuff. The second best part of the Festival is the fact that one can accumulate massive amounts of bookmarks and free pens. Most of the tents were kid oriented so we avoided the, but we did get in line with toddlers to have our picture taken in a giant chair that looked like it was made out of books - it's now on my door.)

That photo concluded our adventures in National Book Festival land and we hopped back on the metro smiling in the way that only booklovers can. I should probably mention that we also stopped at the bookstore in Union Station before returning home… a booklovers wallet is never safe.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Book 72: Black Horses for the King

NUMBER: 72
TITLE: Black Horses For The King
AUTHOR: Anne McCaffrey
STARTED: October 21, 2005
FINISHED: October 26, 2005
PAGES: 206
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: "Galwyn's feeding the fishes again," the mate called as I emptied the odious bucket overboard.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] After his father's death, young Galwyn Varianus is apprenticed to his uncle, who puts the boy to work on the high seas. But horses, not ships, are Galwyn's passion. Luckily, a passenger aboard, Lord Artos (later to rule as the legendary King Arthur), is bound for the great horse fair at Septimania. Risking his life, Galwyn abandons his uncle to serve the gallant leader. Galywn's calming way with horses quickly impresses Lord Artos and his men. But what no one expects is how crucial Galwyn will be to their upcoming battles - as he masters the secrets of the iron shoes that will protect the exotic horses' delicate hooves.

REASON FOR READING: At first, I was going to use the book for a project in my Literature of Fantasy Class. That idea fell through but I decided to finish the book anyway.

THOUGHTS: This my roommate's favorite book; she's been telling me about it for quite some time. I thought it was an interesting tale, but I didn't fall in love with it. The subject matter made for a great story and anyone whose been around horses (like me) will love the descriptions of the animals. But, it felt to compressed for me. I need more description, more details, more plot, more whatever, just more.

MISCELLANEOUS: Horses are so like that.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Beth is getting it back; she'd kill me if I kept it.
RATING: 5/10 [I didn't particularly like it or dislike it; mixed review]

CR: A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton
RN: Consent to Kill by Vince Flynn

Book 71: The Trouble with Harry

NUMBER: 71
TITLE: The Trouble With Harry
AUTHOR: Katie MacAlister
STARTED: October 17, 2005
FINISHED: October 21, 2005
PAGES: 353
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: Harry wished he was dead.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] When a Regency lady answers an advertisement for a wife, she may have found the love of her life - if she can keep her new husband out of trouble long enough to find out.

REASON FOR READING: I like Katie MacAlister's stuff.

THOUGHTS: This was not her best. It was cute but I read it write after and author that I love. There was no way this book could have lived up to the standards that I was in the mood for. The story was cute, the characters were cute, really... it was just a cute book. Nothing great, nothing horrible.

MISCELLANEOUS: Rubber ducky...

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Going on PBS because someone has it on their wish list... in fact, I got it off PBS so it just seems right.
RATING: 5/10 [I didn't particularly like it or dislike it; mixed review]

CR: Black Horses For the King by Anne McCaffrey
RN: A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Library / Book Hell

Late Returners
Circle I Limbo

Non-Readers
Circle II Whirling in a Dark & Stormy Wind

Spine benders and breakers
Circle III Mud, Rain, Cold, Hail & Snow

Dog Earers
Circle IV Rolling Weights

Excessive and/or Inapporpriate Marginalia-ers
Circle V Stuck in Mud, Mangled

River Styx

Non-Returners
Circle VI Buried for Eternity

River Phlegyas

Misshelvers
Circle VII Burning Sands

Book Burners
Circle IIX Immersed in Excrement

Censors
Circle IX Frozen in Ice

Design your own hell

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Book 70: A Breath of Snow and Ashes

NUMBER: 70
TITLE: A Breath of Snow and Ashes
AUTHOR: Diana Gabaldon
STARTED: September 26, 2005
FINISHED: October 17, 2005
PAGES: 980
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: Time is a lot of things people say that God is.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Eagerly anticipated by her legions of fans, this sixth novel in Diana Gabaldon's bestselling Outlander saga is a masterpiece of historical fiction from one of the most popular authors of our time.

Since the initial publication of Outlander fifteen years ago, Diana Gabaldon's New York Times-bestselling saga has won the hearts of readers the world over - and sold more than twelve million books. Now, A Breath of Snow and Ashes continues the extraordinary story of 18th-century Scotsman Jamie Fraser and his 20th-century wife, Claire.

The year is 1772, and on the eve of the American Revolution, the long fuse of rebellion has already been lit. Men lie dead in the streets of Boston, and in the backwoods of North Carolina, isolated cabins burn in the forest.

With chaos brewing, the governor calls upon Jamie Fraser to unite the backcountry and safeguard the colony for King and Crown. But from his wife Jamie knows that three years hence the shot heard round the world will be fired, and the result will be independence - with those loyal to the King either dead or in exile. And there is also the matter of a tiny clipping from The Wilmington Gazette, dated 1776, which reports Jamie's death, along with his kin. For once, he hopes, his time-traveling family may be wrong about the future.

REASON FOR READING: Do I need one?

THOUGHTS: I've been waiting for this book to come out for over a year. The wait was driving me nuts. Now that I've read the novel, I have mixed feelings. While the book was an enjoyable and interesting read, it was not up to Diana Gabaldon's usual "Outlander" standards. Normally her books, while lengthy and detail infused, have an overarching plot to the novel. This particularly member of the series seemed more like a character study. It lacked that all-encompassing plot to bring all the details together. I'm sure that this book will fit well when the series is completed (for there will be more books), but right now I feel slightly disappointed.

I will say that it was nice to get to know the characters even more. I feel as if I've grown closer to Jamie, Claire, Roger, and Brianna while reading this. There were so many different sub-plots occurring in this book that it was difficult not to notice the changes taking place in the characters. I also think that Colonial America and life in that time came more to life for me in this book. One thing I really disliked about this book was some of the "twists" Gabaldon threw in. I felt as if they were in their for the shock factor only. I would have preferred she remained "true" to the essence of the series that she created in the first few novels. Then again, I repeat, all of these things will probably play a more complete role once the series is done.

Her prose and ideas are still top caliber. I will never be disappointed in them. It takes a master to craft the ideas and feelings that she does. And, she is consistent in her literary narrative throughout the book. Her writing, as writing, never disappoints.

Overall, this book was very readable but a bit of a let down. I was expecting something different. That said, I'm still going to wait on pins and needles of the next book in the series.

MISCELLANEOUS: The should have edited the final text better. At my count there were at least 13 errors in the text. And glaring errors at that. Words never have "rrr" in them.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Keep of course.
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

CR: The Trouble With Harry by Katie MacAlister
RN: "A Problem From Hell" by Samantha Power

Book 69: Munitions of the Mind: A History of Propaganda from the Ancient World to the Present Day

NUMBER: 69
TITLE: Munitions of the Mind: A History of Propaganda from the Ancient World to the Present Day
AUTHOR: Philip M. Taylor
STARTED: ?
FINISHED: October 16, 2005
PAGES: 344
GENRE: Non-Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: From the perspective of our modern information and communications age, the word 'propaganda' continues to imply something evil.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] A classic work, Munitions of the mind traces how propaganda has formed part of the fabric of conflict since the dawn of warfare, and how in its broadest definition it has also been part of a process of persuasion at the heart of human communication. Stone monuments, coins, broadsheets, paintings and pamphlets, posters, radio, film, television, computers and satellite communications - propaganda has had access to ever more complex and versatile media. This third edition has been revised and expanded to include a new preface, new chapters on the Gulf War, information age conflict in the post-Cold War era, and the world after the terrorist attacks of September 11. It also offers a new epilogue and comprehensive bibliographical essay. The extraordinary range of this book, as well as the original and cohesive analysis it offers, makes it an ideal text for all international courses covering media and communications studies, cultural history, military history and politics. It will prove fascinating and accessible to the general reader.

REASON FOR READING: Assigned in MDIA 530: The Rhetoric of Propaganda

THOUGHTS: This was a very interesting read. Not only did it give a fantastic review of propaganda throughout history, it also included details about propaganda that I would never think about. Military uniforms would never once have crossed my mind as being bits of propaganda. Taylor shows how war and propaganda as so intertwined that they are almost indistinguishable from one another. I enjoyed reading about how propaganda has changed over time and situated itself into our every day lives. I don't know if I will ever be able to look at anything without thinking if I'm being handled.

This class is fascinating and this book is one of the reasons why. Taylor goes out of his way to incorporate as much detail as possible into this book. It reads fluidly and has a broad spectrum of information.

MISCELLANEOUS: The british spelling threw me for a loop at first, but I got used to it.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Probably sell back, but that could change.
RATING: 6/10 [Good]

CR: A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
RN: The Trouble With Harry by Katie MacAlister

Book 68: "We're a Peaceful Nation": War Rhetoric After September 11th

NUMBER: 68
TITLE: "We're A Peaceful Nation": War Rhetoric After September 11th
AUTHOR: Brigitte Mral
STARTED: October 12, 2005
FINISHED: October 15, 2005
PAGES: 127
GENRE: Political Science

FIRST SENTENCE: When an extreme and revolutionary event takes place, people want decisions and demand that politicians speak to them.

SUMMARY: [From the back of the book] This study highlights the rhetorical devices that were used during the two military operartions that were a direct consequence of the events on September 11.

The purpose is to create a better understanding of the war strategists' efforts to define tour [sic] world.

REASON FOR READING: Assigned in MDIA 530: The Rhetoric of Propaganda

THOUGHTS: I've heard all of the speeches that this book talks about. Thus, it was nice to see someone break down the rhetoric line by line and discuss how this fits into the current presidential administration's overarching themes. This was not a groundbreaking book by any means, but it does layout the rhetoric of speeches that most people overlook.

What I found most interesting, however, was who put this book out. It was published by the Swedish Emergency Management Association (their equivalent of our FEMA). What I want to know is why they felt this was needed.

MISCELLANEOUS: Any book that talks about the presidency and rhetoric is okay by me.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Don't know. It was free.
RATING: 5/10 [I didn't particularly like it or dislike it; mixed review]

CR: Munitions of the Mind by Philip M. Taylor
RN: A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon

Book 67: Beowulf

NUMBER: 67
TITLE: Beowulf
AUTHOR: Seamus Heaney (translator)
STARTED: September 26, 2005
FINISHED: October 9, 2005
PAGES: 213
GENRE: Literature

FIRST SENTENCE: The poem called Beowulf was composed sometime between the middle of the seventh and the end of the tenth century of the first millennium, in the language that is to-day called Anglo-Saxon or Old English. [From the introduction]

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Composed toward the end of the first millennium of our era, Beowulf is the elegiac narrative of the adventures of Beowulf, a Scandinavian hero who saves the Danes from the seemingly invincible monster Grendel and, later, from Grendel's mother. He then returns to his own country and dies in old age in a vivid fight against a dragon.

The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on in the exhausted aftermath. In the contours of this story, at once remote and uncannily familiar at the beginning of the twenty-first century, Seamus Heaney finds a resonance that summons power to the poetry from deep beneath its surface.

Drawn to what he has called the "four-squareness of the utterance" in Beowulf and its immense emotional credibility, Heaney gives these epic qualities new and convincing reality for the contemporary reader.

REASON FOR READING: Assigned in ENG 205: The Literature of Fantasy

THOUGHTS: This was one of the better class reads I've been assigned. I was not in love with the story, nor did I hate it. It was just there for me. Beowulf, as a character, did not pull me in any direction. For me, the poem lacked a depth and complexity that I need to care about it. There was a massive debate in my class whether Beowulf was cocky or magnanimous. I could have cared less either way. I thought the character was appropriate in the situation.

For me, the strength of the epic was Grendel's mother. I saw her as a monster with human emotions.

MISCELLANEOUS: Chain mail is cool.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Selling back.
RATING: 6/10 [Good]

CR: "We're a peaceful nation" by Brigitte Mral
RN: Munitions of the Mind by Philip M. Taylor

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Book 66: Public Opinion

NUMBER: 66
TITLE: Public Opinion
AUTHOR: Walter Lippmann
STARTED: September 22, 2005
FINISHED: October 2, 2005
PAGES: 262
GENRE: Non-Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: Walter Lippmann deliberately gave this book a bland title because its contents are so explosive. [from the forward]

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] In what is widely considered the most influential book ever written by Walter Lippmann, the late journalist and social critic provides a fundamental treatise on the nature of human information and communication. As Michael Curtis indicates in his introduction to this edition. Public Opinion qualifies as a classic by virtue of its systematic brilliance and literary grace. The work is divided into eight parts, covering such varied issues as stereotypes, image making, and organized intelligence. The study begins with an analysis of "the world outside and the pictures in our heads," a leitmotif that starts with issues of censorship and privacy, speed, words, and clarity, and ends with a careful survey of the modern newspaper. The work is a showcase for Lippmann's vast erudition. He easily integrated the historical, psychological, and philosophical literature of his day, and in every instance showed how relevant intellectual formations were to the ordinary operations of everyday life. Public Opinion is of enduring significance for communications scholars, historians, sociologists, and political scientists.

REASON FOR READING: Assigned in MDIA 530: The Rhetoric of Propaganda.

THOUGHTS: I should state first that remember very little of this book. That is not a good sign... seeing as how we have to discuss it in class tomorrow. The writing was dry and slow and, because it was written in the early 1920s, I've encountered many of its arguments before.

That being said, I think that Lippmann made some remarkable points about how we perceive the so-called "public opinion." His chapter on stereotypes was fantastic. He may have been stating things that most people already new, but the fact that he took the time to think out why people stereotype put a whole new spin on the issue for me.

Since I could only focus on parts of this book, most of the content comes to me in waves. As a media studies and politics major, this book was right up my alley. I might try to read it again one day, when I can concentrate more on the content.

MISCELLANEOUS: Polling data is a sham.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Will probably get sold back.
RATING: 4/10 [An "okay" book, but I don't recommend it]

CR: A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
RN: Tons of stuff for school.

Book 65: Camera Lucida

NUMBER: 65
TITLE: Camera Lucida
AUTHOR: Roland Barthes
STARTED: September 26, 2005
FINISHED: September 26, 2005
PAGES: 119
GENRE: Non-Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: One day, quite some time ago, I happened on a photograph of Napoleon's youngest brother, Jerome, taken in 1852.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] This personal, wide-ranging, and contemplative volume--and the last book Barthes published--finds the author applying his influential perceptiveness and associative insight to the subject of photography.

REASON FOR READING: Assigned in MDIA 499: Senior Seminar.

THOUGHTS: The content of this book could have been summed up like this: Photography strikes everyone differently. It's essence is never the same.

That's all it needed. I thought that Barthes made some good points about how photography strikes everyone differently and is vehicle to the past, beyond that, it bored me. We hashed out the text for 2 and a half hours in class and I left feeling no different than when I went in. Essentially, I think Barthes was writing a dialog for himself. He wanted to know if photography could be defined and this is what resulted. It was not the worst book for class that I've read, but I don't think it was anywhere near the best.

The one passage I enjoyed the most: "In this glum desert, suddenly a specific photograph reaches me; it animates me, and I animate it. So that is how I must name the attraction which makes it exist: an animation. The photograph itself is in now way animated (I do not believe in "lifelike" photographs), but it animates me: this is what creates every adventure."

I love perusing photographs where ever I find them. I could actually agree and understand Barthes when he made this point.

MISCELLANEOUS: At least it was short.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Getting sold back at the end of the semester.
RATING: 4/10 [An "okay" book, but I don't recommend it]

CR: Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann
RN: A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon

Book 64: Highlander in Love

NUMBER: 64
TITLE: Highlander in Love
AUTHOR: Julia London
STARTED: September 19, 2005
FINISHED: September 23, 2005
PAGES: 367
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: My dear Miss Lockhart:

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] The Lockhart brothers' quest for an ancient family heirloom has proved fruitless...and an unpaid loan has left them indebted to their rival, Payton Douglas. With no recourse, the Lockharts offer Payton their most valuable commodity: their sister Mared's hand in marriage.

Raised to despise the Douglas name, Mared outwardly agrees to the marital bargain for the sake of her family; secretly, she concocts a plan to ensure Payton will not wish to marry her. Seeing the handsome, virile laird Payton face-to-face, however, threatens a centuries-long enmity - and awakens Mared's deepest desires. But she will not be swayed. Choosing to repay her family's debt by working as his housekeeper instead of wedding him, she finds herself inexorably drawn to the man she vowed to resist. Then a profound discovery changes everything. Now, no longer bound by a promise to her family, Mared must let her heart decide if the laird Payton is the enemy of past legend - or if he holds the key to a future filled with a passion beyond her wildest dreams.

REASON FOR READING: It was the conclusion to a trilogy I started earlier this summer.

THOUGHTS: This was by far my favorite book in the series. I actually felt like the characters came to live and reacted realistically to each other. I knew the romance between these two was coming from book 1 and it was fun to see how it all finally played out.

I actually liked how the quest for the beastie took a backseat in the story. This book was more character driven than the others and I think that's why I like it the most.

And the tension, my goodness, the tension. That's all that needs to be said. I think I'll go take a cold shower now.

MISCELLANEOUS: That kilt was so painted on.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): This one's going to PBS.com.
RATING: 6/10 [Good]

CR: Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes
RN: Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann

Book 63: Captain Alatriste

NUMBER: 63
TITLE: Captain Alatriste
AUTHOR: Arturo Perez-Reverte
STARTED: September 7, 2005
FINISHED: September 18, 2005
PAGES: 253
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE:He was not the most honest or pious of men, but he was courageous.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] It is the height of Spain's celebrated golden century - but beyond the walls of the Royal Palace there is little on the streets of Madrid that glitters. The Invincible Armada has been defeated. The shadow of the Inquisition looms large. And the Thirty Years' War rages on in Flanders. When a courageous soldier of this war, Captain Diego Alatriste, is forced to retire after being wounded in battle, he returns home to live the comparatively tame - though hardly quiet - life of a swordsman-for-hire. In this dangerous city where a thrust of steel settles all matters, there is no stronger blade than Alatriste's." The captain is approached with an offer of work that involves giving a scare to some strangers soon to arrive in Madrid. But on the night of the attack, it becomes clear that these aren't ordinary travelers - and that someone is out for their blood. What happens next is the first in a series of riveting twists, with implications that will reverberate throughout the courts of Europe.

REASON FOR READING: It jumped out at me at the time.

THOUGHTS: [This is actually the review for my university's paper, The Tower] Spanish author Arutro Perez-Reverte has created a fabulous character in Captain Diego Alatriste, in his novel "Captain Alatriste." Unfortunately this novel, which is meant to be the first in series, lacks the action and suspense the swashbuckler needs to survive. The novel comes off as an extended prologue, but it leaves a small glimmer of hope that the following novels will live up to the masterful and daring lead character.

"Captain Alatriste" begins the tale of a swordsman for hire during the Spanish inquisition. The novel is told primarily from the viewpoint Inigo Balboa, the captain's ward. The book chronicles how Alatriste is hired by Inquisition officials to assassinate two foreigners as the enter Madrid. He is accompanied by another swordsman, a swarthy Italian named Gualterio Malatesta who has questionable motives and morals. During the attack, when one of the travelers cries mercy for his friend. Alatriste is able to stop Malatesta before he can finish off one of the foreigners. The action ends up complicating his life more than he could ever foresee. One of the travelers turns out to be the Prince of Wales; he has come to Madrid in order to romance Spain's princess. The story that follows is an uneven narrative that documents how Alatriste is dogged by danger as the men who hired him attempt to silence him - permanently.

Captain Altriste is the strength of the novel. He is an aging soldier whose only source of income is his skill with a sword. Alatriste comes across as an inquisition era James Bond who is always just escaping death. The reader never develops an emotional rapport with the swordsman and thus his escapes from grievous injury are not nearly as exhilarating. Balboa, Alatriste's ward and main companion, comes across as a naive and starry-eyed follower of Alatriste. During the first few pages of the novel, Balboa develops a youthful infatuation for a beautiful lady-in-waiting to the Spanish princess. While this plot line never fully develops in "Captain Alatriste," Balboa constantly implies that the beauty will play a more prominent role in following novels. Aside from Alatriste and Balboa there is an entire cast of characters that are in and out of the story. The plot swirls with so many names that the reader is left dizzy and more than a little bit confused.

Perez-Reverte's writing style is quite different from most American fiction. It has a definite unfamiliar quality to it that helps to set the novel on the streets of Madrid. The author uses an extensive vocabulary to describe his characters and plot lines. Also scattered throughout the novel are poems that the characters spin enhance the depth of the novel. Sadly, they stall the narrative more than they advance it. Perez-Reverte's writing is intricate and rich but it fails to produce a continuously enjoyable novel.

Any reader picking up this book would expect exciting swordfights between Alatriste and his many enemies. Regrettably, they are few and far between. The reader must plod through a quagmire of politics and names to get to these all too infrequent moments of gratification in the book. Perez-Reverte attempts to cram too many characters and back stories into the short novel. While the novel as a whole is uninspiring, the author's story is intriguing enough to leave most readers wondering what will happen to the characters in the rest of the series. "Captain Alatriste" is not worth purchasing but is worth borrowing from a local library.


MISCELLANEOUS: Knowing me, I'll buy the rest of the series anyways.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Keep, at least for now.
RATING: 5/10 [I didn't particularly like it or dislike it; mixed review]

CR: Highlander in Love by Julia London
RN: Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes

Book 62: The Prince

NUMBER: 62
TITLE: The Prince
AUTHOR: Niccolo Machiavelli
STARTED: September 18, 2005
FINISHED: Septemeber 18, 2005
PAGES: 106
GENRE: Philosophy

FIRST SENTENCE: The tyrant terrifies his subjects. [from the introduction]

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] The book has been variously described as the first to analyze the role of the political elite; as the one that established the independence of politics from theology; as an early formulation of the political 'myth' required to galvanize apolitical masses into revolutionary action; as a practical rule-book containing timeless precepts for the diplomat; and, most frequently, as the handbook of evil. Based upon Machiavelli's firsthand experience as an emissary of the Florentine Republic to the courts of Europe, The Prince analyzes the often-violent means by which political power is seized and retained, and the circumstances in which it is lost. Above all, it provides a remarkably uncompromising picture of the true nature of power, no matter in what era or by whom it is exercised.

REASON FOR READING: Assigned in POL 211: Introduction to Political Theory.

THOUGHTS: This man needs to grow a heart. I know he had a rough life and all, but come on! Whatever happened to helping your common man and relying on diplomacy. Even though I disagreed with most of Machiavelli's ideas, I must say that of all the political philosophy I've read, his was the easiest to understand.

What truly terrifies me is how many of my coworkers (from when I interned on Capitol Hill) would quote this book. I don't want a tyrant in Congress. No sir.

MISCELLANEOUS: At least it was short.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): This will be sold back to the book store at the end of the semester.
RATING: 5/10 [I didn't particularly like it or dislike it; mixed review]

CR: Captain Alatriste by Arturo Perez-Reverte
RN: Highlander in Love by Julia London

Monday, October 03, 2005

Book 61: Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down

NUMBER: 61
TITLE: Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down
AUTHOR: Sherrilyn Kenyon, Melanie George, and Jaid Black
STARTED: September 4, 2005
FINISHED: September 6, 2005
PAGES: 281
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: In her life as a cover agent Rhea Stevenson had done a lot of things she hated: cozy up to cold-blooded killers, make goo-goo eyes at drug lords, pretend to be a Russian mail-order bride, walk unarmed in a low-cut, almost nonexistent dress into a nuclear arms deal.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] In this sexy erotica anthology, three hot authors reel you in with sizzling novellas about alpha heroes who will do anything to get the women they want - even kidnap them!

Bestselling author Sherrilyn Kenyon presents "'Captivated' by You," the second sexy story in her series featuring the Bureau of American Defense. Rhea Stevenson is a "BAD" agent who has just been handed her most challenging assignment. She must go undercover as a dominatrix to bring in a deadly terrorist. The only upside is that her fellow agent, "Ace" Krux, whom she has long desired, is her training partner. Almost immediately the roles of master and slave are wonderfully blurred and Rhea and Ace unleash a wealth of hidden desire.

From bestselling romance author Melanie George comes "Promise Me Forever," the story of Savannah Harper, who has finally put her breakup with pro-football player Donovan Jerricho behind her. But when Tristan comes home to Mississippi on the eve of Savannah's wedding, he still wants her. And when he carries her off and holds her hostage, Savannah's surprised to find that the desire's deliciously mutual.

From Jaid Black comes "Hunter's Right," the fantastical story of Corporal Ronda Tipton of the U.S. Army, whose chopper goes down in the Arctic Circle. The only survivor of the crash, Ronda happens upon a hidden civilization of Vikings - where she must face the bridal auction block. Only Nikolas Ericsson, the man who found Ronda, can save her by claiming her as his own according to sacred rights. But will she and this primitive brute give in to the sparks made when their worlds collide?

REASON FOR READING: Beth told me to.

THOUGHTS: The first and third stories were the best. The second was too bland for my taste. I just wish they weren't novellas. The first story has a lot of back story that would have made a great series. Who doesn't love secret agents? The third story cut out a whole chunk of things that could have been amazing had it been a whole novel. On the whole, it was a fun read.

MISCELLANEOUS: Tie me up... ha!

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

CR: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
RN: Captain Alatriste by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Book 60: Devil Takes a Bride

NUMBER: 60
TITLE: Devil Takes a Bride
AUTHOR: Gaelen Foley
STARTED: August 28, 2005
FINISHED: September 3, 2005
PAGES: 469
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: Moonlight flashed on three black racing-drags tearing up the Oxford Road, a heedless cavalcade - whips cracking, snorting blood-horses wild eyed and flecked with foam.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] In the quiet English countryside, far from the intrigues of London, Lizzie Carlisle slowly mends her broken heart, devoting herself to her new position as lady's companion to the Dowager Viscountess Strathmore - until her peaceful life is turned upside down by a visit from "Devil" Strathmore, the old woman's untamed nephew - a dangerously handsome man whose wicked reputation hides a tortured soul.

Devlin Kimball, Lord Strathmore, has spent years adventuring on the high seas, struggling to make his peace with the tragedy that claimed the lives of his family. But now he has uncovered the dark truth behind the so-called accident and swears retribution. He has no intention of taking a bride - until his eccentric aunt's will forces he and Lizzie together, and Devlin finds his path to vengeance blocked by the stubborn but oh-so-tempting Miss Carlisle. Her passionate nature rivals his own. But disillusioned once by love, Lizzie will accept nothing less than his true devotion.

REASON FOR READING: It's one of my favorite romance series.

THOUGHTS: This was not as good as Lord of Fire of Lord of Ice but it was still enjoyable. I had a hard time believing the tension in the plot, but overall it was an enjoyable read. I think that comes from my love of wounded male lead characters. I'm such a sucker for those. I think this story merely served to wrap up the loose ends of "Lizzie." Had this been a stand alone book I might have enjoyed it even more.

I do like how Lizzie refused to give in. Some of the scenes were hilarious, like when Dev kidnapped Lizzie from her school using a ladder. That was just plain comical.

MISCELLANEOUS: I finally got the first book of the series, The Duke off of PBS.com.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): It's going on PBS.
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

CR: Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down by Sherrilyn Kenyon et al.
RN: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

A (Stress ?) Dream About the National Book Festival

A few weeks back I had an odd dream about the National Book Festival. It started out normally and just turned weird from there. I remember walking to the Mall from Union Station and entering one of the book sales tents. Completely normal. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Diana Gabaldon (whose book I was after) staring at me. Not so normal. Instead of feeling creeped out, I was kinda thrilled that DG saw me voraciously going after the table where her books were. Well, when I get there I notice that her newly release book, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, has the same cover as her last book, The Fiery Cross. Not only are the covers the same, they're all damaged in some way; either bumped, ripped, chipped, creased, folded, what have you, none of them are new. So, clearly, I'm miffed.

Somewhere in my head, I hear someone say, "Her publisher only released a few of the books with the right covers. You can buy one with the wrong cover, then send it in the the company and they will replaced it with a new dust jacket." Still miffed, but I wanted the book. So I dig and dig and dig and still can't find one of the few books with the appropriate cover. Meanwhile, this whole time DG is in my line of sight, watching me. Oddly enough, it still does not creep me out. I know that there is another book sales tent at the end of the Festival grounds so I live the one tent to head for it.

But, somehow, I wander off the Mall into this residential neighborhood. Why and how, I don't know. So, I find myself standing on this deck that overlooks this medium sized cliff the drops off into the rest of the neighborhood. Keep in mind that there are no cliffs in southeast DC. I see this ladder that drops off the deck, so I decide to climb down it and proceed on my way to the other end of the book festival. Half-way down the ladder I notice someone following me. It's not DG like I expect. Instead, it's Clive Cussler. How I knew it was Clive Cussler is beyond me. I've only read one of his books (Raise the Titanic) and have no idea what he looks like. But I knew it was him, and I knew I had to get away.

So I scramble down the ladder, run through this neighborhood and emerge on the Mall by the Lincoln Monument. The National Book Festival takes place between the Capitol building and the Washington Monument. I clearly had overshot my mark. For some reason this did not disgruntle me. I just trudge my way along the Mall (which lacks all its Monuments now) towards my goal.

I finally get there, after dodging vans (who knows why), and discover that the other book sales tent is underground. So I enter this staircase and it takes me another staircase and gift shop that looks like its from the National Art Gallery. I find myself, once again, digging to find the right copy of DG's new book. Once again, I see DG out of my eye. This time she smiles and goes back to perusing her books. I never do find the right copy but I remember looking longingly at some books on Egypt.

I live and DG follows me. Somehow I find myself sitting down at a table digging through the free tote bags they hand out. DG sits next to me and other people join us at the table. I don't remember what we talked about, but I remember waking up thinking that DG had talked for a long time.

I never did find the right copy of her book.