Saturday, July 29, 2006

Book 61: Talk to the Hand

TITLE: Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door
AUTHOR: Lynn Truss
STARTED: July 26, 2006
FINISHED: July 28, 2006
PAGES: 206
GENRE: Non-Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: If you want a short-cut to an alien culture these days, there is no quicker route than ot look at a French phrase book.

SUMMARY: [From] "Talk to the hand, 'cause the face ain't listening," the saying goes. When did the world stop wanting to hear? When did society stop valuing basic courtesy and respect? It's a topic that has been simmering for years, and Lynne Truss says it's now reached the boiling point. Taking on the boorish behavior that for some has become a point of pride, Talk to the Hand is a rallying cry for civility.

When did "please" and "thank you" become passé? When you call a "customer service" number, why does the burden of deciphering the automatic switchboard fall to you (and where are the real people, when you, the customer, need service)? Why do people behave as if public spaces are their own chip-strewn living rooms? Perhaps most importantly, how has it come to be that we are not allowed to object? Call someone out on rude or disrespectful behavior and you're likely to get an "Eff off" or worse. In a recent U.S. survey, 79 percent of adults said that lack of courtesy was a serious problem. For all of those fed up with anti-social behavior and suffering in silence, realize that you are the majority! Talk to the Hand is a colorful call to arms-from the wittiest defender of the civilized world.

REASON FOR READING: I was in the mood.

THOUGHTS: Following the success of her first work, the popular Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, Truss continues the witty language and poignent insights that made her famous. The tone of this book is just as pointed and accusatory, without mean-hearted, but it still seems to lack the quizzical nature of her first work. Instead of being fun, this book almost comes across as grumpy. Truss may make a valid point about the lack of respect in modern society, but instead of trying to fix the problem, she makes it worse.

Her book is more than valid in making its six points. We are a ruder culture, we do tend to be selfish, we are less considerate, and we do expect others to eff off. All of this may be true, but, at heart, most people are still generous and willing to change, if only someone would point out their faults while admitting their own. I believe that is the main weakness of Truss' book. Instead of admiting that she too is not perfect, she makes it seem like everyone else, save a galant few, are rude curmudgeons who are only looking out for me, myself, and I. In taking this standoffish position, she comes across as just as rude and aloof as the people she is meaning to correct.

Here book does not completely fall apart because of this, but it does make reading it harder. The writing is still hilarious, and the examples are right on. But the lack substance because of Truss' method. It's one thing to say "You're rude - and here's why." It's another to say "You're rude - so eff off!" In Talk to the Hand, Truss ignores the very things she writes about hating, making her book more comical than logical.

MISCELLANEOUS: Nobody likes a rude rodent.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

CR: The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
RN: Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Book 60: The Emperor's New Clothes

TITLE: The Emperor's New Clothes
AUTHOR: Victoria Alexander
STARTED: July 25, 2006
FINISHED: July 25, 2006
PAGES: 360
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: "We've got to get the hell out of this town!"

SUMMARY: [] Ophelia had barely finished conning the coat off a cardsharp's back when she stumbles into Dead End, Wyoming, and receives a welcome fit for a queen--or a countess, which is what the townspeople believe. Ophelia sees no reason to reveal herself before she strips the hamlet of its fortunes--until she meets Tyler, the town's mayor.

REASON FOR READING: I'm still working on Alexander's backlist.

THOUGHTS: I will say one thing for this book, the two leads have chemistry. It practically jumped off the page but avoided the whole "I'm-going-to-rip-your-bodice-off" thing. Well done. For the most part, this book amused me. There were more than a few one-liners that had be cackling outloud. And, while Alexander kept her plot moving, chemistry steaming, and dialogue hopping, her supporting cast of characters seemed like cardboard. They were so overdone as to be Disneyified. That hurt the book as a whole. I may have loved the two leads, but I could not stand anyone else.

MISCELLANEOUS: The cover has a glorious mix of romance novel covers dos and donts.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Pack to PBS from whence it came.
RATING: 6/10 [Good]

CR: Talk to the Hand by Lynn Truss
RN: The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

Book 59: Deception Point

TITLE: Deception Point
AUTHOR: Dan Brown
STARTED: July 18, 2006
FINISHED: July 23, 2006
PAGES: 558
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: Death, in this forsaken place, could come in countless forms.

SUMMARY: [From] When a NASA satellite discovers an astonishingly rare object buried deep in the Arctic ice, the floundering space agency proclaims a much-needed victory — a victory with profound implications for NASA policy and the impending presidential election. To verify the authenticity of the find, the White House calls upon the skills of intelligence analyst Rachel Sexton. Accompanied by a team of experts, including the charismatic scholar Michael Tolland, Rachel travels to the Arctic and uncovers the unthinkable: evidence of scientific trickery — a bold deception that threatens to plunge the world into controversy. But before she can warn the President, Rachel and Michael are ambushed by a deadly team of assassins. Fleeing for their lives across a desolate and lethal landscape, their only hope for survival is to discover who is behind this masterful plot. The truth, they will learn, is the most shocking deception of all.

REASON FOR READING: Tony gave it to me. - because Meg Joyce gave it to him... and I think he wants me to give him a synopsis for him.

THOUGHTS: I will claw my eyes out if I have to read one more poorly written, extremely short chapter that ends in a semblance of a cliff hanger. Deception Point is classic Dan Brown - the writing is crap, the character development is cookie cutter, the romantic chemistry barely makes you blink, and the "twists" and "turns" are rather predicatable. But, despite all this, the plot keeps you reading. I think Brown has found a way to make millions - he pulls you in with an intriguing story and covers his horrible writing by making the reader think he's watching a movie.

Deception Point is better than The DaVinci Code in the sense that there seems to be an attempt at complexity that goes deeper than the surface story. Brown actually creates a backstory for his characters that are not necessarily of great importance to the ongoing plot. This gives Deception Point a bit more depth that is lacking in his other works.

Aside from that, however, this book, while fun to read, is still literary drivel.

MISCELLANEOUS: Poking fun at NASA is getting way to easy.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): It's going back to Tony.
RATING: 6/10 [Good]

CR: The Emperor's New Clothes by Victoria Alexander
RN: Talk to the Hand by Lynn Truss

Book 58: Believe

TITLE: Believe
AUTHOR: Victoria Alexander
STARTED: July 16, 2006
FINISHED: July 17, 2006
PAGES: 392
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: " even though it's a charming story, it's a myth, a legend, with no more substance than a fairy tale."

SUMMARY: [From] Tessa St. James thinks as little of love as she does of the Arthurian legend--it's a myth. But when an enchanted tome falls into the teacher's hands, she finds she must rethink her philosophy. Suddenly in Merlin's Camelot, Tessa will learn that the legend is nothing like she remembered.

REASON FOR READING: I'm trying to work my way through Alexander's backlist.

THOUGHTS: This was a cute story and I really don't have much to say other than that.

MISCELLANEOUS: "Love Spell Books" = worst publishing name ever

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

CR: Deception Point by Dan Brown
RN: The Emperor's New Clothes by Victoria Alexander

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The postman only screams twice

My mailman is going to hate me. I've gotten at least a book a day for the past 3 days. More importantly/annoyingly I've got 7 more coming to me from the most addictive and, yet, glorious website ever.

I remember when my roomies and I were first looking at the apartment complex. I took one look at the mailbox and contemplated whether or not it would hold a normal sized paperback book. Beth, Kristy, and I determined that it would not. I'm glad to say that our depth perception stinks. That sucker has held three paperbacks at one time. Granted, the rest of the mail was smooshed, but what do bills matter when compared to reading material?

Hardcovers... now that's another story. At least our complex offers package delivery service.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Book 57: My Freshman Year

TITLE: My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student
AUTHOR: Rebekah Nathan
STARTED: July 13, 2006
FINISHED: July 15, 2006
PAGES: 186
GENRE: Education

FIRST SENTENCE: The idea for doiung this research really gelled after I audited a couple of courses for my own continuing interest and education.

SUMMARY: [From] In her mid-fifties, the author (Rebekah Nathan is a pseudonym) registered as a freshman and moved into a dorm, concealing her identity as an anthropology professor on leave from the very same state university (identified as "Any U"). Her intent: to use her expertise in ethnographic fieldwork to better understand today's undergraduates. Only a few administrators were in on her project. Nathan undertook both participant-observer research and formal data collection via interviews. She always identified herself as a researcher and found it remarkable that students did not probe her further, as she had a strict policy of "tell if they ask." Her research brought forth three defining aspects of student life-choice, individualism, and materialism-and found that university efforts to build community among the freshmen were largely unsuccessful. In addition, the author learned why many students find cheating an acceptable response to managing tight schedules and gained insights into the nature of the informal conversations students have about their professors and courses. In the end, she offers a good understanding of the current generation of college students and the broader culture from which they have emerged.

REASON FOR READING: I read a review of the book a few months ago and was intrigued.

THOUGHTS: I think Nathan hit everything right on the head. Despite her own misgivings and worries about her research methods, I think she has accurately portrayed life as a college student. This was a fantastic read, not only because I could recognize many of her arguments and findings, but also because it allowed me to think more critically about my own time in college.

I found it interesting that Nathan spent much of her time simply watching how people interacted. Her student seems to show that like tends toward like. I would have to agree. This goes for everything from friend groups, the study habits, to seating patterns. In her work, Nathan did not critique or offer solutions, she merely makes observations. This method leaves many doors open to those who read the book. I believe this is where the strength of her findings lie. Students, administrators, and professors alike can take Nathan's research and use it in many ways.

As a former student, I saw myself agreeing with the majority of Nathan's findings and using that information to reflect on my own college experience. The areas where I found myself disagreeing the most with Nathan was on her reflections of how students act in the classroom. While most of her observations rang true through my own experience, she seemed to lack an example from an Honors class. This is where her experience and my experience differ the most. I found myself wishing she had spent more time exploring the difference between Honors courses and the general courses offered. I feel her book would be more rounded and complete if she had.

What I found most pleasing about reading this work was that it was narrative. She told stories. There were moments of statistics and the like, but the book was composed like a journal. Because she formatted the book in this way, it was easy and enjoyable to read. Her logical structure for her findings also made her observations easy to follow and understand.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has thought critically about the world of college academics and culture. It was an intriguing read; one that creates more questions than it answers.

MISCELLANEOUS: I wonder if she did this project at a school where I have friends.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): It's going back to the library. I swiped it before it even hit the stacks.
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

CR: Believe by Victoria Alexander
RN: Deception Point by Dan Brown or another romance novel.

Book 56: Reckless

TITLE: Reckless
AUTHOR: Shannon Drake
STARTED: July 11, 2006
FINISHED: July 13, 2006
PAGES: 379
GENRE: Romance


SUMMARY: [From] When Kat Adair plunges into the waves to rescue a drowning man, it is just the beginning of an odyssey that will sweep the fisherman's daughter on an adventure of danger and desire. Convinced she is in love with the man she saved, Egyptologist David Turnberry, she plots a bout of "amnesia" that enables her to linger among the highborn, hoping to win David's heart away from his betrothed! The only problem is Hunter MacDonald, rugged archaeologist, bold adventurer, a man who is wise to her little charade -- and determined to protect his best friend.

Undaunted, Kat stows away on the ship carrying David and Hunter's expedition party to the land of the Pharaoh. Scandal ensues, and Hunter vows the only way to protect his friend and keep this confounding woman out of trouble is to make her his wife. Inevitably, in the sultry heat of the desert, passions ignite. But as the secrets of the ancient tombs are revealed, terrible danger unfolds. Is it a legendary curse, or pure human evil? Plunged into terror, Kat must trust the one man willing to risk everything to save her from doom.

REASON FOR READING: I've enjoyed her previous novels. I think it's the egyptian flair.

THOUGHTS: This was not Drake's best work. The romance felt rushed, but I'm glad she made the leads seem as if they would not get together at the very beginning. At first, I was questioning who Kat would end up with. It's nice to have a romance novel throw me for a loop once in a while.

Aside from that, the chemisty and plot were both iffy. Once again, a romance novel author has succombed to the trend of too many characters and too many plot threads in too few pages. I just wish an author would defy the publishing house and write a book that was actually longer than 350 pages. I know their supposed to follow a formal, but that just kills great books from the start.

I will, however, applaud the way Drake marries her characters off and the ensuing consummation scene. I found them quite well done.

MISCELLANEOUS: This is how a cover should look.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?):Beth gets to read it, and then I'm PBSing it.
RATING: 5/10 [I didn't particularly like it or dislike it; mixed review]

CR: My Freshman Year byRebekah Nathan
RN: Believe by Victoria Alexander

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

That's What She Said: Hornblower

“In another field a soldier was prodding a cow along with his bayonet – Hornblower could not imagine with what motive.”
-- Anyone else amused by this? *poke poke*

“Hornblower was as good as his word; it was only two minutes before he returned, but now he was naked except for a towel draped sketchily round him”
-- Despite the large amount of times I’ve said the word sketchily, I’ve never seen it used in a book. Also, how does one drape a towel sketchily?

"Drink coffee with a Turkish Mudir at one hour, dabble in underwater explosives the next. If variety was the spice of life, thought Hornblower, his present existence must be an Oriental curry.”
-- I think one reason I enjoyed this book, was because of passages like this. It reminds me way to much of the way my friends and I speak.

Book 55: Young Hornblower

TITLE: Young Hornblower: Three Complete Novels: Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, Lieutenant Hornblower, Hornblower and the Atropos
AUTHOR: C.S. Forester
STARTED: July 3, 2006
FINISHED: July 10, 2006
PAGES: 672
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: A January gale was roaring up the channel, blustering loudly, and bearing on its bosom rain squalls whose big drops rattled loudly on the tarpauliin clothing of thsoe among the officers and men whose duties kept them on deck.

SUMMARY: [From Penguin Publishers] The Young Hornblower - a truly formidable force in His Majesty's Service.

The seventeen-year-old Hornblower became notorious as soon as he stepped on board ship - as the midshipman who was seasick in Spithead. But he was soon to gain his sea legs.

Amid battle, action and adventure he proves himself time and time again - courageous in danger, resourceful in moments of difficulty and decisive in times of trouble. The reader stands right beside him as he prepares to fight his first duel, feels the heat as he battles to control a blazing ship and shares his horror as he experiences for the first time the panic of the Plague.

REASON FOR READING: Beth got me addicted to the A&E series and I needed to read them for myself.

THOUGHTS: In this series, Forester has created a remarkable and highly memorable character. Hornblower is an enigma of a man, with each page of the story revealing just a hint more about his mind and character. He is superhuman and pedestrian, strong of mind and, yet, doubtful of his abilities, real and ideal, perfect and flawed – Hornblower is full of dichotomies that make him a wonderful character, but also completely human at the same time. It is through his eyes that the reader learns about the triumphs, tribulations, and troubles that come from serving in His Majesty’s Navy.

It is because of Hornblower that the novel is readable and, more importantly, addictive. Forester’s writing alone is certainly not enough to keep the pages turning. The narrative’s flow is jerky at best, with some moments beset with unnecessary detail – I don’t need to know the cards played in every trick in a game of whist to know that Hornblower can count cards – and others greatly lacking in description. If the series is set on the high sees, I want to hear about the sound of the wind in the sails, the creak and splash of the wooden bow on the waves, and the tangy scent of cannons before they fire. Forester seems to take for granted that his readers know about life on a tall ship. They may be sexy, but I certainly have never been on one.

Aside from the creation of Hornblower’s character, the one thing Forester excels at is keeping the reader in the story. Like the drama of war on the high seas, Forester’s novel is full of hurry up and wait moments. The naval battles of the Napoleonic war were heated and dramatic, but between the firing cannons, there was a lot of sailing around with nothing but the open water on the horizon. Forester shows the reader these long stretches of time without completely boring them. During these moments, he fills the narrative in with Hornblower’s internal monologue. Watching the character debate with himself is as addictive as trashy T.V., but much more fulfilling. It is in these moments that the essence of the series is created. It is a story about a man, just trying to survive and do his duty.

Forester has created a wonderful character in an otherwise flawed novel. If the books did not focus so wholly on Hornblower as a man, this series would float about as well as one of the Indefatigable’s anchors.

MISCELLANEOUS: Hornblower is a naval officer, so no real buckling of swashes here.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Sadly, it has to go back to the library, but I plan on getting a copy of the series for myself.
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

CR: Reckless by Shannon Drake
RN: One for the Money by Janet Evanovich (If Kristy reads it before I'm done with my current read)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Book 54: The Little Ice Age

TITLE: The Little Ice Age: How Climate Change Made History: 1300-1850
AUTHOR: Brian Fagan
STARTED: June 23, 2006
FINISHED: July 2, 2006
PAGES: 246
GENRE: Non-Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: We are in a raft, gliding down a river, toward a waterfall.

SUMMARY: [From] Only in the last decade have climatologists developed and accurate picture of yearly climate conditions in historical times. This development confirmed a long-standing suspicion: that the world endured a 500-year cold snap—The Little Ice Age—that lasted roughly from A.D. 1300 until 1850. The Little Age tells the story of the turbulent, unpredictable and often very cold years of modern European history, how climate altered historical events, and what they mean in the context of today's global warming.

With its basis in cutting-edge science, The Little Ice Age offers a new perspective on familiar events. Renowned archaeologist Brian Fagan shows how the increasing cold affected Norse exploration; how changing sea temperatures caused English and Basque fishermen to follow vast shoals of cod all the way to the New World; how a generations-long subsistence crisis in France contributed to social disintegration and ultimately revolution; and how English efforts to improve farm productivity in the face of a deteriorating climate helped pave the way for the Industrial Revolution and hence for global warming. This is a fascinating, original book for anyone interested in history, climate, or the new subject of how they interact.

REASON FOR READING: I saw it on a History Channel documentary and decided I needed to have a look.

THOUGHTS: Aside from certain mindnumbingly dull parts (usually those involving ocean currents and temperatures in degrees Celsius), this was a fascinating read. It never would have crossed my mind that a change in world temperatures could cause disease, famine, discovery, and innovation. Fagan's book, while a little repetitive, is a wonderful read. He takes science and actually applies it in such a way that rationally explains major events in world history. One would never think that a cool summer could have a hand in causing the revolutions in France or Scotland.

Mixing scientific research, with personal experience and history, Fagan's exploration of "The Little Ice Age" explains a fascinating era of history with ease and grace. By mixing science and narratives, he clearly identifies and fully explains how climate change can have a devastating impact on human life. His work, however, is not alarmist or full of doom and brimstone. Fagan balances the tone of his work by also indicating how man triumphed over climate change through innovation and discovery, i.e. in folloiwing the cod, Vikings stumbled upon Canada. Fagan's work suggests that, while global warming is most certainly a bad thing, it also gives humanity a chance to adapt again through technological advances.

Fagan structures his work in a way that is easy to follow. While not overly entertaining, the science base parts of his narrative are well explained even if one does not have a degree in climatology. The writing is straightforward and simple without being plain or juvenile. Somehow, Fagan has managed to write a highly readable book on what could be a frighteningly dull subject.

My one wish is that Fagan would have expanded on certain topics in his final chapter. It is only in his last few pages that he talks about how art reflected the weather in the middle ages. In comparison to paintings today, art during the cold snap more often portrayed clouds and gray skies. This is a fascinating part of his topic that Fagan only briefly touches upon. Then again, when your thesis is that climate change affects ever facet of life and history, one would be forced to pick and choose on what to write.

MISCELLANEOUS: Where's Jake Gyllenhaal?

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): It goes back to the library from whence it came
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

CR: Young Hornblower: Three Complete Novels by C.S. Forester
RN: A romance novel. I don't know which one, but it will be a romance novel.