Friday, December 18, 2009

Hmmm... tis a possibility

Tomorrow happens to be Do Nothing But Read Day. Considering that the snowpocalypse is upon us here in the D.C. area, I think I just may have to participate.

Nothing says Happy Holidays like cuddling in a comfy chair with a book, hot cocoa, snacks, and watching the show fall.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Book 89: Black Dogs


TITLE: Black Dogs

AUTHOR: Ian McEwan
STARTED: December 6, 2009
FINISHED: December 8, 2009
PAGES: 150
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: Ever since I lost mine in a road accident when I was eight, I have had my eye on other people's parents.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Set in late 1980s Europe at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Black Dogs is the intimate story of the crumbling of a marriage, as witnessed by an outsider. Jeremy is the son-in-law of Bernard and June Tremaine, whose union and estrangement began almost simultaneously. Seeking to comprehend how their deep love could be defeated by ideological differences Bernard and June cannot reconcile, Jeremy undertakes writing June's memoirs, only to be led back again and again to one terrifying encounter forty years earlier--a moment that, for June, was as devastating and irreversible in its consequences as the changes sweeping Europe in Jeremy's own time. In a finely crafted, compelling examination of evil and grace, Ian McEwan weaves the sinister reality of civilization's darkest moods--its black dogs--with the tensions that both create love and destroy it.

THOUGHTS: I was disappointed in this book. After liking McEwan's Atonement, I expected more from Black Dogs. I wanted to like this book, I really did. But I find that I cannot force myself to like a novel that just isn't my style. I read for stories, and this book was composed more of allegory and political discussion.

What I want to read was a story about the people: the failing marriage, Jeremy acting as a cuckoo, and interaction of the various characters. Instead, I got hoity-toity, holier-than-thou discourse on politics disguised as a novel. I could have cared less when the characters digressed into pages upon pages of political theory discussion. I got enough of that in my poli. sci. courses in college, thank you very much. Passages of this book, the ones that focused on human relationships, were incredibly interesting. Too bad they weren't the whole book.

If McEwan wanted to write a book about communism, he should have written than instead of this bundled mess. There was a great story here, too bad it was hidden by an author who seems to want his readers to know that he is oh-so-much smarter than them.

RATING: 3/10 [Poor, Lost Interest]

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Book 88: Outlaw Hearts

TITLE: Outlaw Hearts
AUTHOR: Rosanne Bittner
STARTED: November 27, 2009
FINISHED: December 6, 2009
PAGES: 505
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: Miranda tried to ignore the image of her father's still-fresh grave as she flicked the reins and goaded the draft horses into a slightly faster gait.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] One year after the Civil War has ended, 20-year-old Miranda Hayes finds herself a widow and an orphan. Knowing that she can't manage her father's farm on the Kansas plains after he is killed by marauding raiders, she decides to search for her brother, who has gone to try his luck in the Nevada gold mines. But on a trip to Kansas City one day, she is brought by fate into contact with the outlaw Jake Harkner, who is wanted in Missouri for murder, theft and rape. In the general store, where both have stopped for supplies, Jake is recognized and a shootout ensues, Miranda herself firing at him in self defense. He escapes, and in a semi-believable plot twist, winds up unconscious in Miranda's cabin. When she discovers him, drained of blood but still alive, it's clear that these two are headed for an unlikely though inevitable partnership, as Miranda seems to be the only person who can help Jake settle his troubled and violent past.

THOUGHTS: This book attempted to be Epic. I mean, the length of time and the breadth of the country it covers is rather daunting. So, it had the right scale, just not the right number of pages. If I had to describe it, it was like Diana Gabaldon decided to reduce the entire Outlander series into a single text. That doesn't mean the book was bad, it just felt a little disjointed and rushed.

I generally enjoyed reading Outlaw Hearts  (Ya gotta love on authors who write Westerns. ); the plot was enjoyable, the writing included just enough description to please me, and the chemistry felt real. Something about the story, however, still felt amiss. I don't know if it was because the heroine was too good, the hero too brooding, or the side plots too large, but something was off just enough to make this book just a good read and not a great read.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Book 87: Noble Intentions


TITLE: Noble Intentions

AUTHOR: Katie MacAlister
STARTED: November 25, 2009
FINISHED: November 27, 2009
PAGES: 329
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: Gillian Leigh's first social event of the Season began with what many in the ton later labeled as an uncanny warning of Things To Come.

SUMMARY: [From Amazon.com] Noble Britton had suffered greatly at the hands of his first wife, and he refused to fall into the same trap again. This time he intended to marry a quiet, biddable woman who would not draw attention to herself or cause scandal. Gillian Leigh's honest manner and spontaneous laughter attracted him immediately. It mattered little that she was accident-prone; he could provide the structure necessary to guide her. But unconventional to the tips of her half-American toes--toes that one of them was constantly tripping over--his new bride turned the tables on him, wreaking havoc on his orderly life. And worse, demanding he surrender his heart. Perpetually one step behind his beguiling spouse, Noble suffered a banged up head, a black eye, and a broken nose before he realized Gillian had healed his soul and proved that their union was no heedless tumble, but the swoon of true love.

THOUGHTS: Kudos to MacAlister for writing a funny regency. I mean, I was genuinely snickering, giggling, and laughing my way through this book. Aside from the fact that this romance was sloppily written (I had to re-read several passages for them to make sense), this book was quite the inventive romp.

Unlike many of MacAlister's heroines, Gillian is neither TSTL nor whiny. In fact, she is plucky and strong. Her desire to do good is sometimes misguided, but it works for both her character and the story. Additionally, Gillian's chemistry Noble is plain intriguing. There is no leap-off-the-page steaminess, just a general smolder throughout the book. The secondary characters are close to being set-pieces, but their antics are so enjoyable that I rarely noticed.

While the ending scenes were a bit melodramatic compared to the rest of the book, the fact that MacAlister still retains the humor of the rest of the story makes them work.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

Monday, December 14, 2009

Book 86: All the Tea in China



TITLE: All the Tea in China

AUTHOR: Jane Orcutt
STARTED: November 23, 2009
FINISHED: November 24, 2009
PAGES: 352
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: I can abide neither a liar not a cheat, but you may be wont to think me such while I here relate my little tale.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Witty and fun-loving Isabella Goodrich defies cultural expectations and common sense as she sets off to the Orient to become a missionary. Book 1 in the Rollicky Regency series.

THOUGHTS: Yick. I really really really don't like it when the heroines of books piss me off. Isabella is a selfish, preening, bigot. I didn't like her and I didn't particularly care what happened to her in the end. In fact, I liked it when all her plans blew up in her face. Her character deserved it.

When I first started reading this book, I thought it would be the proselytizing that bothered me. Nope. In fact, that part of the story made sense and actually worked. It was Isabella alone who made me want to hurl this book into the fire. Never, in all my romance novel reading, have I dislike a heroine so damn much.

The only reason this book receives a 2/10 is because I liked the fact that the author picked a rarely used setting. Other than that, yick.

RATING: 2/10 [Awful]

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Book 85: Catching Fire


TITLE: Catching Fire

AUTHOR: Suzanne Collins
STARTED: November 21, 2009
FINISHED: November 22, 2009
PAGES: 391
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: I clasp the flask between my hands even though the warmth from the tea has long since leached into the frozen air.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

THOUGHTS: I rejoiced with much Woohooing when this book finally came up in my queue at the library. As I was home for the Thanksgiving holiday, I devoured this book much in the manner I eat stuffing. (God, I love stuffing.) I read and read, ignored my family, and read and read, and looked up to watch some football plays, and read and read. I was generally happy, but partially disappointed.

Catching Fire is a very good book, but it was not nearly as exciting as Hunger Games. The pacing threw me off. It was very slow in the first half, but way to fast in the second half. Part of me wonders if Collins wrote the book that way on purpose to make the reader feel what Katniss feels - a sense of foreboding followed by a flurry of action and drama. If that was her goal, kudos, she succeeded; too bad I found it a tad bit annoying.

Luckily, Catching Fire retains all of the perfectly written relationships and creative plot lines of the first book in the series. Collins has done a fabulous job of pulling the story apart one layer at a time. She reveals secrets and twists that make sense for the plot, surprise me, and don't come out of left field. I am already incredibly anxious for the third book because I genuinely do not know where the plot is going, how the story will end, and who will end up with whom.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Friday, December 11, 2009

Book 84: Dear Jane Austen



TITLE: Dear Jane Austen: A Heroine's Guide to Life and Love
AUTHOR: Patrice Hannon
STARTED: November 20, 2009
FINISHED: November 21, 2009
PAGES: 158
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: Who is there?

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Women have looked to Jane Austen's heroines as models of appropriate behavior for nearly two centuries. Who better to understand the heart of a heroine than Austen? In this delightful epistolary "what if," Austen serves as a "Dear Abby" of sorts, using examples from her novels and her life to counsel modern-day heroines in trouble, she also shares with readers a compelling drama playing out in her own drawing room. Witty and wise—and perfectly capturing the tone of the author of Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice—Dear Jane Austen is as satisfying as sitting down to tea with the novelist herself.

THOUGHTS: Ummm... what? Seriously, what was the purpose of this book. I know what it was supposed  to do (offer advice), but that's not what it did. What it actually did was leave a perplexed look on my face. Why did I even bother reading this? The advice is something you could get out of a teen magazine, doctored up to sound revelatory.

Points were garnered, however, for the clever turn of phrase and keeping the language sounding as if it came from Austen herself.

RATING: 3/10 [Poor, Lost Interest]

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Book 83: The Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount

TITLE: The Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount

AUTHOR: Julia London
STARTED: November 12, 2009
FINISHED: November 19, 2009
PAGES: 368
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: William Darby, Viscount Summerfield, Baron Ivers, rode the last mile to Wentworth Hall full bore.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Lady Phoebe Fairchild is well aware that the ton would be appalled to learn of a young lady of quality involved in a trade. Therefore, she resorts to selling her beautiful handmade gowns under a fictitious name: Madame Dupree. So when circumstances force her to visit the estate of William Darby, the Viscount of Summerfield, to design ball gowns for his sisters, she assumes Madame's identity. Phoebe's discomfort in her new position as hired help is nothing compared to her visceral attraction to the viscount himself. Heathenishly handsome and shamelessly seductive, Will invites her to be his mistress -- and Phoebe is shockingly tempted to accept. But as their desire for each other grows and the risk of exposure becomes even greater, Phoebe is in dire danger of losing her reputation, her livelihood -- and her chance of becoming the bride of the man whose passion has claimed her forever.

THOUGHTS: This felt way too prolonged for my taste. The whole story was rather contrived for a London book. Honestly, this book felt like it could have been half the length. That said, London still has a knack for chemistry and bloody good writing.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Book 82: Looking for Information


TITLE: Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior (2nd Edition)
AUTHOR: Donald O. Case
STARTED: Do not recall
FINISHED: November 16, 2009
PAGES: 423
GENRE: Library Science

FIRST SENTENCE: Looking for Information explores human information seeking and use.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Looking for Information explores human information seeking and use. It provides examples of methods, models and theories used in information behavior research, and reviews more than four decades of research on the topic. The book should prove useful for scholars in related fields, but also for students at the graduate and advanced undergraduate levels. It is intended for use not only in information studies and communication, but also in the disciplines of education, management, business, medicine, nursing, public health, and social work.

THOUGHTS: Chapters or this book were incredible interesting and others were mind-numbingly dull. That is what I get for taking a class about user studies. Apparently I like definitions, theories, and flow-charts... but not so much with the breaking down of actual case studies. I'd rather read the actual case study than run through page after page after page (after page) of summaries of case studies. So, more with the actual theory and history, less with the examples.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book 81: The Lost Symbol

TITLE:The Lost Symbol

AUTHOR: Dan Brown
STARTED: November 2, 2009
FINISHED: November 11, 2009
PAGES: 528
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: The secret is how to die.


SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] In this stunning follow-up to the global phenomenon The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown demonstrates once again why he is the world's most popular thriller writer. The Lost Symbol is a masterstroke of storytelling -- a deadly race through a real-world labyrinth of codes, secrets, and unseen truths - all under the watchful eye of Brown's most terrifying villain to date. Set within the hidden chambers, tunnels, and temples of Washington, D.C., The Lost Symbol accelerates through a startling landscape toward an unthinkable finale.

As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object -- artfully encoded with five symbols -- is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient invitation - one meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom.

When Langdon's beloved mentor, Peter Solomon -- a prominent Mason and philanthropist -- is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him. Langdon is instantly plunged into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and never-before-seen locations -- all of which seem to be dragging him toward a single, inconceivable truth.

As the world discovered in The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, Dan Brown's novels are brilliant tapestries of veiled histories, arcane symbols, and enigmatic codes. In this new novel, he again challenges readers with an intelligent, lightning-paced story that offers surprises at every turn. The Lost Symbol is exactly what Brown's fans have been waiting for... his most thrilling novel yet.

THOUGHTS: Lacking.

This book felt chaotic, disjointed, and poorly written. Whereas The DaVinci Code had inherent drama and clear, forward-moving plot, The Lost Symbol simply felt sloppy. Brown has written one of those books where the author has done so much research that they feel they must include everything. This book would have been better served with a strong editing pen.

Also, Langdon was a wuss in this book. His character was weak, easily misled, and stupid. Seriously stupid. For a man that is supposed to be some well-educated, highly-regarded professor, he was a just a dummie in this one. Sure he spouted out facts left and right, but all of that just made him seem out of touch.

I felt like Brown threw logic and organization out of the window with this book. Langdon and Katherine Solomon are thrown into a situation and their stupid carcasses are dragged through the story by secondary, set-piece characters. The villian was the most interesting part of the book - but it's hard to really like a character when he is so darn one-dimensional.

What irked me the most was that DC and her landmarks were slighted in this book. The author and publisher made such a big deal about The Lost Symbol being set in Washington and the city was not there. Sure they visited landmarks, but Brown was so interested in sounding smart that he didn't get it. His sent his characters running all over the city and it simply didn't matter. There was no connection between them, the city, and the plot.

This novel was just poorly laid out in plot and execution.

Also, the big OMGWTFBBQ twist - saw it coming from the page it was introduced.

RATING: 3/10 [Poor, Lost Interest]

Monday, November 16, 2009

Book 80: The Giving Tree


TITLE: The Giving Tree

AUTHOR: Shel Silverstein
STARTED: November 2, 2009
FINISHED: November 2, 2009
PAGES: 64
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: Once there was a tree...

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] A classic book for all ages—for mothers and fathers! A moving parable about the gift of giving and the capacity to love, told throughout the life of a boy who grows to manhood and a tree that selflessly gives him her bounty through the years.

THOUGHTS: I remember liking this book as a child, but I thin its even more important to read as an adult. It holds more meaning when you can actually see the sacrifice (and the selfishness) in this book. This is one of those stories where the meaning changes every time your read it.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Book 79: Enigma


TITLE: Enigma

AUTHOR: Robert Harris
STARTED: October 20, 2009
FINISHED: November 2, 2009
PAGES: 322
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: Cambridge in the fourth winter of the war: a ghost town.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] March 1943, the war hangs in the balance, and at Bletchley Park a brilliant young codebreaker is facing a double nightmare. The Germans have unaccountably changed their U-boat Enigma code, threatening a massive Allied defeat. And as suspicion grows that there may be a spy inside Bletchley, Jericho's girlfriend, the beautiful and mysterious Claire Romilly, suddenly disappears.

THOUGHTS: There were so many names and mysteries involved with this book that I got lost. Way lost. I think they solved the problem by the end of the book - but I was still left scratching my head and asking, "What just happened?"

I love novels set during World War II. I love novels set around the Enigma. This one just felt off.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh]

Friday, November 13, 2009

Book 78: Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas


TITLE: Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas
AUTHOR: John Baxter
STARTED: October 18, 2009
FINISHED: October 19, 2009
PAGES: 270
GENRE: Memoir / Food

FIRST SENTENCE: Most years, the first queries from the United States or Australia arrive just after Thanksgiving.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] A witty cultural and culinary education, Immoveable Feast is the charming, funny, and improbable tale of how a man who was raised on white bread—and didn't speak a word of French—unexpectedly ended up with the sacred duty of preparing the annual Christmas dinner for a venerable Parisian family.

Ernest Hemingway called Paris "a moveable feast"—a city ready to embrace you at any time in life. For Los Angeles–based film critic John Baxter, that moment came when he fell in love with a French woman and impulsively moved to Paris to marry her. As a test of his love, his skeptical in-laws charged him with cooking the next Christmas banquet—for eighteen people in their ancestral country home. Baxter's memoir of his yearlong quest takes readers along his misadventures and delicious triumphs as he visits the farthest corners of France in search of the country's best recipes and ingredients. Irresistible and fascinating, Immoveable Feast is a warmhearted tale of good food, romance, family, and the Christmas spirit, Parisian style
THOUGHTS: Do not read this book on an empty stomach. I grew so hungry after the pages upon pages of food and cooking descriptions that my stomach growls probably awoke my neighbors.

I know Baxter as a writer of books about books - so I was quite curious to read about his relationship with food and cooking. His writing in Immoveable Feast meandered and wandered and took its time to get where it was meant to be. In may ways, this style reminded me of the kind of conversation that occurs at a long, sit-down meal. No one feels rushed and stories and themes wander in and out of the conversation. That style created an emotion of comfort as I read. I didn't know where Baxter was headed with this book, but I didn't care. I was along for the ride and enjoyed it immensely.

The food. Dear god, the food. Baxter has a way with description and this book practically drips with succulent sauces and wafts with aromas of fresh bread and cooked meat. In may ways, the text breaths because its constantly emitting such vivid description that I could clearly picture the scenes and the emotions therein. Baxter made me miss France and Paris in a way I never thought possible. He also made me long for Thanksgiving - the next time I will sit down with my family and share such a meal.

Baxter says he is writing about the crafting of a specific meal, but I think its more than that. I think he's writing about home - and all that entails.

RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Book 77: Hunger Games


TITLE: Hunger Games

AUTHOR: Suzanne Collins
STARTED: October 14, 2009
FINISHED: October 16, 2009
PAGES: 374
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Sixteen-year-old Katniss is smart, athletic, and fast. She can take down a rabbit with a bow and arrow, hitting it straight through the eye. Will these skills be enough to survive the Hunger Games?

Suzanne Collins, the author of the middle-grade fantasy series The Underland Chronicles begins anew, exploring a future landscape that will be familiar to devotees of science fiction's dystopic strain. In a nation called Panem, which occupies the landmass that is the present United States, a parasitical fascist Capitol dominates 12 conquered districts. There was a thirteenth district but it was obliterated during a rebellion. The totalitarian government keeps the subjected populations in line by threatened devastation, starvation, and brutality.

THOUGHTS: Katie, my dear, THANK YOU!

Katie recommended this book to me and it was utterly spectacular. This is why you should always be open to reading recommendations; you'll be steered toward spectacular books that you may otherwise completely miss. Hunger Games is the perfect blend of drama, thriller, romance, and kick-ass heroine who solves the problem of how to show young girls strong female leads. I adored this book.

Collins has crafted the type of book that I don't seem to find anymore. I read it in two days. In fact, I was angry that I had stuff to do because all I wanted to do was read this book. I even made The Boyfriend wait as I finished up the final pages.

Katniss is a complex and complicated girl on the cusp of woman hood. She is thrown into a completely dramatic and deadly situation. Not only does she have to fight to survive physically, she has to manage to remain true to herself. On top of that, she's worried about her own understanding of the world and people around her. Katniss is a strong heroine who also has doubts and second guesses herself. She can also be completely obtuse. Her character is totally believable and I cannot wait to see how she handles herself and grows in the next two books.

The additional cast of characters all blend and mesh perfectly. (You know people are raring at the bit to make a move out of this one.) Unlike other novels with strong leads, Collins gives her secondary characters back stories and complex emotions. They are not set pieces in anyway. Sometimes, the secondary characters - particularly Peeta and Haymitch - are more complex than Katniss. Each character acts and reacts in a fashion that is both true to their characters and advances the plot. There is no unnecessary drama or plot twists that come out of left field. The characters are allowed to be who they are and it's magic to watch them interact.

Collins has crafted a book that is both and entertaining read and a study of life that does not come across as preachy or condescending. In many ways, Hunger Games is allegorical. It speaks of the dangers of entertainment society and oppressive, big-brother government without being superior or fatalistic. The story feels completely raw and offers a view into what could be.

I cannot wait to get my hands on the next book.

RATING: 9/10 [Excellent!]

Book 76: No Man's Mistress


TITLE: No Man's Mistress

AUTHOR: Mary Balogh
STARTED: October 4, 2009
FINISHED: October 13, 2009
PAGES: 360
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: The picturesque village of Trellick, nestled in a river valley in Somersetshire, was usually a quiet little backwater.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Lord Ferdinand Dudley is accustomed to getting what he wants...that is, until he appears at the door of Pinewood Manor, attempting to claim his rightful estate, and is met by the bewitching fury of Lady Viola Thornhill. She refuses to cede him the home she calls her own. He refuses to leave. So the contest begins. Each day under the same roof brings its share of frustration...and temptation. But Viola knows it is a battle she cannot afford to lose. Marriage is out of the question, and she will be no man’s mistress even as Dudley’s unnerving presence threatens to melt her resolve. Against his better judgment, Lord Ferdinand Dudley is beguiled. This maddening beauty has stirred him as no woman had before. And now he is bound and determined to make her his own.

THOUGHTS: Gah! I need to remember to update closer to the date I finish the book. I can't remember anything about this. Wait.... wait.... no... maybe... gah! It's all gone. Since I gave it a 6 out of 10 when I put in my placeholder entry I must have liked something about it.

What little I can pry from my brain right now screams drama. As in unnecessary, page-filling angst. That does not bode well.

Maybe there was chemistry.

Eh, I don't recall anything. Definitely a mediocre read then.

Oh wait! Reading the summary above spurred my memory. Yup. Just a mediocre read.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

Friday, October 16, 2009

Book 75: The Namesake

TITLE: The Namesake

AUTHOR: Jhumpa Lahiri
STARTED: September 24, 2009
FINISHED: October 4, 2009
PAGES: 304
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: On a sticky August evening two weeks before her due date, Ashima Ganguli stands in the kitchen of her Central Square apartment, combing Rice Crispies and Planters peanuts and chopped red onion in a bowl.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies established this young writer as one the most brilliant of her generation. Her stories are one of the very few debut works -- and only a handful of collections -- to have won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Among the many other awards and honors the book received were the New Yorker Debut of the Year, the PEN/Hemingway Award, and the highest critical praise for its grace, acuity, and compassion in detailing lives transported from India to America. In The Namesake, Lahiri enriches the themes that made her collection an international bestseller: the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation, and, most poignantly, the tangled ties between generations. Here again Lahiri displays her deft touch for the perfect detail -- the fleeting moment, the turn of phrase -- that opens whole worlds of emotion. The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged marriage, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name. Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along a first-generation path strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves. The New York Times has praised Lahiri as "a writer of uncommon elegance and poise." The Namesake is a fine-tuned, intimate, and deeply felt novel of identity.

THOUGHTS: I still don't know what to make of this book. My book club met last night and we discussed The Namesake and, even then, I still don't know how I feel. Nothing terribly good or terribly bad jumps out at me. Also, nothing about this books screams about it being mediocre or a middling text. I enjoyed reading it, but only in the way that one likes a book while they are reading it and sees no reason to put it down.


The pacing of this text is very deliberate. There are long pauses and the story moves slowly, but I never felt like I had to slog through the work. In some ways, it felt like I was reading a British play or movie. Something about it just said to me that the work moved at a set pace and I should be happy.

Also, the text felt very passive. The characters just let things happen, they never seem to act. Gogol is the subject of the story and he seems inert. There are no real dramatic upswings in the story even when emotional and life changing events are occurring.

Only one scene sticks out in my mind. In that scene Gogol is dealing with a death in the family, and I cried. My grandmother passed away earlier this year and something about the emotion in that particular part of the book touched me. So, I cried. At the same time, I knew my tears were more about me than they were connected to the book.

I guess, in the end, it's hard to feel a connection one way or another with a book when the characters therein do not connect with each other. They felt like set pieces, not communicative and emotional human beings.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Book 74: A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge


TITLE: A.D.: New Orleans After The Deluge

AUTHOR: Josh Neufeld
STARTED: September 24, 2009
FINISHED: September 24, 2009
PAGES: 208
GENRE: Graphic Novel

FIRST SENTENCE: [I returned the book to the library before I remembered to grab the first sentence. Whoops!]

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge is a masterful portrait of a city under siege. Cartoonist Josh Neufeld depicts seven extraordinary true stories of survival in the days leading up to and following Hurricane Katrina.

Here we meet Denise, a counselor and social worker, and a sixth-generation New Orleanian; “The Doctor,” a proud fixture of the French Quarter; Abbas and Darnell, two friends who face the storm from Abbas’s family-run market; Kwame, a pastor's son just entering his senior year of high school; and the young couple Leo and Michelle, who both grew up in the city. Each is forced to confront the same wrenching decision–whether to stay or to flee.

As beautiful as it is poignant, A.D. presents a city in chaos and shines a bright, profoundly human light on the tragedies and triumphs that took place within it.

THOUGHTS: This book is quite stark - their was anger and fear and overly saturated colors, but the work never came across as melodramatic. The stories are real and, instead of feeling narrated, the characters feel as if they are reliving the horrors of what they went through in Katrina. Neufeld does a particularly good job about making the story about what happened and not just dumping on what went wrong. He set out to capture what people lived through, and he succeeded magnificently.

The images in this book are not complicated - the art itself is nothing to write home about. The colors, however, help to tell the story. Images are saturated and, on many pages, are monochromatic. Each color on the page helps to shape the mood of the story. Neufeld also includes just enough recognizable images that were prevalent in the news to make this story connect with all readers.

Neufeld has created the insider's story without turning it into a Dateline investigation.

RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Book 73: The Virgin's Lover


TITLE: The Virgin's Lover
AUTHOR: Philippa Gregory
STARTED: September 8, 2009
FINISHED: September 23, 2009
PAGES: 442
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: All the bells in Norfolk were ringing for Elizabeth, pounding the peal into Amy's head, first the treble bell screaming out like a mad woman, and then the whole agonizing, jangling sob till the great bell boomed a warning that the whole discordant carillon was about to shriek out again.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] As a new queen, Elizabeth faces two great dangers: the French invasion of Scotland, which threatens to put Mary Queen of Scots on her throne, and her passion for the convicted traitor Robert Dudley.

But Dudley is already married, and his devoted wife Amy will never give him up, least of all to an upstart Protestant Princess. She refuses to set her beloved husband free to marry the queen; but she cannot prevent him from becoming the favorite and the focus of the feverishly plotting, pleasure seeking court.

Others too oppose the marriage, but for very different reasons. William Cecil, the queen's wisest counselor, knows she must marry for policy; her uncle hates Dudley and swears he will be murder him first. Behind the triangle of lovers, the factions take up their places: the Protestants, the priests, the assassins, the diplomats and the moneymakers. The very coin of England is shaved and clipped to nothing as Elizabeth uncertainly leads her bankrupt country into a war that no-one thinks can be won.

Then someone acts in secret, and for Elizabeth, Dudley and the emerging kingdom, nothing will be as planned.

Blending historical fact with contemporary rumor, Philippa Gregory has created a dark and tense novel of Tudor times, which casts Elizabeth I in a light no one has suggested before. Passionate, fearful, emotionally needy, this is a queen who will stop at nothing.

THOUGHTS: I did not like any of the characters in this book because they were all plain whiny. Dudley is selfish, arrogant, and pouts when he does not get his way. Elizabeth is an idiot, lacks a backbone, and as no regard for her actions. Dudley's wife just broods and pouts. It was all very annoying.

This period in English history is full of interesting characters and drama - Gregory turned all of that into a melodramatic soap opera. The only reason I'm rating this book a 3 is because I enjoyed the writing. There were some prettily described scenes and I do so love description.

RATING: 3/10 [Poor, Lost Interest]

Monday, October 05, 2009

Truth

"Cataloging can normally be overcome by some combination of chocolate, angry grunting, and sending things back to Technical Services."
A friend and fellow librarian giving me valuable advice.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Book 72: The Ordinary Princess


TITLE: The Ordinary Princess
AUTHOR: M.M. Kaye
STARTED: September 7, 2009
FINISHED: September 7, 2009
PAGES: 112
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: Long and long ago, when Oberon was king of the fairies, there reigned over the fair country of Phantasmorania a monarch who had six beautiful daughters.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Along with Wit, Charm, Health, and Courage, Princess Amy of Phantasmorania receives a special fairy christening gift: Ordinariness. Unlike her six beautiful sisters, she has brown hair and freckles, and would rather have adventures than play the harp, embroider tapestries or become a Queen. When her royal parents try to marry her off, Amy runs away and, because she's so ordinary, easily becomes the fourteenth assistant kitchen maid at a neighboring palace. And there, much to everyone's surprise, she meets a prince just as ordinary (and special) as she is!

THOUGHTS: My roomie pestered me to read this book. And by "pestered" I mean "asked with puppy dog eyes while saying it was awesome." And it was. In fact, it was so awesome I read it in one sitting. Kaye is a genius for coming up with a story where a princess is ordinary. Plain and human. That's it. Said Princess, however, also has a brain and feelings. It's because she is so perfectly ordinary, that this book becomes one of my favorite reads of the year.

Kaye includes all the classics of a fairy tale princess story, but gives them all a new twist. An ornery fairy godmother, a feisty prince, and a princess whose willing to work. Throw in some cute animals and secondary characters and you have a gem of a book. Kaye also rights with a even hand - nothing is too flowery, but there is just enough description to make the story vivid. The illustrations (also by Kaye) are lively and utterly adorable.

This story is a must read for any young girl. The story is close enough to a Disney princess fairy tale to be in the comfort zone, but with a much better store. Every ordinary girl can be something special.

RATING: 9/10 [Excellent!]

Book 71: French Women Don't Get Fat


TITLE: French Women Don't Get Fat
AUTHOR: Mireille Guiliano
STARTED: September 1, 2009
FINISHED: September 5, 2009
PAGES: 263
GENRE: Food

FIRST SENTENCE: Whatever the state of Franco-American relations - admittedly a bit frayed from time to time - we should not lose sight of the singular achievements of French civilization.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Stylish, convincing, wise, funny–and just in time: the ultimate non-diet book, which could radically change the way you think and live.

French women don’t get fat, but they do eat bread and pastry, drink wine, and regularly enjoy three-course meals. In her delightful tale, Mireille Guiliano unlocks the simple secrets of this “French paradox”–how to enjoy food and stay slim and healthy. Hers is a charming, sensible, and powerfully life-affirming view of health and eating for our times.

As a typically slender French girl, Mireille (Meer-ray) went to America as an exchange student and came back fat. That shock sent her into an adolescent tailspin, until her kindly family physician, “Dr. Miracle,” came to the rescue. Reintroducing her to classic principles of French gastronomy plus time-honored secrets of the local women, he helped her restore her shape and gave her a whole new understanding of food, drink, and life. The key? Not guilt or deprivation but learning to get the most from the things you most enjoy. Following her own version of this traditional wisdom, she has ever since relished a life of indulgence without bulge, satisfying yen without yo-yo on three meals a day.

Now in simple but potent strategies and dozens of recipes you’d swear were fattening, Mireille reveals the ingredients for a lifetime of weight control–from the emergency weekend remedy of Magical Leek Soup to everyday tricks like fooling yourself into contentment and painless new physical exertions to save you from the StairMaster. Emphasizing the virtues of freshness, variety, balance, and always pleasure, Mireille showshow virtually anyone can learn to eat, drink, and move like a French woman.

A natural raconteur, Mireille illustrates her philosophy through the experiences that have shaped her life–a six-year-old’s first taste of Champagne, treks in search of tiny blueberries (called myrtilles) in the woods near her grandmother’s house, a near-spiritual rendezvous with oysters at a seaside restaurant in Brittany, to name but a few. She also shows us other women discovering the wonders of “French in action,” drawing examples from dozens of friends and associates she has advised over the years to eat and drink smarter and more joyfully.

Here are a culture’s most cherished and time-honored secrets recast for the twenty-first century. For anyone who has slipped out of her zone, missed the flight to South Beach, or accidentally let a carb pass her lips, here is a buoyant, positive way to stay trim. A life of wine, bread–even chocolate–without girth or guilt? Pourquoi pas?

THOUGHTS: I did not know that this was a diet book until I started reading. If I had known that, I probably would not have read this. (Note: Blogger bragging about to ensue.) I recently lost a lot of weight (and have kept it off, woot!) and find the premise of most diet books to be sketchy. Thus, I eschew them. Boy am I glad I read this one. French Women Don't Get Fat is not so much a diet book but more a book on how to few and interact with food. All Guiliano's tips (save for the leek soup kick-off) I agree with, for they are common sense. Even if I did not agree with the book, I think I would still have enjoyed it. Guiliano's writing is thoughtful, friendly, and, most of all, realistic.

I'm not going to rehash Guiliano's tips, that's for her to do. What I will say is that every reader should walk away from this book with a new understanding of how a culture of women interacts with cuisine. This is a food book and it's a lifestyle book. In many ways, Guiliano comes across more like an anthropologist than a dietitian. It is incredibly interesting to see how a culture is born and raised to interact with food, walking, cooking, family, etc.

As for Guiliano's writing, it's friendly with a bit of sass thrown in. I want to sit down to dinner with Giuliano and just chat with her - she comes across as down to earth, intuitive, and respectful. It also helps that her descriptions of food cause me to smack my lips and desire croissants. I will certainly be trying several of the recipes she includes.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who has always wondered why French women don't get fat. Sure you can follow the diet tips, but it's the interplay of culture and cuisine that makes this book soar.

RATING: 9/10 [Excellent]

Monday, September 14, 2009

Book 70: If You Give a Cat a Cupcake

TITLE: If You Give a Cat a Cupcake
AUTHOR: Laura Numeroff
STARTED: August 31, 2009
FINISHED: August 31, 2009
PAGES: 32
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: If you give a cat a cupcake, he'll ask for some sprinkles to go with it.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] If you give a cat a cupcake, he'll ask for some sprinkles to go with it. When you give him the sprinkles, he might spill some on the floor. Cleaning up will make him hot, so you'll give him a bathing suit . . . and that's just the beginning!

THOUGHTS: Victory! I actually read a book I said I would in a previous post. Numeroff's books are always adorable and this edition of her series is no exception. The illustrations are incredibly detailed and lively as well as being colorful and utterly adorable. Besides, cupcakes (with sprinkles!) make anything awesome.

RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

Book 69: A Countess Below Stairs

TITLE: A Countess Below Stairs
AUTHOR: Eva Ibbotson
STARTED: August 26, 2009
FINISHED: August 31, 2009
PAGES: 383
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: In the fabled, glittering world that was St. Petersburg before the First World War there lived, in an ice-blue palace overlooking the river Neva, a family on whom the gods seemed to have lavished their gifts with an almost comical abundance.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] After the Russian revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young Russian countess, has no choice but to flee to england. penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination. Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly overwhelmed by her new duties—not to mention her instant attraction to Rupert, the handsome Earl of Westerholme. to make matters worse, Rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attraction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there's the small matter of Rupert's beautiful and nasty fiancĂ©e

THOUGHTS: This is a romance novel? For a book that is supposed to be about a couple falling in love, the two lead characters spend a remarkably small amount of time together - like 10 pages worth. I didn't see the romance, the spark, the lust. There was nothing there that actually portrayed Rupert and Anna falling in love, except for when she comforted him after a bad dream. Say wha? To me, a romance novel needs spark and this lacked that feeling entirely.

Also, stop making the lead characters perfect. I like my leads to be human - you know, flawed in some way. These people were too good for my taste.

The only reason I am not completely panning this book is for the following reasons:
   1. The secondary characters rock. They're not set pieces and the seem to have emotions, unlike the leads. I particularly enjoyed Olive. She was a hoot.
   2. The writing. The vivid descriptions, pacing, and tone were just right.
   3. The setting. I have not read a book set in this place and time, ever. That made the book a little bit more interesting than it would have been otherwise.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Book 68: American Widow

TITLE: American Widow
AUTHOR: Alissa Torres
STARTED: August 25, 2009
FINISHED: August 25, 2009
PAGES: 224
GENRE: Graphic Novel

FIRST SENTENCE: The World Trade Center was just hit by a plane!

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] On September 10, 2001, Eddie Torres started his dream job at Cantor Fitzgerald in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The next morning, he said goodbye to his 7½-months-pregnant wife, Alissa, and headed out the door.

In an instant, Alissa’s world was thrown into chaos. Forced to deal with unimaginable challenges, Alissa suddenly found herself cast into the role of “9/11 widow,” tossed into a storm of bureaucracy, politics, patriotism, mourning, consolation, and, soon enough, motherhood.

Beautifully and thoughtfully illustrated, American Widow is the affecting account of one woman’s journey through shock, pain, birth, and rebirth in the aftermath of a great tragedy. It is also the story of a young couple’s love affair: how a Colombian immigrant and a strong-minded New Yorker met, fell in love, and struggled to fulfill their dreams. Above all, American Widow is a tribute to the resilience of the human heart and the very personal story of how one woman endured a very public tragedy.

THOUGHTS: I did not expect to cry while reading this book. I knew it was about a widow - a woman who was 7 months pregnant when she lost her husband at the World Trade Center. I knew that and, yet, I was still convinced that I would not cry. I cried. At some points during the story, I held myself back from sobbing. This book is raw - completely and utterly. The stark illustrations only enhance the emotions of this graphic novel. American Widow is a heartbreaking story that is nothing but emotion.

I don't particularly like Alissa Torres - which is weird to say because she is a real person. Still, I don't particularly like her, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying her story. The text seems like a first draft, but in a good way. The lack of editing makes it all the more real. The part of the story where I lost it was while Alissa was giving birth to their son. That page is mostly text and it just grabbed me and would not let go. While that moment stands out, the whole book is just one ball of emotion and it makes you feel.

American Widow does not seem to be a graphic novel with a purpose. It just is. And I think that is what makes it so endearing.

RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

Book 67: A Great and Terrible Beauty

TITLE: A Great and Terrible Beauty
AUTHOR: Libba Bray
STARTED: August 21, 2009
FINISHED: August 25, 2009
PAGES: 403
GENRE: Juvenile / Fantasy

FIRST SENTENCE: "Please tell me that's not going to be part of my birthday dinner this evening."

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?

THOUGHTS: I read this book again for my next book club. I was going to link to my previous review and leave it at that... but apparently I read this book before I started Recreational Reading. Who knew!

I recall this book being different. Not different as in my enjoyment, but different in plot. Apparently I'm mixing all three of the books in the trilogy together. Oh well. I enjoyed re-reading A Great and Terrible Beauty, but it felt like cheating. I know how it all ends, so this time around the story was not nearly as exciting.

The lack of plot revelations allowed me to focus on the nuances of the emotions that Bray puts into the story. She gets teen girls. Which could be expected. What I was surprised by was how real the historical emotions felt. I believed every sentence. The tag line for this book is all about repressed sexuality. Its there, omnipresent but not oppressive. The varying levels of "sex" are throughout the book and it comes out in so many ways that I can't believed I missed it the first time around.

I'm really looking forward to discussing this book with the girls to see what they all thought about it. Book Club = Awesome.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Friday, August 21, 2009

Book 66: The Arrival

TITLE: The Arrival
AUTHOR: Shaun Tan
STARTED: August 20, 2009
FINISHED: August 20, 2009
PAGES: 128
GENRE: Graphic Novel

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Shaun Tan's stunning The Arrival chronicles -- in a wordless, wondrous pictorial narrative -- an immigrant's parting from his family and journey toward the future in a new land that is simultaneously ominous and hopeful. Told in drawings of varying sizes -- sometimes there are 12 panels to a page, sometimes 4; there are many full-page images -- Tan's tale juxtaposes the realistic with the phantasmagoric, giving shape to both the mundane material needs and the psychologically charged emotions of immigrant experience. Isolation, fear, want, sympathy, amity, joy: all are rendered palpable by the author's fecund visual invention. He has composed an imaginative landscape in which the uncertain bravery of an immigrant's journey is seen in its true grandeur; best of all, Tan has created a mesmerizing and mysterious "bookscape" in which readers young and old can wander again and again, poring over details, elaborating events, fashioning narrative destinies, discovering new worlds.

THOUGHTS: Tan has created a beautiful immigrant story that anyone can understand. The world he creates is foreign, whimsical, and easily understandable by all... even those who have never found themselves in an unknown environment.

The drawings are absolutely beautiful, full of emotion and creativity. What's even better, Tan crafts a moral message (acceptance, patience, and understanding) that does not whomp the reader over the head. He simply suggests it in his drawings.

RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

Book 65: 1602

TITLE: 1602
AUTHOR: Neil Gaiman
STARTED: August 19, 2009
FINISHED: August 19, 2009
PAGES: 248
GENRE: Graphic Novel

FIRST SENTENCE: For a whole week the skies over London had been blood red at noon.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] All's not well in the Marvel Universe in the year 1602 as strange storms are brewing and strange new powers are emerging! Spider-Man, the X-Men, Nick Fury, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, Dr. Doom, Black Widow, Captain America, and more appear in the waning days of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. As the world begins to change and enter into a new age, Gaiman weaves a thrilling mystery. How and why are these Marvel stars appearing nearly 400 years before they're supposed to?

THOUGHTS: I think I need to read more classic comics. Gaiman is awesome... but I think most of the nuances of this graphic novel went over my head because I do not have a compendium of classic comic book knowledge on which to draw. I enjoyed the story, but not much beyond that.

The art, on the other hand, I enjoyed quite a bit. Somehow the artist managed to make his drawings look theatrical. There was a feeling of movement and emotion throughout the whole book.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Book 64: Seven Ages of Paris

TITLE: Seven Ages of Paris
AUTHOR: Alistair Horne
STARTED: August 6, 2009
FINISHED: August 19, 2009
PAGES: 458
GENRE: Non-Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: [From the preface] Whereas London, through the ages, has always betrayed clearly male orientations, and New York has a certain ambivalence, has any sensible person doubted that Paris is fundamentally a woman?

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] When Paris was a small island in the middle of the Seine, its gentle climate, natural vineyards and overhanging fig trees made it the favorite retreat of Roman emperors and de facto capital of western Europe. Over two millennia the muddy Lutetia, as the Romans called Paris, pushed its borders far beyond the Right and Left Banks and continued to stretch into the imagination and affection of visitors and locals. Now the spirit of Paris is captured by the celebrated historian Alistair Horne, who has devoted twenty-five years to a labor of love.

THOUGHTS: Wow. There was a lot going on in this book. While it did feel more like I was reading a homework assignment, this book was not boring. There were stretches where my mind wandered, but I never wanted to walk away from Horne's text.

Horne's text is so expansive that there is no way I will be able to recall everything I learned. And, boy, did I learn a lot. Horne covers all aspects of Paris from architecture to leaders to life and art. In some ways, I did find myself wishing he had just focused on one of those topics. (I am now craving a book simply on this history of architecture and expansion in Paris.) Horne wanders in and out of all these subjects and, in many ways, it feels like you're walking through Paris itself. There are themes and storylines but I don't think there was a coherent "plot line." I would not call that a detriment to the book but, rather, an asset. Somehow, Horne managed to "get" the essence of Paris' ambiance (something everyone should experience at least once) into the book. If this structure had been in another book (or maybe in another's hands), I don't think I would have enjoyed the book as much as I did.

If I find fault in this book, it's because I think Horne took on too much. This would have been better as a 7 volume series rather than a compact history. Too many times I wanted Horne to explore a particular subject, person, etc. more than he did.

Then again, this book was incredibly ambitious and Horne was pretty successful.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Second Edition?

The Boyfriend and I were around Dupont Circle not to long ago, so we decided to venture into one of my favorite used bookstores. Second Story had character. Second Story had spirit. Second Story had delicious piles of books that spilled out onto every horizontal surface. There were shelves and stacks and glorious mountains of reading everywhere.

Second Story had been remodeled!

The piles of books everywhere. Gone. The ephemera and other book related papers, pictures, and doodads adorning the walls. Gone. The addictive smell of used books. Nothing but paint fumes.

I was forlorn and sad and confused and all manner of feelings that I spilled out to The Boyfriend who seemed most amused at my pain. "Put it back!" I wanted to scream. Second Story had been sanitized. It looked like it was catering to those plebes who are afraid to enter a used bookstore with its own system of organization and decoration. Read: My Heaven.

Harumph. Give me my piles, dammit!

I did espy a glimmer. In an unpainted spot of wall was tacked a note, "Place paint here."

Friday, August 07, 2009

Book 63: Nectar

TITLE: Nectar: A Novel of Temptation
AUTHOR: Lily Prior
STARTED: August 3, 2009
FINISHED: August 5, 2009
PAGES: 250
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: At dawn, before the town of Aversa awoke from its slumbers, a sugar-pink woman with white hair was observed by the gargoyles sneaking toward the portal of the convent of Santa Maria della Pieta.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Ramona Drottoveo, an albino, is a chambermaid at a lush Italian estate. Distinguished by the intoxicating scent she exudes, Ramona is despised by all women and adored by all men, whose inexhaustible lust she eagerly satisfies. Life changes when her husband dies after discovering his bride with another man on their wedding night. Blamed for his death, Ramona and her lover are exiled to the neighboring city of Naples. There, Ramona's life is transformed once again by the birth of a daughter, Blandina, who "steals" her mother's scent. No longer able to seduce men into blind submission, Ramona humbly returns to the estate to an unexpected welcome — and revenge.

A hilarious and naughty celebration of the senses and the strange places they can lead us, Nectar explores the mystery of sexual attraction and the frivolous nature of divine justice.

THOUGHTS: As if you needed a reason to wear deodorant on the metro...

Lily Prior is slowly becoming one of my favorite authors. I say slowly because this is only the second book of hers that I have read. But it doesn't take a plethora of novels for me to see that I am going to enjoy anything she pens. Nectar was a fast read for me simply because I didn't want to put it down.

While La Cucina was a more well rounded book, I have to give Prior a hand for creating a main character who has no redeeming qualities whatsoever... but is still enjoyable to read. Ramona is selfish, proud, arrogant, and a complete dolt and I still liked her. She spends the entire book wanting her personal needs and desires met. When they are not, she whines, complains, and simply leaves those who do not do her bidding behind. Upon the birth of her daughter, her scent disappears and men no longer come to her beck and call. Instead of changing her personality, she remains arrogant. Ramona's actions and attitude are both shockingly rude and repulsive, but I still liked her. I almost admire her for having such gall.

Once again, Prior's writing isenchanting. She brings Italy in all its flavors, aromas, and sights to life. I swear, if she ever wrote about food and nothing else, I would read it... and then gorge myself at a local restaurant. Prior's vocabulary is vivid, her sentences lyrical. In Nectar, Prior also employs black comedy with skill. It's hard not to laugh at the cast of characters that traipse after Ramona. Speaking of that cast of characters, there are many of them. Many, many. Although most characters only warrant a sentence or paragraph each, they feel like real people as opposed to set pieces. While the amount of characters makes the story confusing at times, I was never lost along the way.

This book is humorous, witty, and utterly engrossing.

RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Variations on a Theme: Cupcakes

My previous post spurred a blog idea: Variations on a Theme. I will take one subject and list some books about, on, related to, or in some way connected to said subject.

(Let's see if I actually keep up with this.)

The inaugural topic: Cupcakes!



Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas For Everyone's Favorite Treat
Martha Stewart Living Magazine

-- While some of the decorating schemes in this book are kinda hokey, you can't deny that Martha has mad skillz when it comes to baked goods. This book covers all the classics (vanilla, chocolate, red velvet) as well as numerous other frosting, fillings, and flavor combinations.



Hello, Cupcake! Irresistibly Playful Creations Anyone Can Make
Karen Tack and Alan Richardson

-- This book is more art than eats. Sure there are recipes and such, but it's decoration that is the name of the game. Some of the ideas are friggin brilliant (I've seen the sunflower cupcakes used at a wedding) while others are rather questionable (the party princess looks more like a bloated, Pepto Bismal colored nun). I commend the authors for making use of mini-cupcakes and gallons of frosting. (I am a frosting nut.)


Cupcakes!
Elinor Klivans

-- I actually own this book and have tried a few of the icing recipes (I'm a frosting nut if you recall). It's a pretty basic cupcake cookbook, but it is a nice one to have around when you feel the need to bake. Cupcakes! also contains some interesting cupcake ideas - that could boarder on muffins - for those who are looking for something a little different (cinnamon sugar puff and lemon angel are just two).


If You Give a Cat a Cupcake
Laura Numeroff

-- I have not read this book, but I sure as heck want to. Working of the fame of previous children's book, Numeroff demonstrates why felines and frosting are not the best combination (the paw prints alone would be a pain to clean up.) As with the other books in this series, the story is silly but fun and the illustrations are fantastic.



500 Cupcakes: The Only Cupcake Compendium You'll Ever Need
Fergal Connolly

-- This book is thick and chock full of fantastic information. If you only want to own one cupcake cookbook (but why would you?) this book is it. There are enough recipes for cake and frosting in here to allow for endless mixing and matching. As a bonus, Connolly throws in decorating as well as packing tips, tricks, and hints. The downside to this book, it's so thick it may be hard to use while baking as it does not lie flat.


Penguin and the Cupcake
Ashley Spires

-- Must. Get. Hands. On. This. Book. I love cupcakes and I have a thing for penguins, so clearly this book was written just for me. Most penguins are happy with eating a diet of fish and more fish. This little guy wants something fluff, light, and sweet. My kinda guy.



Other Cupcake Related Titles:

101 Gourmet Cupcakes in 10 Minutes - Wendy Paul (Cookbook)
125 Best Cupcake Recipes - Julie Hasson (Cookbook)
Bones and the Cupcake Mystery - David A. Adler (Juvenile Literature)
Crazy About Cupcakes - Krystina Castella (Cookbook)
Crushed Cupcakes - Peter E. Lee (Fiction)
Cupcake - Rachael Cohen (Juvenile Literature)
Cupcakes from the Cake Mix Doctor - Anne Byrn (Cookbook)
Cupcakes of Doom: A Collection of YARG Piratey Comics - Ray Friesan (Juvenile Literature)
Fudge Cupcake Murder - Joanna Fluke (Mystery - #5 in Hannah Swensen Series)
Indulgence Cupcakes - Christabel Martin (Cookbook)
Little Cakes from the Whimsical Bakehouse: Cupcakes, Small Cakes, Muffins, and Other Mini Treats - Kaye Hansen and Liv Hansen (Cookbook)

Digression from the Usual: A Syllogism

I love cupcakes.
I *heart* NCIS.

Ergo: This clip from YouTube is Teh Awesome.





We now return to our regularly scheduled content.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Reading to Write


Confession Time: I never learned grammar. You might have noticed.

I moved quite a few times when I was a kid and, it just so happens, missed grammar lessons. Apparently it's taught in different grades in different states. Sure I learned the basics (noun, adjective, what the heck a period does, etc.) but my ability to write in a passable manner came from my father and reading.

Grammar and writing are no longer taught in school. Indeed, there are "lessons" but none of those would resemble what my great grandmother encountered. She would cringe at the the state of today's English classes... and what appears in this blog. She is not alone: I once had an English teacher whimper over her inability to teach diagramming sentences.

State education lesson plans are not likely to change anytime soon. In fact, I would bet that they get worse. We can't hire enough ruler-wielding nuns to smack the knuckles of those who would deign to splice a comma. (Damn you commas! *shakes fist* They are my arch nemesis.) So what are we to do?

Read.

The only way to become a better writer is to become a better reader. Learn by example. When you see how beautiful words and sentences are in the hands of a master, you'll never want to abbr n txt spk agn.

It also doesn't hurt to have a few reference books on hand. Here are some of my ready references:

The Elements of Style (William Strunk and E.B. White)
The Only Grammar Book You'll Ever Need (Susan Thurman and Larry Shea)
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
Roget's II The New Thesaurus
A Writer's Reference
(Diana Hacker)

Other writing resources I've enjoyed are:

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (Lynn Truss)
Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing Podcast (Now in book form... but I have not read it... yet.)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Book 62: Ella Enchanted

TITLE: Ella Enchanted
AUTHOR: Gail Carson Levine
STARTED: July 31, 2009
FINISHED: August 2, 2009
PAGES: 238
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] In this incredible debut novel comes the richly entertaining story of Ella of Frell, who at birth was given the gift of obedience by a fairy. Ella soon realizes that this gift is little better than a curse, for how can she truly be herself if at anytime anyone can order her to hop on one foot, or cut off her hand, or betray her kingdom and she'll have to obey? Against a bold tapestry of princes, ogres, giants, wicked stepsisters, and fairy godmothers, Ella's quest to break the curse once and for all and discover who she really is is as sharply funny as Catherine, Called Birdy and as richly poignant as Beauty, and has all the marks of a classic in the making.

THOUGHTS: It took me longer than I care to admit to realize this was a retelling of Cinderella. I figured it out... but it took more than half of the book. D'oh!

I cannot wait to talk about this book with my book club next week. There's just something about reading juvenile literature (with female heroines!) that brings out the best of our group. Moving on!

I really enjoyed Carson's take on this classic story. The magic and surreal parts of the story blended well with the human actions and emotions. Any little girl reading this could find a character or part of a character to relate to. Ella comes across as thirteen going on thirty, but it works. She is neither too childlike nor too mature. I appreciate how, even though she must be obedient, her need to be self-assertive is ever present. Carson makes Ella an incredibly strong character which is a feature seriously lacking in literature (juvenile or otherwise). I particularly enjoyed how Ella is given no easy outs. She gets herself into trouble and she has to find her way out again. She has help along the way, but Ella is shown time and again to be a resourceful character.

Another feature of this book I enjoyed was how even the antagonistic characters had redeeming qualities. Ella's main antagonizer , Hattie (her step-sister), suffers mainly from vanity and lack of self-esteem rather than pure badness. Sure you dislike the baddies, but the reader also feels pity for them.

Ella Enchanted is rounded out with a fantastic mix of secondary characters with doses of whimsy, wit, and humor mixed in.

RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

Book 61: The Perils of Pursuing a Prince

TITLE: The Perils of Pursuing a Prince
AUTHOR: Julia London
STARTED: July 28, 2009
FINISHED: July 30, 2009
PAGES: 370
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: For some inexplicable reason, the first thing that occurred to Greer Fairchild when three men - robbers, for all she knew - stopped the coach in which she and Mr. Percy were traveling was that the death of Mrs. Smithington, to whom Greer was a traveling companion, was not only tragic, but extremely inconvenient.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Lady Greer Fairchild's only hope of avoiding marriage to the first bidder lies in journeying into the untamed Welsh countryside in search of an inheritance she's not sure even exists -- one reportedly controlled by Rhodrick Glendower, Earl of Radnor, also known as the Prince of Powys. Rumor has it that the prince is rough, ruthless -- even a murderer. But Greer never imagined that the brute would refuse to let her leave his remote castle until she has proven her identity. Or that she would find herself powerfully attracted to this passionately virile man whose gruff demeanor belies a proud and sensual nature. The further Greer falls under his spell, the more determined she becomes to unravel the secrets of her Welsh heritage and the mystery surrounding the dark prince who dares her to become his wife and princess.

THOUGHTS: This was the best romance novel I've read in my mini-marathon. That said, the heroine was still TSTL at times. And by "at times" I mean "more often than should ever occur in a book." If Greer had simply been headstrong, willful, or brazen I could have liked her better. As it was, she feel into situations of her own making that made me want to throttle her and then throw her in romancelandia timeout.

Seriously, Greer was a pea-brained ninny who acted like a lost puppy for most of the book. She came across as incredibly gullible, stubborn, and idiotic. London has written much better heroines in other books making Greer's flaws all the more annoying.

Thank goodness there was believable chemistry between the lead characters in this book. If that felt forced I think I may have had to swear off romance novels for quite some time.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Friday, July 31, 2009

TBR Mountain!


Don't worry kitty - just read your way down!

This picture looks like my nightstand some days. Also, I feel like this kitten sometimes. I haven't bought a book for myself in almost two years and I still have hundreds of books sitting in my apartment waiting to be read.

*singing* Climb... every... tbr mountain! *end singing*

Once I get through all the physical books I own, I have a database of titles that look interesting for me to start trekking through.

The TBR pile never ends and sometimes I can't decide if that is a good or bad thing. What say ye? Do you ever wish the light at the end of the reading tunnel was nigh?