Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Book 11: The Constant Princess

TITLE: The Constant Princess
AUTHOR: Philippa Gregory
STARTED: March 18, 2009
FINISHED: March 26, 2009
PAGES: 393
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: There was a scream, and then the loud roar of fire enveloping silken hangings, then a mounting crescendo of shouts of panic that spread and spread from one tent to another as the flames ran too, leaping from one silk standard to another, running up guy ropes and bursting through muslin doors.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] As youngest daughter to the Spanish monarchs and crusaders King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Catalina, princess of Wales and of Spain, was promised to the English Prince Arthur when she was three. She leaves Spain at 15 to fulfill her destiny as queen of England, where she finds true love with Arthur (after some initial sourness) as they plot the future of their kingdom together. Arthur dies young, however, leaving Catalina a widow and ineligible for the throne. Before his death, he extracts a promise from his wife to marry his younger brother Henry in order to become queen anyway, have children and rule as they had planned, a situation that can only be if Catalina denies that Arthur was ever her lover. Gregory's latest (after Earthly Joys) compellingly dramatizes how Catalina uses her faith, her cunning and her utter belief in destiny to reclaim her rightful title. By alternating tight third-person narration with Catalina's unguarded thoughts and gripping dialogue, the author presents a thorough, sympathetic portrait of her heroine and her transformation into Queen Katherine. Gregory's skill for creating suspense pulls the reader along despite the historical novel's foregone conclusion.

THOUGHTS: I picked up this book because I've been running through The Tudors on my Netflix like a kid devouring chocolate chip pancakes. When I had to send the last episodes of Season 1, I was not ready to leave the royal environment of King Henry VIII. Thus, Phillipa Gregory's take of Katherine of Aragon seemed to be the perfect pick.


So. So. Wrong.

My giddy enjoyment of The Tudors has completely warped how I want Katherine of Aragon to be portrayed. In the show, she is calm, collected, thoughtful, and meek (but with a backbone). If she ruffles feathers, she does so subtly. In the book, I found Gregory's portrayal of Katherine to be annoying. She's whiny, conniving, sly, sneaky, and I just found myself disliking her as a person. I have no idea which portrayal is more like the true, historical Katherine, but I much preferred the portrayal in The Tudors. Not once, did I find the Katherine in the book to be a redeeming character. I felt sorry for her sometimes but then she would do something that made me want to slap her.

I blame Gregory for that debacle. Her writing, while lyrical, is trying to hard to make you like her lead character. There were no shades of gray in this book. Arthur was good. Henry was bad. Katherine was the CONSTANT princess. Really. I had no idea. No matter how many times the author had to cram it into my head. I had no idea whatsoever that Katherine was the constant princess.

What could be a good book (if only I read another version) was just mildly annoying.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Monday, March 30, 2009

Book 10: The Devil to Pay

TITLE: The Devil to Pay
AUTHOR: Liz Carlyle
STARTED: March 5, 2009
FINISHED: March 17, 2009
PAGES: 373
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: He was not the sort of man she usually chose.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] By day, Sidonie Saint-Godard is a quietly elegant young widow who teaches deportment to the unpolished daughters of London's nouveau riche. By night, she is someone altogether different.

The notorious Black Angel — so called for her lusciously located angel tattoo — ruthlessly takes from powerful men who exploit, and gives to those who suffer at their hands. Always in disguise, she has eluded capture and her identity remains a mystery.

The Marquess of Devellyn, one of the least noble noblemen in town, uses and discards women as he pleases. But when the Black Angel entices him into her bed, ties him up, and pilfers his most valued possession, she may have gone too far. This time, Devellyn tells her, she'll have the devil to pay. And he definitely means to collect.

THOUGHTS: Well phooey. I completely forgot that this read was sitting in my blogger drafts. There goes my attempt at actually writing a real review. Lately, I've been reading romance novels that don't wow me in the least. This book also did not wow me, but I remember that I at least enjoyed it.

RATING: 6/10 [Good.]

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Slow Reading

This is currently my background at work. It makes me giggle. Although, in reality, I hate it when the books I'm reading move slowly. Even if I love the book, I hate it when it takes me weeks to finish something.

I blame it on the fact that, in the back of my head, I'm thinking about all the other books I could / should / want to be reading.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Book 9: Born on a Blue Day

TITLE: Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant
AUTHOR: Daniel Tammet
STARTED: March 3, 2009
FINISHED: March 5, 2009
PAGES: 226
GENRE: Memoir

FIRST SENTENCE: I was born on January 31, 1979 - a Wednesday.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] Born on a Blue Day is a journey into one of the most fascinating minds alive today -- guided by its owner himself. Daniel Tammet sees numbers as shapes, colors, and textures, and he can perform extraordinary calculations in his head. He can learn to speak new languages fluently, from scratch, in a week. In 2004, he memorized and recited more than 22,000 digits of pi, setting a record. He has savant syndrome, an extremely rare condition that gives him almost unimaginable mental powers, much like those portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rain Man.

Daniel has a compulsive need for order and routine -- he eats the same precise amount of cereal for breakfast every morning and cannot leave the house without counting the number of items of clothing he's wearing. When he gets stressed or is unhappy, he closes his eyes and counts. But in one crucial way Daniel is not at all like the Rain Man: he is virtually unique among people who have severe autistic disorders in that he is capable of living a fully independent life. He has emerged from the "other side" of autism with the ability to function successfully -- he is even able to explain what is happening inside his head.

Born on a Blue Day is a triumphant and uplifting story, starting from early childhood, when Daniel was incapable of making friends and prone to tantrums, to young adulthood, when he learned how to control himself and to live independently, fell in love, experienced a religious conversion to Christianity, and most recently, emerged as a celebrity. The world's leading neuroscientists have been studying Daniel's ability to solve complicated math problems in one fell swoop by seeing shapes rather than making step-by-step calculations. Here he explains how he does it, and how he is able to learn new languages so quickly, simply by absorbing their patterns. Fascinating and inspiring, Born on a Blue Day explores what it's like to be special and gives us an insight into what makes us all human -- our minds.

THOUGHTS: Is it the book I admire or the subject? It's hard to tell. I read Born on a Blue Day for my book club. We discussed the text last night and I still come away with very little to talk about. I greatly enjoyed the book and found the story of Tammet's life fascinating. The writing style was very introspective and it moved quickly. I found myself in awe of Tammet and how he was able to use his Asperger's and savant syndrome in beneficial ways. I also liked hearing of the massive support of those around him, particularly from his parents.

It's hard to critique this book because it feels like I would be critiquing the author, a man who I have come to admire.

I would have liked the first, completely unedited first draft of this book. I think it would be interesting.

RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Book 8: Gods and Legions

TITLE: Gods and Legions: A Novel of the Roman Empire
AUTHOR: Michael Curtis Ford
STARTED: February 15, 2009
FINISHED: March 3, 2009
PAGES: 382
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: [From the historical note] Of all the great figures of antiquity, few are so compelling yet enigmatic, few so admired yet vilified, as Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus, the man known to history as Julian the Apostate.

SUMMARY: [From barnesandnoble.com] He fought to become a warrior. He dared to become an emperor. He lived to become the most powerful man in the world.

In the year, 354 A.D., Julian, a sheltered scholar and pacifist lives in peace-until a summons from Emperor Constantine the Great changes the young man's life forever. Dispatched to Gaul to help reclaim a beaten Roman territory from German barbarians, Julian displays a surprising and brutal genius for survival against impossible odds. Emerging as an unlikely hero and adored by a legion of zealots, his untapped ambition is ignited-to reign as the new emperor. It's a position of power that'll test the loyalty of his friends, stir the ire of enemies, and cast an ominous shadow over his mad, and most magnificently impossible conquest of all


This could have been bad ass. It was rife with the possibility of awesome battle scenes, gritty description, and vivid detailing of life in a Roman army. I got nothing but boring facts. I'm all for facts. But Ford just lets them drivel out instead of having them support an awesome story. Also, he was far to excited to share the history he learned.

This wasn't a novel. It was a sad attempt at writing a screenplay. I honestly think Ford was writing for the movie rights.

RATING: 3/10 [Poor, Lost Interest]