Friday, February 23, 2007

Book 8: Vanquished

NUMBER: 8
TITLE:
Vanquished
AUTHOR: Hope Tarr
STARTED: February 18, 2007
FINISHED: February 21, 2007
PAGES: 368
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: Another sharp gust of wind knifed its way through the boy's thin woolen jacket and trousers, drawing a shiver that ran from the top of his hatless head to the tips of his thinly shod feet.

SUMMARY: [From amazon.com] Known as The Maid of Mayfair for her unassailable virtue, unwavering resolve, and quiet dignity, suffragette leader, Caledonia - Callie - Rivers is the perfect counter for detractors portrayal of the women as rabble rousers, lunatics, even whores. But a high-ranking enemy within the government will stop at nothing to ensure that the Parliamentary bill to grant the vote to females dies in the Commons - including ruining the reputation of the Movements chief spokeswoman. After a streak of disastrous luck at the gaming tables threatens to land him at the bottom of the Thames, photographer Hadrian St. Claire reluctantly agrees to seduce the beautiful suffragist leader and then use his camera to capture her fall from grace. Posing as the photographer commissioned to make her portrait for the upcoming march on Parliament, Hadrian infiltrates Callies inner circle. But lovely, soft-spoken Callie hardly fits his mental image of a dowdy, man-hating spinster. And as the passion between them flares from spark to full-on flame, Hadrian is the one in danger of being vanquished.

REASON FOR READING: Loved the cover, then loved the summary when I read the back.

THOUGHTS: I loved the characters, and I loved the plot. There was chemistry and true to life action. What I had trouble dealing with were some of the sexual scenes between the characters. Tarr uses quite crass language for the Victorian age, and while these scenes could have worked in many books, they feel quite wrong with these characters. These brief bouts actually ruin what could a great romance.

From the instant the meet, Callie and Hadrian have sparks that fly off the page. After a string of bad romance novels, it was nice to feel moved again. The way the plot develops, with Callie and Hadrian actually develop a romance instead of tumbling headlong into it, is quite nice. What's even better is that both characters are intelligent and articulate, they act as real people would act. They're motivations are real. Callie, up until her betrothal, had never made a decision in her own life. Once she walks out on her parents and toad of a fiance, she starts making her own way. Thus, it is understandable that she would take up the cause of her gender. Hadrian was born in a brothel and lived on the streets, his every motivation is to remain off them.

I'm also glad that Tarr actual throws in certain "personal" scenes (think Britney Spears song "Touch of my Hand"). That was shocking because I've never read something like that before in a romance novel - but it wasn't off-putting. In fact, it was nice to see a heroine who wasn't afraid of pleasure, or the ability to find it herself. This book was decent, then the "Me Time" scne occurred and I started rooting for the novel, fist pumps and all... then the language hit. Even if these characters were supposed to be more experimental and naughty in the sack, the language was just not right.

Hadrian was born on the streets, so maybe having him say "Fuck" would be right. But it wasn't, because there was absolutely no crassness in him up until that point. Then, having Callie say things like that, well it tossed me right of the book. And then the, umm, back door deeds - another risk that, this time, did not pay off - it just felt false. What's worse is that these areas could have been easily avoided and the book would have benefited. I'm not saying that the actions for the characters were wrong, just the way they were written. Tarr could have done the same things with slightly milder language. When the OMG Misunderstanding occurs instead of Callie exclaiming, "...before you fucked me" should could have easily said, "...before you had me." Same emotion, same anger, but more in her character.

Crassness is fine, as long as it's in character. While I applaud Tarr for taking risks, she went too far. The plot was fine (thank you new time period), and so were the characters. Tarr just needs to find a balance between daring and stupid.

MISCELLANEOUS: Cover artists take note: this cover was sexy without being skanky. Follow suit.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): PBSing it after Beth reads it.
RATING: 5/10 [I didn't particularly like it or dislike it; mixed review]

Monday, February 19, 2007

Book 7: Equus

NUMBER: 7
TITLE: Equus
AUTHOR: Peter Shaffer
STARTED: February 16, 2007
FINISHED: Februrary 17, 2007
PAGES: 125
GENRE: Drama

FIRST SENTENCE: [The first line of the play] With one particular horse, called Nugget, he embraces.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Alan Strang is a disturbed youth whose dangerous obsession with horses leads him to commit an unspeakable act of violence. As psychiatrist Martin Dysart struggles to understand the motivation for Alan's brutality, he is increasingly drawn into Alan's web and eventually forced to question his own sanity. Equus is a timeless classic and a cornerstone of contemporary drama that delves into the darkest recesses of human existence.

REASON FOR READING: I wanted to know why Harry Potter would choose this play to make his stage debut.

THOUGHTS: As stated above, I wanted to read this play to figure out why Daniel Radcliffe (a.k.a. Harry Potter) would decide to take a role playing a pretty deranged character who appears nude on stage. Well, having read it, I can say that Radcliffe probably took the role because it allows him to act. That's not to say that there is no acting in the Harry Potter series, it's just a different sort of acting. Where Radcliffe has to play internally and through his facial expressions in the movies, in this play he gets to lash out physically. Strang is a very demanding character, very dynamic, disturbed, and abundantly intriguing.

Because I read this play simply to get inside of the mind of an actor, I readily admit that I most likely missed the greater meaning in the play. That said, I did readily find the most obvious point Shaffer was making. Shaffer's play is radical in the sense that it makes it's hero a boy who is, for all intents in purposes, mentally disturbed on the most basic levels. Shaffer's dialog is straightforward without being stark. It hits the audience or reader's emotions by making them think about their own sanity. The play is thought provoking because it requires the audience to take a self-inventory of the influences in their life. Shaffer is basically saying we're all abnormal in some ways, but how we deal with our differences is what defines us as "crazy" or "sane."

I found the most interesting part of the film was how Shaffer showed that religion is deeply personal. The audience comes to realize that Strang is equating horses as a sort of religion. Raised as the son of an atheist father and deeply religious mother, the household he grew up in turned and interest in horses into a deep obsession. The way Strang stalks about his physical connection with Nugget the horse is disturbing because it seems so real to life. It was at the climax of the play where I knew Radcliffe chose this role because it allowed him to both mentally and physically express the life of a complex character.

This version of the play did not simply include the script, it was a staged script. That is, it included the set description, lighting, costumes, and blocking of the characters. Those aspects add an extra dimension to this book. It rounded out the play and actually allowed me to visual what I was reading. On the other hand, it also meant that I focused a lot on the staging and not the actual script.

Equus is a remarkable play despite how unsettled I felt after reading it.

MISCELLANEOUS: The photos... it's so wrong of me to like them, but I do anyway.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Belongs to the library.
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Throw in a grand staircase

Not gonna lie, I have daydreams like this. They usually occur around the card catalog or in the stacks.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Book 6: The Book of Fate

NUMBER: 6
TITLE: The Book of Fate
AUTHOR: Brad Meltzer
STARTED: Feb. 8, 2007
FINISHED: Feb. 15, 2007
PAGES: 510
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: Six minutes from now, one of us would be dead.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Eight years ago, presidential aide Wes Holloway survived the attack of a crazed assassin that killed the chief executive's oldest friend, Ron Boyle. Now permanently disfigured, Holloway receives a report that sounds impossible: Half a world away, Boyle has been spotted alive and well. Not surprisingly, Wes becomes almost unnaturally obsessed with the truth behind the sighting. Before his quest ends, it will lead him deep into Washington cover-ups, Masonic secrets, and an intricate code invented by Thomas Jefferson.

REASON FOR READING: I heard the author discuss the book at the National Book Festival, and was more than a little intrigued.

THOUGHTS: If you read the above summary and then expect that to be what this book is about, you'll be sorely disappointed. Washington cover-ups there are aplenty (even though the majority of the book - all by 20 or so pages is spent in Florida), but there really is squat when it comes to Masonic Secrets and an intricate code. In fact, aside from a few maps that just seem thrown in for randomness, there really is no connection to the Masons or their legend. As for the code, sure it exists, but the role it plays is so minor that I was sorely disappointed. I expected this book to read like The DaVinci, crap writing, crap characters, but a great plot. I got, instead, a watered down Vince Flynn novel that was more poorly written than The DaVinci Code.

I heard Meltzer talk about this book at last year's National Book Festival - he sold his book as being this grand novel about the secrets encoded into D.C.'s geography by the Masons. He sold his book as being about an old code establish by Jefferson. What he delivered was nothing more than a political thriller that lacked pizzaz, mystery, or even a decent plot line. I was bored and even more confused. I've only read one of Meltzer's other books, The First Counsel, and I loved. The plot was fast paced, intricate, and intriguing.

The Book of Fate
on the other hand seems like a sophomoric effort at best. The characters were extraordinarily one-dimensional - the good guys were very good, the bad guys were very bad. Sure the bad guys tried to appeared good, but you knew they were slimy from their first introduction. I could see the "twists" coming chapters before they occurred. What's worse, I felt cheated with this book. I wanted serious discussion of the Masons. Instead, what little bits there are about that are simply thrown in - with the crazy character. That's right the crazed assassin is really crazy, everyone in the book knows he's legitimately crazy, so you, the reader, know that he is crazy. He's got the most intriguing part of the storyline (the tiniest tidbits about the Masons and the general mystery of the book), but you can't take it seriously because you know he's crazy.

On top of all of that, Meltzer makes juvenile mistakes. He'll introduce characters in such a way that you don't really know who they are. Within the first three pages I was confused. He says a "Manning" is in the limo and then he talks about the President. So I though Manning and the President were two different people. Nope. Same person. The writing was trite and tiresome - I actually feel dumber after reading this book. And I read romance novels. A lot of romance novels. Hell, this book even make the 200 pages Harlequins seem like Proust.

I wanted to throw this book against the wall because it was just so damn bad. I don't know what happened to Meltzer. He didn't even phone this one in - he just blew it. A novel of intrigue and mystery should keep me intrigued. I should not feel the desire to laugh at every new "twist and hope all the characters die because they're all so cliched.

A note to all you authors and publishers out there: don't promise a book about the Masons and old codes if what you're selling is actually a horrendous attempt to rip-off of Tom Clancy. It makes the reader feel cheated, frustrated, and just plain pissed off.

MISCELLANEOUS: Someone should actually write the book the summary is trying to sell.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to Jennifer and good riddance with it.
RATING: 1/10 [Don't waste your time / Awful]

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Book 5: 100 Semesters

NUMBER: 5
TITLE: 100 Semesters: My Adventures as Student, Professor, and University President and What I Learned Along the Way
AUTHOR: William M. Chace
STARTED: Jan. 30, 2006
FINISHED: Feb. 7, 2006
PAGES: 354
GENRE: Education

FIRST SENTENCE: Most people do not stay in school for a long time.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Chace follows his own journey from undergraduate education at Haverford College to teaching at Stillman, a traditionally African-American college in Alabama, in the 1960s, to his days as a professor at Stanford and his appointment as president of two very different institutions--Wesleyan University and Emory University.

Chace takes us with him through his decades in education--his expulsion from college, his boredom and confusion as a graduate student during the Free Speech movement at Berkeley, and his involvement in three contentious cases at Stanford: on tenure, curriculum, and academic freedom. When readers follow Chace on his trip to jail after he joins Stillman students in a civil rights protest, it is clear that the ideas he presents are born of experience, not preached from an ivory tower.

The book brings the reader into both the classroom and the administrative office, portraying the unique importance of the former and the peculiar rituals, rewards, and difficulties of the latter.

Although Chace sees much to lament about American higher education--spiraling costs, increased consumerism, overly aggressive institutional self-promotion and marketing, the corruption of intercollegiate sports, and the melancholy state of the humanities--he finds more to praise. He points in particular to its strength and vitality, suggesting that this can be sustained if higher education remains true to its purpose: providing a humane and necessary education, inside the classroom and out, forAmerica's future generations.

REASON FOR READING: One of the many on my TBR list

THOUGHTS: I'm of two minds about Chace's book. First, I loved it because it showed that there are people who truly care about education for the sake of education. Second, I disliked the somewhat ramblings nature and dense tangents. Mostly, I was intrigued by this man's love of teaching, even when he was an administrator and president, he still found time to teach classes. In reading this book, I came to admire Chace's persistent love for learning.

The memoir is extremely self-reflective and this makes the book seem longer than it is. There are just pages and pages where Chace rambles on about the purpose of higher education and his love for specific aspects of learning. While these pages are interesting to hear about, the amount of time Chace devotes to this moment is, in my opinion, too long. Everyone has a different educational experience and, in discussing his love for education, Chace has almost written two books. The first is a meditation on education, the second, and I would argue most interesting, is about the way higher education actually functions and has changed over time.

The most enjoyable segments are when Chace is outright candid in his analysis of the higher education system. He's not afraid to tell when something he or someone else did ended badly. In fact, he takes pains to mention how defensive each segment of a university can be, and how this makes for a rather inefficient and tense education system. He also discusses how colleges and universities are beginning to resemble and act like businesses - where students are customers of a product. Chace also does not neglect to mention the horrible parts of being an administrator (i.e. his firebombed office and meeting with parents whose child has just committed suicide). It is these punctuated instances that kept me reading. I've been a student all my life, and have never once considered what it must be like to be a professor, administrator, or president. His story is more dramatic than one would think.

Chace has seen every side of higher education, and he lived through a time of major upheaval in the system. It is for these very reasons that his book has deeper meaning. While sometimes dull, the self-reflective nature and meditation of purpose lead one to believe that Chace believes in the educational system in ways that most people neglect. It is a memoir that is meant to make the reader think about the most basic meaning of education: is it a product of business, or is a simple necessity of life?

MISCELLANEOUS: While reading this book, I had more than one dream about being a professor. I taught the weirdest classes.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Belongs to the library
RATING: 6/10 [Good]

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

That looks interesting

I've decided I'm very susceptible to the power of random suggestions and interests. Case in point:

At the end of last week I was listening to the Evita soundtrack (the one with Madonna) on my MP3 player. "Ooo," I said to myself. "I want to read a biography of Eva Peron." So I went up to the stacks and found one.

Later that afternoon I was reading all about Daniel Radcliffe's racy promotion pictures for the play "Equus." Seeing as how this kid started out playing Harry Potter, I was intrigued by what would make him choose such a vastly different role. I did a quick search online and, lo and behold, my library had a copy of the play. Back to the stacks I went.

It's a good thing I work in a library and not a bookstore, otherwise my random need to know things would cost me more than just a pretty penny.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Victory!

I do so love the fact that the new Harry Potter book is coming out this summer. I love it even more that it's coming out a week after the movie. I love it the most because it comes out the midnight following my birthday.

Victory on all fronts!

Since my birthday is on a Friday this year, and the book will be released into my eager hands that midnight, I have already started to make plans. Yes, I am that hyper-organized and over eager. I plan on:
  • Taking off work that day (it's conveniently a half-day anyway)
  • Sleeping in (to prep for the big night)
  • Finishing Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (for I have to re-read all of them now)
  • Putting on a party hat (or tiara - something shiny)
  • Meeting friends at our friendly neighborhood Borders that will most likely be hosting another midnight party and grabbing our line tickets
  • Having a meal of some sort
  • Seeing a movie (most like "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix")
  • Then camping out until midnight (either at Borders or the pub across the street)
  • RECEIVING BOOK (and checking over it's condition before buying it - one never loses the used bookstore mentality)
  • JUMPING FOR ECSTATIC JOY!!!!!!
  • Walking back to my apartment as fast as humanly possible
  • Putting on a Harry Potter movie soundtrack
  • Reading in bed until 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.
  • Arising around 10:00 a.m.
  • Spend Saturday finishing the book
  • Crying
  • Rereading the book from cover to cover on Sunday
  • Crying
  • Monday, it's back to work where I will converse with my friends and coworkers (hopefully not spilling spoilers to those who have not yet finished it)
J.K. Rowling - thank you for making my 23rd Birthday utterly glorious. And thank you for getting kids (including my little brother) to read.

I think this (in both the general and particular sense) is awesome.