Friday, June 30, 2006

That's What She Said: Dolts

"We had ten applicants - ranging from overqualified to actually braindead."

-- A co-worker on the library's search for an assitant curator

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Book 53: Cleopatra and Rome

TITLE: Cleopatra and Rome
AUTHOR: Diana E. E. Kleiner
STARTED: June 12, 2006
FINISHED: June 22, 2006
PAGES: 340
GENRE: Non-Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: Cleopatra is one of the most famous women who ever lived.

SUMMARY: [From] Cleopatra and Rome reveals how iconic episodes, absorbed into a larger historical and political narrative, document a momentous cultural shift from the Hellenistic world to the Roman Empire. In this story, Cleopatra's death was not an end but a beginning - a starting point for a wide variety of appropriations by Augustus and his contemporaries that established a paradigm for cultural conversion." In this illustrated book, we experience the synthesis of Cleopatra's and Rome's defining moments through surviving works of art and other remnants of what was once an opulent material culture: religious and official architecture, cult statuary, honorary portraiture, villa paintings, tombstones, and coinage, but also the theatrical display of clothing, perfume, and hair styled to perfection for such ephemeral occasions as triumphal processions or barge cruises. It is this visual culture that best chronicles Cleopatra's legend and suggests her subtle but indelible mark on the art of imperial Rome at the critical moment of its inception.

REASON FOR READING: It came across my desk at the library... with thanks to my roomie Beth.

THOUGHTS: Kleiner took what could have been a fascinating book, and turned it into a mediocre thesis. The ideas were incomplete, the writing pedestrian, and the organization lacking. That being said, I give Kleiner credit for making me think outside the box. One of her main goals was to show how powerful individuals came together to shape history, art, and architecture. This varietion on the sping of "powerful individual changes world" is what kept me reading. But, there were too many areas of the book where the writing was sorely in need of an edit. More than once I found myself asking her to extend her thoughts. There always felt like there was an "and..." missing.

MISCELLANEOUS: Finally, a clipping from my TBR file can be tosssed.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to the library it goes.
RATING: 5/10 [I didn't particularly like it or dislike it; mixed review]

CR: The Little Ice Age by Brian Fagan
RN: Hopefully the first Hornblower books. Damn Beth for getting me addicted to the series.

Book 52: The Lady and the Unicorn

TITLE: The Lady and the Unicorn
AUTHOR: Tracy Chevalier
STARTED: June 10, 2006
FINISHED: June 12, 2006
PAGES: 250
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: The messenger said I was to come at once.

[From] Paris, 1490. A shrewd French nobleman commissions six lavish tapestries celebrating his rising status at Court. He hires the charismatic, arrogant, sublimely talented Nicolas des Innocents to design them. Nicolas creates havoc among the women in the house—mother and daughter, servant, and lady-in-waiting—before taking his designs north to the Brussels workshop where the tapestries are to be woven. There, master weaver Georges de la Chapelle risks everything he has to finish the tapestries—his finest, most intricate work—on time for his exacting French client. The results change all their lives—lives that have been captured in the tapestries, for those who know where to look.

REASON FOR READING: My friend Katie wanted my opinion on the book. (We have yet to constrast and compare.)

I thought this Chevalier piece was just as good as Girl With a Pearl Earring. Chevalier took the tapersteries and wove (pun intended) her own intricated plot and narrative. I especially like how she used each chapter to show the different viewpoint of each character. In that way, each chapter was like a piece of thread in a tapestry. Each strand of yarn is complete, but it becomes more important when it is added to the bigger picture. My friend Katie said that she did not care about any of the characters. I could almost agree. I was only drawn to one character, the blind Alienor, but I thought the book was more than that. This was a novel about the creation of the tapestries, not the lives of the characters. In that way, it succeeded greatly.

Chevalier's prose was still has intricate and beautiful as I remember. I will continue to read her work, if only because she mixes fiction and reality with graceful ease.

MISCELLANEOUS: I regret not stopping to see these tapestries when I was last in Paris. I was in the right museum, but I skipped right by their room.


RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]
CR: The Little Ice Age by Brian Fagan
RN: Hopefully the first three Horatio Hornblower novels.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Book 51: The Washingtonienne

TITLE: The Washingtonienne
AUTHOR: Jessica Cutler
STARTED: June 8, 2006
FINISHED: June 9, 2006
PAGES: 291
GENRE: Chick Lit

FIRST SENTENCE: Just between us girls, Washington is an easy place to get laid.

SUMMARY: [From] The blog that scandalized Washington, D.C., is not a sharp steamy, utterly unrepentant novel set against the backdrop of the nations' capital.

When Jacqueline Turner's fiancee gives her two days to move out of his apartment, she has no choice but to leave New York City and crash with her best friend in Washington, DC. (She can't be expected to keep herself in cute clothes while paying New York City rent, after all.) She needs a new, exciting life-not to mention real employment. Where better to get a fresh start than the nation's capital?

Alas, DC turns out to be a lot more buttoned-up and toned down than she'd hoped. It's a town where a girl has to make her own excitement-and Jacqueline Turner is just the woman for the job. From the married presidential appointee who gives her cash after each tryst, to the lascivious Georgetown lawyer who parades her around like something out of Pretty Woman, Jackie's roster of paramours grows so complicated her friends ask her to start a blog so they can keep up. But in a small town like Washington, the line between private and public blurs very easily. Just as one of her beaux takes a lead in the race for her heart, Jackie realizes this blog idea may be more than she bargained for.

REASON FOR READING: I've been wanting to read it for quite some time... that's what I get for reading blogs and living in DC.

THOUGHTS: I don't know what intrigues me more: the book itself, or the wondering how close to life it really is. Cutler's writing is sassy and smart, and it makes you wonder how a girl who is clearly intelligent could live (or write about) such a lazy and shallow existence. This book is rampant with unprotected casual sex, drug use, and general backstabbing between friends. It was pure genius that smashed the New York City party life with the superficial-prudishness and egotism of Washington DC. The book does a great job of revealing how hypocritical our nation's capital really is.

One reason I found this book so enjoyable was because it's real. Not only does it mirror (I still want to know how closely) Cutler's time as Hill staffer, it also incorporates the many details of the capital that make working on the Hill so unique. I once interned in a Senate office, and there was more than one time I found myself giggling or saying "Yes!" because I recognized what Cutler was talking about. Seriously people, the "Me Walls" are not necessary. Then again I'll be hanging up the picture of me with the senator once it's framed - but I ONLY HAVE ONE!

Cutler throws in just the right mix of characters, each one typifying those staffers you would find on the hill. You've got the partier, the flirt, the nerd, the suck-up, and that rare person who genuinely wants to make a difference. In not shying away from reality, Cutler has managed to create a book that is more than just readable. It's a lesson in how not do things. This book made me question my internship - it made me wonder how crazy some of my coworkers were off the job. I was the girl who was there for a college class and for the experience. But, I have no doubts that there was a Cutler or two in our office. I don't want to know who exactly, but it does make you think.

I applaud Cutler for showing how shallow, power-hungry, and image conscious Hill staffers and their bosses can be. It makes you wonder how anything gets done Congress.

MISCELLANEOUS: This book marks the half-way point of my goal of 100 reads this year.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

CR: Something that strikes me fancy in the next ten minutes.
RN: No idea.

Book 50: Everyone Worth Knowing

TITLE: Everyone Worth Knowing
AUTHOR: Lauren Weisberger
STARTED: June 4, 2006
FINISHED: June 7, 2006
PAGES: 367
GENRE: Chick Lit

FIRST SENTENCE: Though I'd caught only the briefest glimpse from the corner of my eye, I knew immediately that the brown creature darting across my warped hardwood floors was a water bug - the largest, meatiest insect I'd ever seen.

SUMMARY: [From] On paper, Bette Robinson's life is good. At twenty-six, she's got a great deal on an apartment in Manhattan, and she's on target to become an associate at the prestigious investment bank where she works with her best friend. Her eighty-hour workweeks might keep her from socializing or dating outside her office walls — but she's paying her dues on the well-trod path to wealth and happiness. So when Bette quits her job like the impulsive girl she's never been, she not only shocks her friends and family — she has no idea what to do next.

For months, Bette gets out and about by walking her four-pound dog around her decidedly unglamorous Murray Hill neighborhood. Then she meets Kelly, head of Manhattan's hottest PR and events planning firm, and suddenly Bette has a brand-new job where the primary requirement is to see and be seen.

The work at Kelly & Company takes Bette inside the VIP rooms of the city's most exclusive nightclubs, to parties crowded with celebrities and socialites. Bette learns not to blink at the famous faces, the black Amex cards, the magnums of Cristal, or the ruthless paparazzi. Soon she's dating an infamous playboy who's great for her career but bad for her sanity — and scaring off the one decent guy she meets. Still, as her coworkers repeatedly point out, how can you complain about a job that pays you to party? Bette has to agree — until she begins appearing in a vicious new gossip column. That's when Bette's life on paper takes on a whole new meaning — and she learns the line between her personal and professional lives is... invisible.

REASON FOR READING: My future roomie Kristy said the main character reminded her of me.

THOUGHTS: For some reason I tend to stay away from chick lit. I am more than glad that Kristy gave me this book to read. Weisberger's characters and writing are quite addictive - seriously, I want to meet someone like Sammy. The plot for this was enjoyable mainly because the main character was thrown into a completely different environment and, somehow, managed to survive. Kristy is right, though, Bette is me. I think that is one reason I enjoyed the book so much. It was interesting to see how a character who mirrors my personality would react when introduced to the world of high-power, celebrity parties.

The one thing that bugged me throughout the whole book was the casual drug use. It didn't irk me so much that it was in the book itself, but because I know that this is how things actually are. Weisberger did a phenomenal job with the supporting cast. She didn't simply create characters, she created real people. It's very rare that I find a book where I can feel like the characters could exist in real life. In this case, Weisberger has created a whole world that is easy to imagine really exists.

Weisberger also does a great job of recreating the selfishness and shallowness that seems rampant in today's young celebrity crowd.

MISCELLANEOUS: I am more than willing to try more books by this author.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to Kristy it goes
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

CR: The Washingtonienne by Jessica Cutler
RN: Whatever strikes my fancy later tonight.

Book 49: The Cobra & The Concubine

TITLE: The Cobra & The Concubine
AUTHOR: Bonnie Vanak
STARTED: June 2, 2006
FINISHED: June 3, 2006
PAGES: 342
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: Someone, please help me.

SUMMARY: [From] Abused and made a concubine by the evil Sheikh Faruq, Badra finds redemption and love in the strong arms of an English duke's last grandson.

REASON FOR READING: It was staring at me.

THOUGHTS: I want Vanak to write more books. I have not read something by her for over a year, and now I want more. This book continues the tales surrounding a bedouin tribe in Egypt. Vanak continues to throw great characters and their romances together. What I found most enjoyable about this book is that it showed the recovery from sexual abuse in what I took to be a very realistic way.

The chemistry between the two main characters was so palpable that I found myself panting. Vanak has skill, great great skill.

The one downside to this book: it was not long enough. It also fizzled out a little bit at the end, but not enough for me to care.


RATING: 6/10 [Good]

CR: Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger
RN: The Washingtonienne by Jessica Cutler

Book 48: Y The Last Man: Paper Dolls

TITLE: Y The Last Man: Paper Dolls
AUTHOR: Brian K. Vaughan
STARTED: June 1, 2006
FINISHED: June 1, 2006
PAGES: 144
GENRE: Graphic Novels

FIRST SENTENCE: Have I seen any men?

SUMMARY: [From] The saga of Yorick Brown, an unemployed and unmotivated slacker who discovers that he is the only male left alive after a plague of unknown origin instantly kills every mammal with a Y chromosome continues. Accompanied by his mischievous monkey and the mysterious Agent 355, Yorick embarks on a transcontinental journey to find his girlfriend and discover why he is the last man on Earth. This volume focuses on the adventures of Yorick's monkey Ampersand (whose body holds the key to stopping the male-killing plague), the origin of Agent 355, and the search for Yorick's fiancee, Beth, in Australia.

REASON FOR READING: Yet another book in a series I have come to love.

THOUGHTS: Finally, some back-story. I was always curious as to how the characters in this book came to be who they are - particularly Agent 355. This part of the series was right up there with the rest, but I have a feeling it's a mere springboard for better things to come.

MISCELLANEOUS: Anyone who can make fun of the Catholic Church in comic book form is a friend of mine. Female swiss guards? Ha!

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): It goes back to Pete, but I am determined to get a copy of the series for myself.
RATING: 6/10 [Good]

CR: The Cobra & The Concubine by Bonnie Vanak
RN: Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger

Book 47: Consent to Kill

TITLE: Consent to Kill
AUTHOR: Vince Flynn
STARTED: May 23, 2006
FINISHED: June 1, 2006
PAGES: 465
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: To kill a man is a relatively easy thing - especially the average unsuspecting man.

SUMMARY: [From] For years, Mitch Rapp's bold actions have saved the lives of countless Americans. He has killed with impunity, tortured to avert disaster, and shown he will do whatever it takes to prevent terrorists from fulfilling their bloody wishes. His battles for peace and freedom have made him a hero to many, and an enemy to countless more. In the tangled, duplicitous world of espionage, there are those, even among America's allies, who want to see Mitch Rapp eliminated. They have decided the time has come.

Now, the powerful father of a dead terrorist demands vengeance in its simplest form — an eye for an eye, and Rapp instantly becomes the target of an international conspiracy. This time, he must use all of his vigilance and determination to save himself before he can turn his fury on those who have dared to betray him.

REASON FOR READING: It was the latest book in one of my favorite series.

THOUGHTS: I'm having trouble deciding if I've outgrown this series, or if the author's writing has gone downhill. I also made the mistake of reading the Washington Post's review of the book, and they readily panned it. So, I can't decide if they influenced my reading of the book.

On the whole, Consent to Kill was just as enjoyable as the rest of the Mitch Rapp series, it just felt a little more black-and-white and heavy handed to me. I believe this is Flynn's first completely post-9/11 book, and I think it influenced his writing style. Flynn's writing and his characterization of Rapp comes across as preachy, my-way-or-the-highway, and that was not a good thing. I'm reading this book because I want to, not so that I can be told that terrorists are bad and innocent Americans are good. As the book progressed, this style gave way to the old political thriller greatness of the earlier books in the series, but the lingering taste in my mouth was not a good one.

The one great thing about this book was the way it turned Rapp into a man. In the past books, I've always seen him as a flawed, but still steely super-hero. This book knocks him down a notch and it was interesting to see how his character handled the massive tragedy the overtook his life. It was nice to see some real emotion out of Rapp for once.

Aside from the tone, I just wish that Flynn would give more space and attention to the side characters. They are an intregral part of every book, but always seem to fall away when they're just getting interesting. Are you hearing me Flynn? I want to know more about Scott Coleman and Irene Kennedy!

It was the final scene, one which had me in tears, that makes me want to read the next book in the series. Then again, the last line makes me wonder if there is even going to be another book. The new Rapp may not be the best character anymore, but he's still worth following.

MISCELLANEOUS: It took me forever to get around to reading this, it was about time I did.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

CR: Y The Last Man: Paper Dolls by Brian K. Vaughan
RN: The Cobra & The Concubine by Bonnie Vanak