Sunday, October 22, 2006

Book 78: Poison Study

TITLE: Poison Study
AUTHOR: Maria V. Snyder
STARTED: October 18, 2006
FINISHED: October 19, 2006
PAGES: 361
GENRE: Fantasy

FIRST SENTENCE: Locked in darkness that surrounded me like a coffin, I had nothing to distract me from my memories.

SUMMARY: [From] About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace -- and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.

As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can't control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren't so clear.

REASON FOR READING: It was on the TBR list.

THOUGHTS: This was the book that kept me up until 3:30am because I just refused to go to bed without finishing it. At first, I could not figure out why I had to read it, but then it dawned on me: this book has everything I love. There was mystery, romance, fantasy, a strong heroine and an equally strong hero, vivid writing, and a plot that makes me want to film the book. So, while nothing in Snyder's work was groundbreaking or overly fantastic, it had enough of what I love to keep me reading into the wee hours of the morning.

Yelena's predicament is the central focus of the novel, an unabashed condemned murderer, she opts to become the Commander's food taster rather than swing from the noose. Valek, the Commander's (dashing) chief of security, educates her in the art of poison. From the moment these two meet there is an intangible thread of connection and, dare I say, romance. I believe it was this relationship that kept me reading. There was something about Valek and Yelena's interactions that just made me want to know more. From the beginning, I knew these two characters would end up together, it was all a matter of how. Having Valek basically force Yelena to risk her life at each meal only added to the dramatic tension of their relationship. And when Yelena makes a move on Valek while she's drunk, I about fainted.

Snyder rounds out her two leads with a wonderful cast of supporting characters. They are all play a unique and vital role in the tale, and I look forward to hearing more of their stories in the coming books in this series. Snyder gives enough back story to the characters to make them interesting, while leaving enough hidden to make you want more. She walks the fine line between over sharing and underdevelopment perfectly.

Top this off with writing that is vividly descriptive. Snyder's prose is not bland, nor is it flowery. Reading this book made me want to film the scenes. Snyder has created such a world of magic and mystery that I can't help but want to paint it in pictures. Even her descriptions of the dank and dirty prison cells makes reading about them desirable. It takes skill to paint pictures in the reader's head, and Snyder certainly does that.

Snyder waits to throw in the touch of fantasy and magic toward the end of the book, and it is this bait that I will certainly follow into the next addition to the series.

MISCELLANEOUS: I totally preordered the book from the library already.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): This copy has to go back to the library, but I certainly want my own.
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

CR: Dracula by Bram Stoker
RN: Not a clue, and I'm too excited about the seeing the Notre Dame team on Saturday to actually think ahead.

Book 77: College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, and Coeds, Then and Now

TITLE: College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, and Coeds, Then and Now
AUTHOR: Lynn Peril
STARTED: October 9, 2006
FINISHED: October 17, 2006
PAGES: 408
GENRE: Education

FIRST SENTENCE: Maybe you know a college freshman like this one: a bright-eyed eighteen-year old girl who for the past year or so has been caught up in a wealth of glossy brochures and interactive online presentations from giant state universities and small liberal arts colleges.

SUMMARY: [From] A geek who wears glasses? Or a sex kitten in a teddy? This is the dual vision of the college girl, the unique American archetype born when the age-old conflict over educating women was finally laid to rest. College was a place where women found self-esteem, and yet images in popular culture reflected a lingering distrust of the educated woman. Thus such lofty cultural expressions as Sex Kittens Go to College (1960) and a raft of naughty pictorials in men's magazines.

As in Pink Think, Lynn Peril combines women's history and popular culture—peppered with delightful examples of femoribilia from the turn of the twentieth century through the 1970s—in an intelligent and witty study of the college girl, the first woman to take that socially controversial step toward educational equity.

REASON FOR READING: I had heard about it, and it just so happened to cross my desk at the library. I took it home immediately after I labeled it.

THOUGHTS: As a recent, female college graduate (at a school comprised of 60 percent women) it was more than interesting to see how the history of "my fellow graduates." Peril does a fantastic job of picking categories of college life to chronicle. She touches upon the main areas one would expect to see covered, classes and subject matter, living away from home, sex and boys, and even a few areas one would not think to write about, such as midnight snacking. Her structured use of writing from then to now makes her points easy to understand.

Peril's writing is sharp and pointed, without being arrogant or overbearing. She simply states what she wants to say with out an added flourish or inappropriate use of a thesaurus. This straightforward approach makes her book an amusing and enjoyable read. While she never outright says it, she seems to be unapologetic about her feminist views. To which I say, good for her. As a college educated woman writing about college women, one should expect there to be a drive to keep women in the collegiate atmosphere.

College Girls relies heavily on historical resources and the author's own experiences. While this is very informative, I wish Peril had dug deeper to use sources that were not so obvious. In some ways, this book felt like it was wholly researched through the internet, almost like the author was lazy with her work. I also would have liked to read more about the modern college girl - maybe with an interview or two.

College Girls is an interesting and provocative read, but it does not bring to light much new information.

MISCELLANEOUS: This book made me want to go shopping.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to the library, so other people can actually check it out.
RATING: 5/10 [I didn't particularly like it or dislike it; mixed review]

CR: Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
RN: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Book 76: The Gladiator's Honor

TITLE: The Gladiator's Honor
AUTHOR: Michelle Styles
STARTED: October 5, 2006
FINISHED: October 9, 2006
PAGES: 295
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: Who was that man?

SUMMARY: [From] A hardened survivor of more than a dozen gladiatorial combats, Valens's raw masculinity fuels many women's sexual fantasies. He is outside polite society, and Roman noblewoman Julia Antonia knows she should have nothing to do with a man who is little more than a slave.

But with a wisp of scandal clinging to her stola, Julia is drawn inexorably toward the forbidden danger he represents. For Valens, Julia is a tantalizing reminder of the life he'd been torn from. To claim her, he must fight one final time--and win!

REASON FOR READING: A romance set in ancient times? I am so there.

THOUGHTS: The only thing this book really had going for it was the setting. And even then, the author failed to bring her book past the whole formulaic, mediocre romance thing. The characters had minimal chemistry, and the plot was overly convoluted. With such a setting as ancient Rome during Julius Ceasar's reign, this book had so much potential. I wanted blood, I wanted action, I wanted expensive costume drama. I got well produced high school play.

MISCELLANEOUS: Oh Russell Crowe...

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

CR: College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, and Coeds, Then and Now by Lynn Peril
RN: Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

Friday, October 20, 2006

Late Night Reading

I read a whole book last night. At 10:30pm, I climbed into bed with the plan to read until 11:30pm. I should know by now that, on the days I plan to go to bed early, my intentions are always thwarted by a good book. Such was the case last night when, 50 pages from the end of the book, I looked at the clock.



At that point I decided that if I was in for a penny I was in for a pound. So I read until I finished the book - which happened to be at 3:32a.m. Not the best of times to fall asleep when one has to be at work at 9:00a.m.

Thinking back on it, the book was not nearly the best I've read; the writing was fine, but nothing spectacular; and the plot, while interesting was nothing particularly groundbreaking. I can't tell you why I felt the urge to finish the book - I just knew that I had to. It's been ages since I read a book in one sitting. In fact, the last time I remember doing so was during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college.

What I find particularly interesting is the that the book talks about a dessert that makes the mind more susceptible to magically manipulation. Maybe the author laced the pages of the book with said substance.

At this point all I can say is thank god the sequel to the book is already in print.

Seen on the Metro #2

In my lack of sleep induced haze, I saw a woman reading a book titled How to Start Your Day Off Right. Immediately, I checked her other hand for a cup a of coffee. She did not have one.

Perhaps I am one of the few who consider the liquid ambrosia of a steaming cup a coffee an essential ingredient to starting a day off on the right foot. Then again, on many days, if I did not have my coffee, the people around me would not have their day start off right either.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Maybe I'm psychic. Today, my boss came to me and asked if I wanted to help discuss our library's disaster plan.

After writing about things that were "bad for books" yesterday, I feel an eerie tingle down my spine.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bad for Books

When I worked at the used bookstore during High School, I learned that there were a number of things that were bad for books and/or business.

1. Darkness (When one works in a converted parking garage, light becomes a very necessary thing.)
2. Fire
3. Water (One hole in the ceiling and I was scrambling for plastic sheeting and buckets.)

Now that I work in a library these things, while still bad, are not really at the forefront of my mind - we've got Emir, the building manager guy, to deal with them. I, however, must add one more entry to the list.

4. Rodents.

I have a baited, ready-to-spring mousetrap near my feet because a little family of furry ones has decided to make the basement where I work their home, and the chewed pages of books their nest. While I personally think mice are cute, the thought of finding one snared in a mousetrap when I come to work in the morning is enough to make me shiver.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Book 75: Salem Falls

TITLE: Salem Falls
AUTHOR: Jodi Picoult
STARTED: October 3, 2006
FINISHED: October 5, 2006
PAGES: 434
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: Several miles into his journey, Jack St. Bride decided to give up his former life.

SUMMARY: [From] When Jack St. Bride arrives by chance in the sleepy New England town of Salem Falls, he decides to reinvent himself. Tall, blond, and handsome, Jack was once a beloved teacher and soccer coach at a girls' prep school—until a student's crush sparked a powder keg of accusation and robbed him of his reputation. Now, working for minimum wage washing dishes for Addie Peabody at the Do-Or-Diner, Jack buries his past, content to become the mysterious stranger who has appeared out of the blue.

With ghosts of her own haunting her, Addie Peabody is as cautious around men ad Jack St. Bride is around women. But as this unassuming stranger steps smoothly into the diner's daily routine, she finds him fitting just as comfortably inside her heart—and slowly, a gentle, healing love takes hold between them.

Yet planting roots in Salem Falls may prove fateful for Jack. Amid the white-painted centuries-old churches, a quartet of bored, privileged teeage girls have formed a coven that is crossing the line between amusment and malicious intent. Quick to notice the attractive new employee at Addie's diner, the girls turn Jack's world upside down with a shattering allegation that causes history to repeat itself—and forces Jack to proclaim his innocence once again. Suddenly nothing in Salem Falls is as it seems: a safe haven turns dangerous, an innocent girl meets evil face-to-face, a dishwasher with a Ph.D. is revealed to be an ex-con. As Jack's hidden past catches up with him, the seams of this tiny town begin to tear, and the emerging truth becomes a slippery concept written in shades of gray. Now Addie, desperate for answers, must look into her heart—and into Jack's lies and shadowy secrets for evidence that will condemn or redeem the man she has come to love.

It was on the TBR list and I saw it at the library.

THOUGHTS: After much thought, I have decided that this book was rather formulaic - but you don't know it's formulaic as you read it. The reason being... everything just has this tone of newness. Or, it could be, that everything is so forumalic on its own that something new is created.

The formulas are:
1. Man wrongly convicted of sexual assault by your girl who has a huge crush on him.
2. Man starts life over, falls in love with troubled woman.
3. Man's past comes back to haunt him.
4. History is destined to repeat itself.
5. High School girl takes revenge when spurned.
6. No one admits to being a witch.
7. Law & Order episode

All of these formulas together create a read that is highly entertaining and engrossing. It took me all of two days to read this book because I refused to put it down at night. There was just something about all of the aspects of the plot that just clung to you. This meant I went to work two days in a row with about 4 hours of sleep. God bless coffee.

I will say that Picoult throws in just enough twists to keep you guessing. That is probably another reason why the book does not seem formulaic. While I usually can guess twists, or feel stupid when they're revealed and I've missed the hints - there was one bit here that came out of nowhere and, yet, it seemed the only possible explination.

The inventive use of tried-and-true plot devices, coupled with great scene description make Salem Falls a damn addictive read. Not a great read, mind you, more like Christmas day present unwrapping. You want it all at once, but then feel a bit let down when it's all over.

MISCELLANEOUS: The book itself was shifted (read: slanted and not square) and, as a sometimes book repairer, I had the hardest time not taking this book into work and re-pressing.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to the library (that's right, I went on a four book binge the last time I was there)
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

CR: The Gladiator's Honor by Michelle Styles
RN: College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, and Coeds, Then and Now by Lynn Peril

Book 74: The Red Tent

TITLE: The Red Tent
AUTHOR: Anita Diamant
STARTED: September 25, 2006
FINISHED: October 1, 2006
PAGES: 321
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: We have been lost to each other for so long.

SUMMARY: [From] Far beyond the traditional women-of-the-Bible sagas in both impact and vigor, The Red Tent is based upon a mention in Genesis of Jacob's only female offspring - his daughter, Dinah.

Author Anita Diamant, in the voice of Dinah, gives an insider's look at the details of women's lives in biblical times and a chronicle of their earthy stories and long-ignored histories. The red tent of the title is the place where women were sequestered during their cycles of birthing, menses, and illness. It is here that Dinah hears the whispered stories of her four mothers - Jacob's wives Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah - and tells their tales to us in remarkable and thought-provoking oratories. Familiar passages from the Bible take on new life as Dinah fills in what the Bible has left out - the lives of women. Dinah tells us of her initiation into the religious and sexual practices of the tribe; Jacob's courtship with Rachel and Leah; the ancient world of caravans, farmers, midwives, and slaves; her ill-fated sojourn in the city of Sechem; her years in Canaan; and her half-brother Joseph's rise in Egypt.

REASON FOR READING: Another one that was on my list that I came across in my first library trip.

THOUGHTS: This is one of those books that people are always telling you about, and you tell yourself that you'll get around to it at some point never really expecting to actually do so. Let me tell you: do so. Do so now.

This is one of the best books I've read in many years. Diamant's plot is creative and webs fiction and biblical story with ease and grace. Her characters are fascinating because they are rich, deeply imagined people. The smallest bit of personality is thought out and, even though it may be unwritten, this comes out in the story.

The sole part of this book, however, that makes it a phenomenal read is the lush, intricate, and jump-off-the-page writing. Diamant tells her story in the first-person, from Dinah's point of view. The Red Tent sounds more like an oral story than a written book. The sound and words that Diamant forms in the reader's head envelopes them from the inside out. Diamant uses Dinah's hushed voice to paint a vivid picture for the reader, right down to the dust in the air and the sound of scampering children.

From the very first sentence, it seems as if Dinah is telling you her story directly. There is no middle man of author, there is just you and her. And, Dinah is not in some far off location recalling a memory. She is there with you. And you, you are not sitting at home, in your favorite chair, a glass of wine at your side. You are sitting at a camp fire, homespun itching your skin, the smell of woodsmoke in your nose, the night's breeze on your face, and Dinah is leaning into the fire across from you and she begins to tell her story.

Dinah describes her life as no one else could. The intricate details, her thoughts on her family and their lives - all of these things are present - the drama, death, love, heartbreak, and everyday life of a woman in tribal, ancient times. The text of this novel is so full that it is hard to imagine how the writer was ever able to nail it down into a single book. She uses Dinah as the anchor, and it is in knowing Dinah that we come to know the remarkable story of not only her, but those around her. Dinah leads you through her world, a world that is more different than can ever be imagined. A tent is home. Monotheism is a minority opinion. The earth has its own personality and an active one at that. In The Red Tent it is almost like everyone and everything thing wants to talk at once, and only Dinah can make sense of the noise for you.

As a reader, you become so connected with Dinah that her emotions flow into yours. You become fascinated with the idea of being a woman, and being allowed to truly spend time in the red tent. You eavesdrop on the menfolk while serving their evening meal. You clutch at your throat with sweaty fists when your father Joseph confronts Esau, his often though cruel twin brother. When your lover is taken from you, right out of your hands in the most bloody way possible, you curse, scream, and want to die in your despair and sorrow. But rise again in the knowledge that you bear his child within your belly. And when you find love and joy in your work again, you are calmed, making peace with your violent past.

This personal connection never leaves the novel, and that is it's strength. At it's core, The Red Tent is one woman's story. Diamant puts Dinah in front of you, she lets you into her life, and, at the last page, you are not ready to let go of this remarkable woman that you have come to know.

MISCELLANEOUS: What I don't know about biblical history could fill an ark.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): I want it in hardcover... but this copy has to go back to the library.
RATING: 9/10 [Excellent! Couldn't put it down]

CR: Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult
RN: The Gladiator's Honor by Michelle Styles

Book 73: When We Meet Again

TITLE: When We Meet Again
AUTHOR: Victoria Alexander
STARTED: September 23, 2006
FINISHED: September 25, 2006
PAGES: 371
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: He was, no doubt, the greatest mistake in her twenty-two years.

SUMMARY: [From] Pamela is a mystery Alexei is determined to solve ...

Prince Alexei of Avalonia is a master at the art of seduction, but when a mysterious young woman he meets at a masked ball spends the night in his bed, he finds he is touched in ways he cannot forget. Still, he wonders if she was real or a dream spun of moonlight.

Alexei might well be a temptation Pamela cannot resist ...

And Miss Pamela Effington is no dream. Certainly, succumbing to the prince's seduction was madness. Now she's come to her senses and is thankful their paths will never cross again. Even if they do, he had never truly seen her face.

But they are both in for the shock of their lives. For back in London, determined to lead a blameless life, Pamela finds Alexei occupying her home -- a townhouse she's only recently inherited -- and he refuses to leave. A feigned courtship seems an excellent idea, and soon the mystery and temptation begin all over again.

REASON FOR READING: I like Alexander's stuff and this was on my list.

THOUGHTS: Alexander is slipping. There were moments of her normal brilliance in the books (re: anything have to do with Venice and Masques) but, on the whole, this book as subpar. The writing was flat. The characters, plot, and intrigue was also blah. Alexander must have been on autopilot for this once - which is a damn shame because it could have been really good.

I think, mainly, that I was more intrigued by the backstory (the one night stand in Venice after a Masque) than I was about anything else. Everything else was filler. I wanted to know about that night - screw the rest!

MISCELLANEOUS: On a wholly personal note, I love Venice. It's gorgeous. Smelly, but gorgeous.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Thank god I got this one from the library
RATING: 5/10 [I didn't particularly like it or dislike it; mixed review]

CR: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
RN: Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

Book 72: The Very Virile Viking

TITLE: The Very Virile Viking
AUTHOR: Sandra Hill
STARTED: September 20, 2006
FINISHED: September 21, 2006
PAGES: 372
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: In days of old when men were... whatever...

SUMMARY: [From] Magnus Ericsson, a brawny Viking from the 10th century, sets out with nine of his 11 children to find new lands when his longship drifts off course and ends up smack in the middle of a Hollywood set. Mistaken for an "act-whore" auditioning for a Viking film, he snags the producer's attention as well as the interest of gorgeous realtor Angela Abruzzi. Angela agrees to take Magnus and his kids in, with the caveat that her family's Sonoma County vineyard, be the setting for the producer's next flick. Though buff, Magnus is none too swift, and it takes him a while to realize he's time-traveled. Instead, he thinks he's discovered new lands. He and Angela make ideal sparring partners and bedmates: the only problem is that Magnus has taken a vow of celibacy. Despite a daunting number of characters, Hill manages to give each child a unique voice while still keeping the focus on the sexy shenanigans between Magnus and Angela. A subplot involving a nasty neighbor who will do anything to get his hands on the winery is underdeveloped, but, all in all, this is an engaging, hilarious and entirely winsome read.

REASON FOR READING: The viking called to me from the library shelf - and so did his big sword.

THOUGHTS: This was a fluff of a read, and not a very good one at that. I really can't say much about it because it's simply a humorous romance that you read, enjoy, then toss aside for your next book.

I will say this, it passed the time on the stationary bike remarkable quickly. It also gets male treadmill runners next to you to do a double take and quirk their eyebrows.

The one good thing about the book, Hill took a bad thing (a man who can't keep it in his pants and thus fathers lots of children) and turned it into a good thing (said man loves them all, and is a father to them all - even though some of them are probably not his).

MISCELLANEOUS: Pronounce "virile" wrong and you've got a completely different book.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to the library - I'm so glad I now have a real library within walking distance again
RATING: 5/10 [I didn't particularly like it or dislike it; mixed review]

CR: When We Meet Again by Victoria Alexander
RN: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Book 71: Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife

TITLE: Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife
AUTHOR: Linda Berdoll
STARTED: September 12, 2006
FINISHED: September 19, 2006
PAGES: 465
GENRE: Fiction (trying to be Literature)

FIRST SENTENCE: [From Chapter 1] As plush a coach as it was, recent rains tried even its heavy springs.

SUMMARY: [From] This rollicking sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was originally self-published in 1999 as The Bar Sinister. In Berdoll's wild, bawdy, and utterly enjoyable novel, the Darcys begin their married life as one of the happiest, most in-love couples imaginable. Berdoll picks up the story after their wedding, but flashes back to the days after the courtship, when Elizabeth and Darcy's passion for each other grew stronger. After a spicy wedding night, the couple finds their compatibility extends far beyond their matched wits. As Elizabeth settles into her role as mistress of a large household, her sister Jane grapples with her own, less passionate marriage to Charles Bingley. Thrown in as well are an illegitimate young man who just might be Darcy's son, a vengeful serving man who plagues the Darcys and develops an unhealthy fixation on Elizabeth, and suspicions of infidelity.

REASON FOR READING: Kathleen told me I should - I also love all things P&P.

THOUGHTS: This was fanfiction to the core. But at least it was utterly delightful, romantic, thick and lushly written fanfiction. I have never been, nor will I ever be, an Austen/Pride and Prejudice purist - I loved the Keira Knightly movie. This is probably the only reason why I did not loathe this book. Purists would run screaming, I welcomed this book with open arms and stayed up late many a night savoring its embrace.

Berdoll does a fantastic job of maintaining the core of Austen's masterful work: the characters. The remain as Austen saw them, but Berdoll adds a deeper, more personal layer that Austen merely grazed at. Berdoll took these little hints from Austen and turned them into a whole book. Darcy is still Darcy. Jane is still Jane. Lizzy is still Lizzy. And Lydia, unfortunately for all who come near her, is still Lydia. If Berdoll had failed to retain the personality of the characters, even I would loathe this book.

But she does retain the characters - she just throws them into overly dramatic situations. It was fun to see Austen's characters in situations that only a modern romance novel could create. Help me! My coach is being taken over by a former-coachman-cum-bandit-but-really-was-only-a-bandit-now-he-wants-Lizzy-because-she's-HAWT! And now, oh dear, who is that well dressed man I know holding that infant I don't? No, Darcy, don't leave to traipse after your sister who has left for the war on the continent with our stable boy who may or may not be the son of someone important in the book.

Yea, it was really like that. But it was worth ever soap opera worthy page.

The romance is high. Darcy gets hotter. The writing is magical. I laughed through tears, felt flushed many a time, and wanted to scream and certain idiotic moves by the characters. It was a roller coaster of a read, and I want to get back in line.

MISCELLANEOUS: Mirror you say? Intriguing.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): It has to leave me and go back to Kathleen, because she owns it.
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

CR: The Very Virile Viking by Sandra Hill
RN: When We Meet Again by Victoria Alexander

Book 70: The Scourge of God

TITLE: The Scourge of God
AUTHOR: William Dietrich
STARTED: September 6, 2006
FINISHED: September 11, 2006
PAGES: 361
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: Three hundred and seventy-six years after the birth of Our Savior, the world was still one.

SUMMARY: [From] After decades of assault by barbarian tribes, Rome is weakening and in danger of being overrun. By a.d. 449, Attila, ruler of the Huns, has become Europe's most powerful monarch, his ferocity earning him the title "the Scourge of God." Now he is poised to assault the West.

It begins with an illicit affair. Honoria, sister of Valentinian III, emperor of the Western Roman Empire, creates a scandal when she is discovered in bed with her steward. Imprisoned for her indiscretion, Honoria sees the instrument of her deliverance in the form of the most feared warrior in the known world -- Attila. Desperate, she dispatches a messenger to the leader of the Huns, asking for his aid. Taking the entreaty as a marriage proposal, Attila begins to mass his forces to claim the half of the Roman Empire he feels should be his dowry, thus setting in motion the engines of war.

Fearing that open war with the ferocious Huns could destroy the empire, the Romans seek a clandestine solution. Dispatching a group of ambassadors to Attila's camp under the guise of seeking a diplomatic accord, the Roman leadership intends instead to corrupt one of Attila's lieutenants into an assassin, eliminating the threat by murdering the Hun leader.

Jonas, an ambitious intellectual, joins the party as its historian. But when the plot is discovered, he becomes much more. Taken hostage by the Huns, Jonas realizes that it will require all his skills in diplomacy, and some newfound skills with the sword, to survive. But survival isn't his only concern. Within the Hun camp he encounters Ilana, a Roman beauty imprisoned by the Huns and promised to one of their warriors. To attempt an escape alone would be foolhardy. To combine it with a rescue would be suicide. But Jonas knows he cannot leave the camp without Ilana, even if his devotion costs him his life.

As Jonas plans his escape, he seizes what could be a crucial element in the coming war between Rome and the Huns. Now his life isn't the only thing at stake. To save the empire and Ilana, Jonas must bring warning and an ancient sword to prepare Rome for the biggest battle in history, in which two vast armies will clash to determine the future of Western civilization.

REASON FOR READING: I wanted something fictiony, ancienty, and historically - this fit the bill.

THOUGHTS: Trying to write this review almost a month after I finished reading the book is probably not a good idea. The plot is fuzzy. The descriptions and writing, while a bit clearer, are still pretty hazy. I couldn't even begin to tell you the nuances of the plot and characters. Basically, I remember very little of this book.

What I do remember, is that I liked it. I liked it because of how it portrayed the death of an empire. I liked it because it showed how the conqueror is conquered. The roman scribe and lead character, Jonas, gives the reader a front seat view of the death of a world, and the auspicious rise of another. This book is good because it takes a well known turning point in history, and shows the reader why we should remember the death of Rome.

Dietrich does a fantastic job of recreating a dramatic moment in history. His choice to use fictional, minor characters as the lead actors in his book gives an insight to what everyday people may have seen during this time. It puts the moment point and center, instead of the historical icons. While I may not remember the finer details of the work, I remember that - and I remember thinking it was a masterful idea.

I also remember the bloody swordfights, battle scenes, and manly strutting. Awesome.

MISCELLANEOUS: I would not have survived the ancient world. Or the middle ages.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

CR: Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll
RN: The Very Virile Viking by Sandra Hill

Monday, October 02, 2006

2006 National Book Festival

For the third year running, I attended the National Book Festival on the Mall in downtown D.C. I think I'm finally getting the hang of this thing. In past years, I was all about the free stuff (who doesn't love pens, bookmarks, and bookbags?) and ignored most of the author talks. This year, I went downtown with a plan of attack, I was going to hear three authors speak, have a book signed, see all the pavilions, and then sprint back in time for the kick-off of the Notre Dame game. I had it scheduled down to the very last minute.

Well, what do you know. My schedule, for the most part, when ka-blooey. Not in a bad way, though. It all worked out for the best in the end.

I stupidly followed the timing of the metro that gave me. Silly, silly Meghan. The website told me I would arrive at 9:45 a.m., the first talk I wanted to attend was at 10:00 a.m. This would have worked out perfectly. Instead, I arrived at 9:15 a.m. I could have slept in for another 45 minutes! Oh well, I wandered around the pavilions at that point, seeing everyone set up. Since that did not take long, I found myself a set at the "Mysteries & Thrillers" pavilion and read The Red Tent as I waited for my first author to talk.

Since it was so early in the morning (read: early in the morning for a Saturday), the tent was pretty full, but there were still a few seats. My first author talk of the day was Brad Meltzer, the author of The Book of Fate. I've only read his book The First Counsel, but The Book of Fate is on my list. Let me tell you, he was a great way to start the day. His talk was funny, vivacious, and set the tone for a great morning. He opened his discussion with how Bulgaria loves him. Apparently, when he first arrived in the country, flashbulbs were going off left and right - he turned around because he thought someone really famous was behind him. This all makes sense considering he looks kind of like former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

Meltzer discussed his writing style, and how he could have the greatest plot in the world, but if the characters were flat, the book would be too. The Book of Fate began because he spent a few days with former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Meltzer also said that "if you recognized yourself in the book, it probably was you" because he gets all his character descriptions from riding the D.C. metro. "Kind of skeezy guy, balding, no chin - there's my villain."

Directly following Meltzer's talk, I bounded a few feet over to the "Fiction & Fantasy" pavilion to hear Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, speak. I knew he would be popular, but I didn't that I would be stuck standing outside of the tent. It was amazing the amount of people who showed up for his talk, I don't think I've ever seen it that crowded. Then again, considering how phenomenal his book was, I should have expected that turnout - even with the rain drizzling down on those of use who were unfortunate enough to be outside the boundaries of the tent.

Hosseini spoke mainly about how his novel came about. Through his discussion about his own childhood in pre-Soviet invasion Afghanistan, it was clear that The Kite Runner is a semi-autobiographical novel. What was most surprising for me was how young Hosseini looked. His book is so deep and fraught with emotion, that it was shocking to see such a young man had written such a powerful novel. I was impressed by his articulateness and attention to emotion in both is novel and his discussion. Toward the end of the speech he answered a very popular question, "Where are the women of Afghanistan?" He answered that "They're all in the audience." (It was true that at least 80 percent of the audience was women.) Hosseini also stated that his next book would be about a mother/daughter pair set in Afghanistan. I am very excited about that.

There was a gap between Hussein's talk and my next author, so I walked around the festival grounds for about half an hour. Unlike past years, I went to the Festival alone, so there was no one to wait in line with me for a picture in the big book chair. I thought it would look odd for just me, a 22-year old, to be in line with toddlers and pre-schoolwork. So I skipped that this year. Instead I wandered aimlessly. None of the non-author pavilions held my interest, mainly because they were the same as in past years. I was handed a book mark with a star on top of it. Apparently, if you remove the star, soak it in water over night, and then plant it, forget-me-nots will grow. I am so doing that... as soon as I get my hands on potting soil and a pot.

The final author I wanted to hear was Vince Flynn. I ended up arriving back at the "Mysteries & Thrillers" tent WAY early, so I also heard Michael Connelly speak. And by speak, I mean drone. I'm sure he's a great writer, but he's not much of a public speaker.

Flynn's talk more than made up for me having to stand through Connelly. He was blunt, arrogant, hilarious, and outspoken. I loved every minute of it. One of his major points is that he thinks we do not give enough criticism in this country, particularly when it comes toward our children. "We should tell them when they're wrong, and then show them how to fix it." Flynn is non-apologetic about his political stances and that came across in his talk as well as his books. I always believed he thought himself to be the character of Mitch Rapp, and his talked on deepened that belief.

Flynn teased the audience by holding up the latest book, Acts of Treason, which does not come out until October 1oth. Evil, evil man. Very attractive man, but evil nonetheless. Toward the end of his talk, Flynn apologized for the ending of his last book, which made it seem like the Rapp series was over. He said, "I have three kids. Have you seen the cost of tuition at a four-year college? I can't afford to kill Mitch Rapp." The audience howled with laughter, and gave him a much deserving round of applause.

Following Flynn's talk, I power walked it down to his author signing line. I bless my speed-walking skills because I was about the thirtieth person in line - which meant I would easily make it back to my apartment in time for kick-off. I read in line as I waited, and then prepared to find something to say to one of my favorite authors so as not to stand there in awkward silence. I only spent a few seconds at the table as he signed by book, but it was great.

"Wait a minute, this isn't Consent to Kill." Flynn said. (Note: Consent to Kill is his most recent book.)

"Nope." I replied.

"Term Limits, eh? You're a true fan." (Note: Term Limits is his first book.)

"Indeed, but a true fan would steal that copy of Act of Treason." I shadily ask. The new book, not due out for ten days, was right there, staring at me.

*author pauses*

"I could give it to you." He starts to pick it up. "Nah."

"Drat!" I replied before thanking him and walking away. He laughed.

After ensuring my book was back in my bag, and no where near my wet umbrella, I walked back to the metro - I had a football game to watch.

Notre Dame won, by the way, even though I apparently slept through the third quarter.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

That's What She Said: Oops

"I think that's it for library issues - except Alyssa set the science library on fire yesterday."

-- The Director of my library during our recent staff meeting