Monday, August 28, 2006

Seen on the Metro #1

As I was commuting home on the metro last Friday, I saw a sight that made me smile. A young, african american male was reading Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Not only was a half way through the book, he actually looked enthralled. We're talking dog-earred pages, a creased spine, and everything. I'm sure the book was assigned for school (they recently started in my area), but it was a sight I was glad to see.

The whole picture also made me giggle because the reader was probably not Austen's targeted demographic.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Books 65-67: The Lady Lies, The Lady Killer, and The Lady's Code

NUMBER: 65-67
TITLE: The Lady Lies, The Lady Killer, and The Lady's Code
AUTHOR: Samantha Saxon
STARTED: August 12, 2006
FINISHED: August 20, 2006
PAGES: 308, 322, and 300 (for a grand total of 930)
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: The first thing he saw was feathers.; Nicole closed her eyes, but she could still see the image of General Capette sprawled across the mahogany desk with blood pouring from the ragged wound in the back of his head; and "Who are you?"

SUMMARY: [Taken from Barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com] The Lady Lies - Lady Celeste Rivenhall lives a double life, a British agent posing as a French spy. Then Lord Aiden Duhearst is delivered into her hands as a prisoner of war—and she will risk anything to save him. Anything but the truth.

The Lady Killer - Nicole Beauvoire has many talents and one of those talents is being an assassin. She has just taken care of one target when a late night visitor comes bearing a note from her contact. Should she trust the hastily scrawled note or take her chances on the streets of Paris? Nicole is not a stranger to hardship and it is easy to loose her messenger...or at least she thinks it's easy until he shows up while she is busy creating her new life to take care of her last target.

Daniel McCurren finds himself in Paris trying to pull an agent to crown back to England. It is not safe for the Scorpion to be working now. The French are on to him and it's Daniel's job to get him out. Well, Daniel is about to get a shock. First he is a she, Nicole, and two, Nicole is strong willed and not willing to back down. She is also the first person to awaken his dormant feelings. He is not going to leave Paris without Nicole, and Nicole is about to find out she won't be able to do this job without the help of Daniel. Will these two wounded souls find a happy ending with each other or will an enemy finally get too close?

The Lady's Code - After her reputation is ruined by a nobleman seeking revenge on her father, Lady Juliet Pervill finds her true calling working in the Home Office. Her mathematical abilties enable her to break a code not even their master cryptologist, Seamus McCurren can crack. This is a blow to his male pride, but Juliet's charms and mind have enough appeal so that Seamus finds himself slipping into a romance even as French spies try to undermine everything he has worked towards. In the days that come, both Juliet and Seamus will face difficult, not to mention life altering choices as they face danger on many levels.

REASON FOR READING: I liked the cover of The Lady Lies the first time I saw it, I picked up the other two books after I found out that they were a part of a series.

THOUGHTS: It has been ages since I've deemed a romance novel or romance novel series worthy of being added to my keeper pile. These books were such a delight to read that some others in my keeper pile pale in comparison. Saxon has created a series that is unlike another other I have found out in the current romance novel market. While she may employ the tried and true Regency era British characters, she utilizes them in new and, for the romance genre, inventive ways.

All three novels rely upon the Napoleonic wars as a background. Instead of merely hinting at the conflict, Saxon throws her characters into it. In other romance novels, authors have the male hero flashback to his "horrid" time on the Continent. In Saxon's case, the has her female heroine be the main focal point of this plot device. Never before have I seen an author throw her female characters into such action driven plots. Saxon does it with skill. Her characters succeed supurbly in their chosen professions, without coming across as one dimensional superwomen. Saxon gives her women flaws, without making them wilting hothouse flowers. They are real, a feat which most romance authors cannot seem to achieve these days.

Lady Celeste Rivenhall is the female lead of The Lady Lies, a double agent, she is forced to walk a fine line between aiding England and sending hundreds of her British into the hands of her foes, the hated French. Along the way, she dreams of holding onto the ideal life of home and family, knowing that such an ideal is probably out of her reach. Enter the dashing (damn is he attractive), Lord Aid Duhearst. He makes her heart pitter patter. (Mine heart was doing its fair share of erratic beating as well, and it wasn't because of the panic attacks.) The zip of electricity between these two characters jumps out at you from their first meeting. A couple of inappropriate meetings later, and you've got a steamy and addictive couple. (Side note: I think I panted through the boudoir scene on pages 38 through 44.) Through a complex and wholly believable misunderstanding, Aidan is trying to uncover Celeste true self...in more ways than one. To which I say, "Victory!"

In The Lady Killer, Nicole is an assassin, and a tested one at that. She is good at her job. Very good. She is strong and stubborn, but not willfull or stupid. I've seen female assassins used before, but the seemed to lack the complexity of charater that Saxon builds in Nicole. Nicole's match is Daniel, a great heaping man of a Scot who will stop at nothing to keep Nicole out of danger. In their story, the chemistry had me getting a little warm. Throw in the assorted secondary characters, who are all complete and important in their own way, and you've got one hell of a read. Even the bad guys, namely Everiste Roussou, are likeable. It's hard to completely hate someone who is a vital, well written character. While The Lady Killer does not have as many standout scenes as The Lady Lies, the fact that it is set in the heart of Paris, makes it a memorable read.

Finally, we have mathematical geniuses Seamus McCurren and Juliet Pervill tested against one another. While The Lady's Code is the more typified Regency era romance, it has it's own nuances that are missing from the "usual" books. Juliet has spunk and she does not simper for the whole book after she's ruined. In fact, she's a stronger character because of it. Juliet views her predicament as a way to become her own woman. One who can openly admire a man for his assests. Seeing the interaction between her and Seamus, both as code breakers and characters who don't quite no what to do with each other socially, is very intriguing. In this book, Saxon's characters do the romance dance of "Do I love him/her?", "No, I don't," "Wait, do I?," "I refuse to believe it," "Maybe....," finally ending in "Dammit! I do love him/her." The do said dance, however, without being cheesy as sin. It's real, and it's fun. And it's hot.

Originally, I considered reviewing these books individually but, after some consideration, I decided that they needed to be reviewed as one piece. Why? The books are so cohesive as a series that it would be almost impossible to read them out of order or individually. While the books could stand on their own, they are much better when read as a set. The characters and plots overlap with such simple ease the even the most minor of plot incidents comes back to have consequence in future books. Once particular scene in The Lady Lies, involving a lightpost, comes back in the third book, The Lady's Code. The plot, themes, and characters string across all three books with such ease, that they coul have been one (huge) novel.

To top it all off, Saxon can write. She avoids all the terrible cliches and codified writing that typify the romance genre. She uses big words! And, she uses them correctly. She does not stray from description, but she avoids being flowery. Saxon's books are like my diet, everything in moderation (except for the chocolate.)

I can't wait to read Saxon's next book. If it's even half as good as these three, I'll have found another keeper.

MISCELLANEOUS: Publishers take note: This is how you do a sexy, but classy romance novel cover. Why can't I see more like this?

Also, all the titles have more than one meaning. I love it!

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Keep! Keep! Keep!
RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

CR: Joan of Arc in French Art and Culture (1700-1855): From Satire to Sanctity by Nora Heimann (one of my professors!)
RN: Hornblower and the Atropos by C.M. Forester

Book 64: His Duty, Her Destiny

NUMBER: 64
TITLE: His Duty, Her Destiny
AUTHOR: Juliet Landon
STARTED: August 9, 2006
FINISHED: August 12, 2006
PAGES: 297
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: Flinging her thick brown plait over her shoulder, Nicola picked up her rapier and turned to face her oppoent with a disarming smile.

SUMMARY: [From an Amazon.com review] The book follows the relationship between Lady Nicola Coldyngham and Sir Fergus Melrose in 1473 London. Nicola has four brothers and spent her childhood runnig wild with them and trying to keep up. Fergus was a childhood friend and ring leader of the brothers. As a child, Nicola worshipped Fergus but he rarely looked her way which hurt her terribly. Their fathers agreed that they should marry when they came of age but this agreement was never made legal and both fathers have since died. Fergus has come back to claim Nicola as his bride.

REASON FOR READING: I saw it on a blog I read.

THOUGHTS: I would be very disappointed in this book, had I actually had a preconceived notion of what I wanted to read. There was absolutely no chemistry between the two "romantic" leads. The plotted fizzled from the start, and there were way to many subplots for a book with such limited length. Also, the writing was horrendous. All in all, this was one of those romance novels that makes the genre so stereotyped as unworthy of publishing. It's one redeeming factor: it gave the heroine swordplay skills.

MISCELLANEOUS: Maybe I was a bit jaded about this book, because I read it a few days before going to a wedding. I think I may have wanted something a bit more romantic.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to PBS.com with it.
RATING: 3/10 [Poor, lost interest]

CR: The Lady Killer by Samantha Saxon
RN: The Lady Lies by Samantha Saxon

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Book 63: Prep

NUMBER: 63
TITLE: Prep
AUTHOR: Curtis Sittenfeld
STARTED: August 2, 2006
FINISHED: August 7, 2006
PAGES: 406
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: I think that everything, or at least the part of everything that happened to me, started with the Roman architecture mix-up.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Lee Fiora is an intelligent, observant fourteen-year-old when her father drops her off in front of her dorm at the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts. She leaves her animated, affectionate family in South Bend, Indiana, at least in part because of the boarding school's glossy brochure, in which boys in sweaters chat in front of old brick buildings, girls in kilts hold lacrosse sticks on pristinely mown athletic fields, and everyone sings hymns in chapel.

As Lee soon learns, Ault is a cloistered world of jaded, attractive teenagers who spend summers on Nantucket and speak in their own clever shorthand. Both intimidated and fascinated by her classmates, Lee becomes a shrewd observer of-and, ultimately, a participant in-their rituals and mores. As a scholarship student, she constantly feels like an outsider and is both drawn to and repelled by other loners. By the time she's a senior, Lee has created a hard-won place for herself at Ault. But when her behavior takes a self-destructive and highly public turn, her carefully crafted identity within the community is shattered.

Ultimately, Lee's experiences-complicated relationships with teachers; intense friendships with other girls; an all-consuming preoccupation with a classmate who is less than a boyfriend and more than a crush; conflicts with her parents, from whom Lee feels increasingly distant, coalesce into a singular portrait of the painful and thrilling adolescence universal to us all.

REASON FOR READING: Rose loaned it to me after I expressed an interest.

THOUGHTS: It took me a long time to decide if I actually liked this book. In fact, it wasn't until the last quarter of the book that I decided I loved Lee, the main character. For me, while the plot was nothing new or groundbreaking, the way Sittenfeld uses her character makes Prep a must read.

Throughout the novel, I found myself frustrated and generally embarrassed for Lee. Her actions, her thoughts, and her outlook on life betray the very heart and soul of her character. That is the strength of Sittenfeld's work - her character is so flawed that you can't help but want to read about her life. Her she is, on a beautiful campus, being offered and opportunity of a lifetime and she screws it up. Lee is so busy being concerned about her "place" at Ault that she forgets to live. One passage reads:

"That's a nice sweater," he said. "Is it cashmere?" He pronounced it right, but he said it jokily, as if he'd never used the word before. And in fact, the sweater was acrylic. But he assumed - I'd sensed this before and now I was sure - that I was rich, that I was one of the true Ault students.

Lee wants so much to belong that she does not even try. She wants to conform to what everyone's expectations of her are, and she fulfills those expectations by forgetting to be herself.

I often messed up with people, it was true, it rarely happens because I was reading them wrong; it was because I got nervous, or because I could see too clearly that I was not what they wanted.

Sittenfeld makes it clear that Lee is not a character to be pitied. She is a human being who simple does not know her own potential. That is the heart of the novel, and seeing Lee's struggle makes for a glorious read.

MISCELLANEOUS: All the characters in this book had some random names

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to Rose
RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

CR: His Duty, Her Destiny by Juliette Landon
RN: Probably another romance novel

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

On the Job #1

Eep.

The former used bookstore employee in me and the current book collector in me are screaming right now. At work, today, I was revising recently rebound monographs to be sent back to the stacks. As I was about to add a barcode to one, I came across a page that stated the book was a part of a limited printing. Feeling queasy, I went over to addall.com and priced the book out. Had we not rebound it, the book would have been worth around $500, even in its damaged state.

Despite my general unease, I had to press on. With each stamp, due date form, and barcode I added, the value of the book decreased. Catholic University went from owning a rare book about books, to owning something that now is equivalent in value to a doorstop.

It may be an over reaction, but I feel a little ill.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Book 62: The Devil Wears Prada

NUMBER: 62
TITLE: The Devil Wears Prada
AUTHOR: Lauren Weisberger
STARTED: July 29, 2006
FINISHED: August 2, 2006
PAGES: 360
GENRE: Chick Lit

FIRST SENTENCE: The light hadn't even officially turned green at the intersection of 17th and Broadway before an army of overconfident yellow cabs roared past the tiny deathtrap I was attempting to navigate around the city streets.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Andrea Sachs, a small-town girl fresh out of college, lands the job “a million girls would die for.” Hired as the assistant to Miranda Priestly, the high-profile, fabulously successful editor of Runway magazine, Andrea finds herself in an office that shouts Prada! Armani! Versace! at every turn, a world populated by impossibly thin, heart-wrenchingly stylish women and beautiful men clad in fine-ribbed turtlenecks and tight leather pants that show off their lifelong dedication to the gym. With breathtaking ease, Miranda can turn each and every one of these hip sophisticates into a scared, whimpering child.

The Devil Wears Prada gives a rich and hilarious new meaning to complaints about “The Boss from Hell.” Narrated in Andrea’s smart, refreshingly disarming voice, it traces a deep, dark, devilish view of life at the top only hinted at in gossip columns and over Cosmopolitans at the trendiest cocktail parties. From sending the latest, not-yet-in-stores Harry Potter to Miranda’s children in Paris by private jet, to locating an unnamed antique store where Miranda had at some point admired a vintage dresser, to serving lattes to Miranda at precisely the piping hot temperature she prefers, Andrea is sorely tested each and every day—and often late into the night with orders barked over the phone. She puts up with it all by keeping her eyes on the prize: a recommendation from Miranda that will get Andrea a top job at any magazine of her choosing. As things escalate from the merely unacceptable to the downright outrageous,however, Andrea begins to realize that the job a million girls would die for may just kill her. And even if she survives, she has to decide whether or not the job is worth the price of her soul.

REASON FOR READING: I saw the movie.

THOUGHTS: I don't know why people call Andrea Sachs character whiny. She's not whiny. She's intensely selfish and oblivious. That is why this book is bad - there is no way on earth you cal like the main character. Weiserberger may have tried to create a naive and idealistic character, but what she ended up with was a snob. She may have been a snob in reverse, but she was a snob nonetheless. While there is no excuse for the way Miranda Priestly behaves, that does not make Sachs attitude okay. Between the two of them, I was ready to throw the book across the room.

To make matters worse, the unlikeable characters were mixed in with insufficient description and horrible writing. The story is flat, the plot and narrative are all over the place, and, to make matters worse, Weisberger seems to have no idea how horrendous her prose is. Weisberger makes so many attempts to "sound" like a writer, that she complete forgets shes writing a book. This books reads like it was written by a High Schooler over summer vacation. Weisberger shows glimmers of talent here and there, but they're so faint that I was left wondering why any editor would let this book slide.

The only reason I continued to read this book was for the supporting cast. Andrea's roommate, boyfriend, and fellow Priestly assistant were the most fascinating characters of the novel. They had stories. They had substance. They had emotions. Too bad they were pushed to the periphery while Weisberger's yawning headliners took center stage.

MISCELLANEOUS: Dear god was the movie better.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to PBS it goes, and I certainly will not miss it.
RATING: 4/10 [An "okay" book, but I don't recommend it]

CR: Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
RN: Probably some sort of romance novel spree