Thursday, May 29, 2008

Book 29: Beowulf

TITLE: Beowulf
AUTHOR:Gareth Hinds
STARTED: May 28, 2008
FINISHED: May 28, 2008
PAGES: 128
GENRE: Graphic Novel

FIRST SENTENCE: In the days of old, the House of the Scyldings ruled in Denmark.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] This exhilarating graphic-novel edition of an ancient classic honors the spirit of the original as it attracts modern readers.

The epic tale of the great warrior Beowulf has thrilled readers through the ages — and now it is reinvented for a new generation with Gareth Hinds’s masterful illustrations. Grendel’s black blood runs thick as Beowulf defeats the monster and his hideous mother, while somber hues overcast the hero’s final, fatal battle against a raging dragon. Speeches filled with courage and sadness, lightning-paced contests of muscle and will, and funeral boats burning on the fjords are all rendered in glorious and gruesome detail. Told for more than a thousand years, Beowulf’s heroic saga finds a true home in this graphic-novel edition.

THOUGHTS: Boy was the art in this graphic novel gritty. I would almost go so far as to say it was dirty and gory. I loved every minute of it. There is very little text in this book. A person who has not read the original text may become lost. Even then, it's a rather juicy little book.

I want this artist to do a graphic novel of John Gardner's Grendel now.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

Book 28: To Dance

TITLE: To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel
AUTHOR: Siena Cherson Siegel
STARTED: May 28, 2008
FINISHED: May 28, 2008
PAGES: 64
GENRE: Graphic Novel

FIRST SENTENCE: Big, empty spaces always made me dance.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Dancers are young when they first dream of dance. Siena was six -- and her dreams kept skipping and leaping, circling and spinning, from airy runs along a beach near her home in Puerto Rico, to dance class in Boston, to her debut performance on stage with the New York City Ballet.

To Dance tells and shows the fullness of her dreams and her rhapsodic life they led to. Part family history, part backstage drama, here is an original, firsthand book about a young dancer's beginnings -- and beyond.

THOUGHTS: I picked this up because I was a dancer and I wanted to see pretty pictures. I got what I asked for.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Book 27: Les Liaisons Dangereuses

TITLE: Les Liaisons Dangereuses
AUTHOR: Pierre-Ambroise-Francois Choderlos de Laclos
STARTED: May 14, 2008
FINISHED: May 27, 2008
PAGES: 400
GENRE: Literature

FIRST SENTENCE: We think it our duty to warn the public that, in spite of the title of this work and of what the editor says about it in his preface, we cannot guarantee its authenticity as a collection of letters: we have in fact, very good reason to believe that it is only a novel.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Love . . . sex . . . seduction. Of the three, only the last matters. Love is a meaningless word, and sex an ephemeral pleasure, but seduction is an amusing game in which victory means power and the ability to humiliate one’s enemies and revel with one’s friends. So it is for the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, two supremely bored aristocrats during the final years before the French Revolution. Together they concoct a wildly wicked wager: If Valmont can successfully seduce the virtuous wife of a government official, Madame de Tourvel, then Madame Merteuil will sleep with him again. But Madame Merteuil also wants Valmont to conquer the young and innocent former convent schoolgirl, C├ęcile Volanges. Can he do both?

When Les Liaisons Dangereuses was first published in 1782, it both scandalized and titillated the aristocracy it was aimed against, who publicly denounced it and privately devoured it. Today we still recognize its relevance, for what could be more contemporary than its appalling image of everyday evil — small, selfish, manipulative, and mean.

THOUGHTS: I really enjoyed this book, despite the fact that it seemed to take me forever to finish it. I kept reading and reading and, although the story was developing nicely, the pages didn't seem to get any closer to the end. Toward the end, however, the pages raced by as I rushed to find out how the story ended. Laclos's novel is uber-dramatic without hitting the melodrama level of an overacted soap opera.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses is told in letters. Unlike other novels of this ilk, Laclos's letters could have actually been written in a conceivable amount of time. The voices of all the letters also change depending on who is doing the writing. The text is witty, quick, and realistic. For me, it was also unexpectedly emotional. Toward the end, I was on the verge of tears.

The motivations of the characters are believable, even if those same motivations lead you to loathe certain characters of the book. The story is organic. It builds from the first letter and simply unfolds into an ending that, while somewhat predictable, is only ending their could possibly be. In many ways, this book is a character study. It almost seems as if Laclos created real people and we were simply given a window into their lives.

I wonder how different this book would have been if I read it in French. Good thing my French-speaking skills have dwindled to phrases like "mon petite fromage" and "le sange and dans l'arbre."

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Monday, May 19, 2008

Useful Things: Maps of War

I'm testing out a new feature today. Tell me what you think. Said feature will highlight interesting references and tools I find online, in books, in magazines, etc.

* * *

Maps Of War

URL: http://www.mapsofwar.com/index.html

According to the creator, Maps of War:
helps you place today's current events into a greater historical context. Each map is well-researched and based in fact, and none of the work is meant to be biased or political.No spin or opinion, just fact-based conclusions about the history of war. Maps-of-War is created by a Flash-Designer hobbyist and professional history- buff.Enjoy your visit and feel free to save or share our work for your own use!
If you have any interest in military history or history in general, you will most likely enjoy this website. This website is a great jumping off point. Think of it as a cliff-notes for cartographers. Maps of War does a particularly good job of covering the big picture of history.

See a sample map below:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Book 26: The Serpent Prince

TITLE: The Serpent Prince
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Hoyt
STARTED: May 6, 2008
FINISHED: May 13, 2008
PAGES: 369
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: The dead man at Lucinda Craddock-Hayes feet looked like a fallen god.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] WHEN THE DEVIL MEETS AN ANGEL...
Country bred Lucy Craddock-Hayes is content with her quiet life. Until the day she trips over an unconscious man-a naked unconscious man-and loses her innocence forever.

HE CAN TAKE HER TO HEAVEN...
Viscount Simon Iddesleigh was nearly beaten to death by his enemies. Now he's hell-bent on vengeance. But as Lucy nurses him back to health, her honesty startles his jaded sensibilities-even as it ignites a desire that threatens to consume them both.

OR TO HELL
Charmed by Simon's sly wit, urbane manners, and even his red-heeled shoes, Lucy falls hard and fast for him. Yet as his honor keeps him from ravishing her, his revenge sends his attackers to her door. As Simon wages war on his foes, Lucy wages her own war for his soul using the only weapon she has-her love...

THOUGHTS: This book didn't do it for me. While I applaud Hoyt for once again messing with genre ideals and matching a common heroine with a lordly hero, the pair did not pull off the story emotionally. This novel followed the trend of lust at first sight but, instead of blossoming into love, it just sorta was. The back-story and secondary characters were full fleshed out and added much needed depth to the story. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the hero's niece played with tin soldiers. Said niece came across as spunky and vivacious without hitting that stock character territory.

I just wanted some spicy to this book. It was rather bland, despite all the duels.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A Notice to All Patrons

On behalf of librarians everywhere, I ask you, the patron, to please not use toilet paper or tissues as bookmarks. These items easily tear when we try to pull them out of books. It takes much longer to pull a piece of tissue than it does an index card or, who would have though, real bookmark. If you insist on using a tissue type material, please remove it yourself before you return the item to the library.

Also, we'd rather not think about what you were doing with the book when you decided that Quilted Northern made for a superb page marking material.

Thank you.

Book 25: The Yiddish Policemen's Union

TITLE: The Yiddish Policemen's Union
AUTHOR: Michael Chabon
STARTED: April 27, 2008
FINISHED: May 5, 2008
PAGES: 414
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: Nine month's Landsman's been flopping at the Hotel Zamenhof without any of his fellow residents managing to get themselves murdered.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] For sixty years, Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven created in the wake of revelations of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. Proud, grateful, and longing to be American, the Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant, gritty, soulful, and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. For sixty years they have been left alone, neglected and half-forgotten in a backwater of history. Now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end: once again the tides of history threaten to sweep them up and carry them off into the unknown.

But homicide detective Meyer Landsman of the District Police has enough problems without worrying about the upcoming Reversion. His life is a shambles, his marriage a wreck, his career a disaster. He and his half-Tlingit partner, Berko Shemets, can't catch a break in any of their outstanding cases. Landsman's new supervisor is the love of his life—and also his worst nightmare. And in the cheap hotel where he has washed up, someone has just committed a murder—right under Landsman's nose. Out of habit, obligation, and a mysterious sense that it somehow offers him a shot at redeeming himself, Landsman begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy. But when word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, Landsman soon finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, hopefulness, evil, and salvation that are his heritage—and with theunfinished business of his marriage to Bina Gelbfish, the one person who understands his darkest fears.

THOUGHTS: When this book won our May selection for the book club, I did a little dance. The premise sounded amazing, the narrative style sounded entertaining and different, and I've heard nothing but beauty flows from Chabon's pen. This book had the makings of greatness... and I HATED it. The plot was fantastic. The style of writing was even decent. The tone of the book, however, made me loathe having to finish it. Instead of coming across as a work of genius, I was whacked over the head with a sense of Chabon saying "Look how awesome I am."

From the first page, this book felt smarmy. It felt as if Chabon was trying to prove to me how much smarter than me he is. I'm all for an author being smart than me. In fact, I like it. What I don't like is when an author feels like he has to impress me with his innovations and rarely-seen narrative style. If it wasn't for that tone, this book would have been a spectacular read. Instead, I found myself rolling my eyes and trying not to fling the book against a wall.

While I was unable to put the tone aside while reading, I can still appreciate some qualities of this book. Chabon does do a good job of creating a world. The setting, for me, was the best part of this book. I could clearly see the landscape and the emotion of the characters that pervaded it. The noire style of writing felt gritty and, despite my loathing, was well paced. The wrapping up of the overall mystery felt rushed and a bit of a let-down, but the story idea as a whole, was at least thought provoking.

If only Chabon didn't sound like he wanted to be fawn over his greatness... then maybe, just maybe I could have stood reading this book.

RATING:2/10 [Awful]

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Book 22-24: Runaways

TITLE: Runaways: Escape to New York, Runaways: Parental Guidance, and Runaways: Live Fast
AUTHOR: Brian K. Vaughan
STARTED: April 23, 2008
FINISHED: April 26, 2008
PAGES: 144, 144, and 144
GENRE: Graphic Novel

FIRST SENTENCE: Escape to New York: Yes, flee in terror, Los Angelinos... lest you feel the sting of the mighty swarm!
Parental Guidance: Is she dead?
Live Fast: Should... should somebody say some words or whatever?

SUMMARY: Escape to New York: The team's lineup changes forever in the perfect jumping-on point for the series that Wizard said "could be the most original book to focus on teenaged super heroes since Spider-Man debuted all the way back in 1962!" When a dangerous alien invades Los Angeles, the Runaways' own Karolina Dean may be the only hero in the Marvel Universe who can stop him... but at what cost?

Parental Guidance: The villainous Pride returns, but this all-new group isn't made up of the Runaways' evil parents. Who are these shadowy players, and what do they want with the Marvel Universe's next generation of heroes?

Live Fast: The Runaways say good-bye to the past, and make hard decisions about their future. Plus: Still reeling from the events of Young Avengers/Runaways, the teenage heroes must now confront a horrific enemy who threatens to tear the team apart.

THOUGHTS: Teens being teens... except with superpowers. Awesome.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

Book 21: The Leopard Prince

TITLE: The Leopard Prince
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Hoyt
STARTED: April 18, 2008
FINISHED: April 22, 2008
PAGES: 372
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: After the carriage wreck and a bit before the horses ran away, Lady Georgina Maitland noticed that her land steward was a man.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Wealthy Lady Georgina Maitland doesn't want a husband, though she could use a good steward to run her estates. One look at Harry Pye, and Georgina knows she's not just dealing with a servant, but a man. Harry has known many aristocrats-including one particular nobleman who is his sworn enemy. But Harry has never met a beautiful lady so independent, uninhibited, and eager to be in his arms. Still, it's impossible to conduct a discreet liaison when poisoned sheep, murdered villagers, and an enraged magistrate have the county in an uproar.

THOUGHTS: Gah! I need to remember to update faster... and I really have no excuse now that I have a laptop. Bad Meghan.

From what I remember, this book was both entertaining and innovative. I also remember that the whole "mystery" of the book was solved in a way that I thought was stupid.

I'm sure this review would have been better if I had done it sooner... but I didn't. So this is all you get.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]