Friday, December 28, 2012

Catching Up, Final

Good Reads!

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
I loved the movie but had never read the book, so I finally did. The problem with reading a book after seeing it on the big screen is that the characters and voices are already formed in your mind, even if they don't exactly match the book description. With this book, that was okay. The movie actually followed the book pretty closely, with a few additions and subtractions, but didn't change the overall message. It's worth reading even if you've already seen the movie, and if not, read it first.





The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
House of Mirth is a commentary on the lives of the rich in 1900's NY society. At the age of 29, Lily Bart is unmarried and in dire financial straights. She is feeling pressure from her friends and her finances to get that done in a hurry, before she loses her beauty. Her goal is to "marry well." Although she has deep feelings for Mr. Selden, marrying him would eliminate her from the upper crust of society with whom she has forged all her relationships. Unfortunately, those eligible men who could maintain her desirable lifestyle are unappealing and unacceptable to her. She soon gets herself into a conundrum, when she takes a favor from her friend's husband and her intentions are misunderstood.
The book presents a number of contrasts (rich/poor, beauty/ugliness, popularity/outcasts), asks some valid questions even for today (Who are your friends? Is it better to have love w/o money or money w/o love?) and criticizes our tendency to judge people by their occupation, their address and their wealth. A great classic novel reminiscent of Jane Eyre. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Catching Up, Part 2

The following books were interesting, but somewhat disappointing.

Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel
While this book does relate a general biography of Galileo's later years and his struggles with the Church in contrast to his scientific discoveries and beliefs, it doesn't really address his daughter much beyond he living conditions in the convent. The story is told in a very straightforward way, mainly stating facts and inserting letters written from Sour Maria Celeste (the daughter) to her father, which primarily detail her hardships as a nun and asking her father for money. I enjoyed reading about the controversy Galileo endured with the church and the betrayal of his friend, who became Pope Urban VIII. But overall, the book was rather dry.



Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier
If you are reading this book to learn about William Blake, you will be sorely disappointed! In her previous novels, Ms. Chevalier uses an era, the culture and secondary characters to reveal the main character, but in this book you learn a lot about the fictional Kellaway and Butterfield families and about Philip Astley and his circus, but you learn almost nothing about Blake.
I like her writing style, the story is fun and easy to read and had it not been billed as historical fiction about Blake it would have gone over better.





Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Although I liked this book, I didn't love it. Mantel tackles a much told tale from a different perspective, telling the story of Henry VIII's discarding of his first wife to marry Anne Boleyn from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell. The story begins with a brief history of Cromwell's youth and then follows his rise to becoming the right hand man to the King. I was intrigued by the debate between Henry and the Pope regarding nullifying his marriage, not realizing how lengthy the process was and all the negotiations that preceded that event. The author does a great job in keeping the star of the story as Cromwell, but also uncovering the nature of Henry, Anne, Catherine and many others who were close to the king and his court.
One big negative is that there are so many characters, many of them with the same name, that it is difficult at times to distinguish which Thomas or Mary or Henry the author is discussing. Sometimes a character is mentioned once, only to reappear 200 pages later and I had to go back in search of who this person was (not as easy on your Kindle). I also found this book to be a slow read, hundreds of pages with much of the same going on and never getting to "the good stuff," which I discovered half way through is in the sequel (helps to know in advance there is a book 2)! If you are a fan of historical fiction, you will like this segment of Henry's life.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Catching Up, Part 1

As promised, I am catching up on posting about my reading the past few months. I've contemplated the best way to accomplish this and here is what I've decided: I am not going to dedicate one post per book, but am dividing them into rating categories, partially because unless I post immediately, I lose the details, but mostly because it'll be easier for me.

I have a really hard time setting a book aside once I begin reading it. For some reason I feel an obligation to trudge through a book even though I am not enjoying it. Wish it weren't so, but if you have that same compulsion, here are two books to avoid:

12/21/12 by Larry Enright
Poorly written, end of life on earth story. No character development, unrealistic scenario and too predictable. Despite this, just when you start to accept what's going on, it's over! The end is abrupt and totally out of line with where the author begins to lead the reader.
This was a free Amazon download.... but don't be tempted. Even free, it isn't worth it.







Death of the Couch Potato's Wife by Christy Barritt
I should have known to quit reading when on page 2 the narrator divulges that she lives in a neighborhood called Dullington Estates in Boring, IN. After that, do I need to say more?
Another free Amazon download.... I'm sensing a pattern here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Book Challenge 2013

Beth Fish Reads has just released the What's in a Name 6 book challenge for 2013.  Here is the overview:

1. A book with up or down in the title
2. A book with something you'd find in your kitchen in the title
3. A book with party or celebration in the title
4. A book with fire (or equivalent) in the title
5. A book with an emotion in the title
6. A book with lost or found in the title

Sign up and read!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Yes, I am reading!

I have been reading, but have not been posting. This semester has been a little hectic, as my classes changed from T/R to MWF, which required that I reconfigure my lesson plans and assignments. In addition, I've been wedding planning. So... even though I have continued to read,  I have found it difficult to take time to post. I'm tired all the time!

I recently found a speed reading app (Quickreader) and after taking the timed test discovered I read at the exact average adult WPM (250). So I decided to try some of the exercises to increase my reading speed because I'd really love to read faster.  Here is my problem: it makes me dizzy! I am hoping this phenomenon is merely a result of my being new to the task and will eventually go away, but so far I can't even seem to practice for the recommended 15 minutes at a time.

Another thing about the speed reading is that I don't want to minimize comprehension or lose the fun of the story. I read several comments from readers whose speed had increased to nearly 1000 WPM, but they lost the personal connection to what they read. For me there'd be no point to read! We'll see how it goes. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harlod Fry

by Rachel Joyce

My husband has a quote from Plato at the top of his blog, "Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." In this story, that fighter is Harold Fry, and his wife, and Queenie, and the many people he encounters as he makes his journey across England. Harold has retired to a home with a wife who speaks only to criticize and an an estranged relationship with his only son. When he receives a letter from an old friend dying from cancer, he knows he must thank her before she is gone. As he walks to the post office to mail his reply, he realizes he can't stop walking, and thus begins The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. 

As Harold walked, he contemplated his life and relationships, coming to an understanding that although the past could not be undone, "beginnings could happen more than once, or in different ways." He also met many people who encouraged and assisted him and who he in turn helped in some small way. Harold learned that "the world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time." 

Harold's cross country walk was a journey through a life full of joy and laughter, heartache and pain, discouragement and inspiration, and finally facing the giant. It is not an uncommon life or journey and it reminds us that we never know how big someone's giant is. 

I think you'd like Harold.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling

by Ross King

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling was my audio exercise book this past month. I will begin my review by acknowledging that Ross King knows art, artists and renaissance history, and while I found the majority of the information compelling, Ross' delivery was pretty dry, failed to maintain a logical timeline, and delved into so much trivial detail it distracted from the theme. However, the audio narrator  for this book was very good (John Lee).

Facts I enjoyed hearing about were inspirations and details of each section of the Sistine Chapel and the struggles Michelangelo faced as he painted the frescoes. This medium was not his specialty and the project may have been assigned to him by the Pope in order to discredit his standing in the art world. Instead, as Michelangelo learned techniques and styles and experimented with approaches his work actually became a model for his contemporaries and the vault catapulted him into artistic fame. Because he was learning on the job, Michelangelo began the work on a section in a far corner, which took him over 6 weeks to complete. In contrast, he took only one day to complete the figure of God.

I would have loved to read/hear these sections of the book while looking at the actual fresco described, and I did pull up pictures on the Internet afterward; the Vatican has a nice site, but it would have been better in real time. Many reviewers of the print text complained about the lack of photos in the book.

The book discussed Michelangelo's influences: Donatello, other works of art, and other sculptures. It also delved into his many frustrations: Pope Julius II, DaVinci, Raphael, his father and brothers, and his commission on the ceiling, which interrupted his sculpting.

Then the author went chasing rabbits into the lives of other artists, their works and the competitions between them. The pope, his character, illnesses, and battles, the cultural influences on the artists and other influential religious leaders, such as Savonarola, Medici, Machiavelli and Borgia are also examined. Other trivia occupying much space were how colors were achieved in fresco, the costs of materials and fights over payments, the use of nude models (only in warm months please), nicknames of artists and popes, land battles in Italy, France and Spain, and on and on it goes.

If you are a history buff you will really like this book. If you are wanting background and inspiration for the depictions on the Sistine Ceiling, this book has that, but it can get lost amid all the other stuff. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Anna Karenina

by Leo Tolstoy

Oh my! For years I have picked up Anna Karenina in bookstores and libraries and thought of reading it, only to return it to the shelf, not ready to tackle the monstrosity. I finally succumbed to the pressure from one of my Classics reading friends who has been anxious to discuss it with me. Well, I am done!

Anna is a classic in style, in prose, in characterization, in societal and cultural issues of the day and in addressing love, marriage, jealousy, religion, depression and death. Tolstoy gives us real people with real problems and delves into their inner turmoil as they struggle to make choices. He shows us how these decisions affect each character individually and as a part of society.

One of the main themes throughout the novel is love in marriage. Tolstoy uses two characters, Levin and Anna, to compare and contrast marital love. While Anna is trapped in a loveless marriage and seeks comfort in another man's arms, Levin truly loves his wife and works to keep that love strong. He takes us along the path as each faces the consequences of their actions. Many other relationships are explored through these pages as well.

In addition, Tolstoy presents long and tedious expositions about farming and Russian politics. For me, this interfered with the flow of the story and required much persistence to "get back to the good parts." And although I hate giving away too much, I was frustrated to have invested so much into Anna only to come to that final decision of hers.

It was mostly good, I am glad to say I have read it, but it is long my friends.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Must Read Literature

Ever on the lookout for book lists, I found a new one that I thought was really cool:




Monday, August 6, 2012

Dracula

by Bram Stoker

A few years ago several of my reading buddies were abuzz over The Historian, which at that time I didn't add to my "to-read" list. A few weeks ago, I was discussing with a friend that I was contemplating reading it now and her instant response was, "Have you read Dracula?" Well, no I never had and from her tone I assumed that must be read first. Since the timing was right, I decided to do the audiobook, and even though I loved listening to this story, as I was listening I kept thinking, "I wish I were reading this!" May be partly due to my lack of enthusiasm for the book I was actually reading.

Undoubtedly, you know the basic premise of Dracula, but in case you too have never read it, the book is written as a series of journal entries that give an account of the quest of Van Helsing and friends to destroy this evil among men. Even though I was listening to this story, I could tell that Stoker did a great job of distinguishing the voices of his characters, including the two women. He also portrayed the Count just as he was, a non-emotional entity, terrorizing generations of people, living off the blood of innocent victims and gathering a dedicated army of followers. No teen romance vampire here!

I liked many many things about this book: the strong female character, Mina Murray, the tough American, the insane asylum and Renfro, the discovery process of the group as they began to understand who Dracula was and how he must be conquered, the dedication these friends had to one another, to future victims and to God, and the presentation of the story through the perspective of each character. 

If you haven't read it, you should. And now that I'm cleared to read The Historian, it's going to have to go in the queue.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Bird Sisters

by Rebecca Rasmussen

If you read my last post, you already know how I felt about The Bird Sisters. And if you read my last post you'll understand that I had high expectations because it got rave reviews. And when I kept forcing myself back to read just one more chapter before playing 7 little words, I also kept wondering what I was missing since I wasn't so enthralled by this story. But I really just didn't care. I didn't particularly like the main characters, I didn't like what was going on in the story, I wasn't overly impressed with the writing style, the plot was slow, nothing much really happened and nothing much was really resolved, even though the author kept going back to wrap it up. When she finally did finish writing, I was glad to be done, but not really glad I fought myself to finish it. 

But, don't let my harsh criticism deter you.... many readers found it "a beautiful debut novel" (wonder if they read the whole thing). I know; I'm sassy.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Distractions

It was a slow July for reading and I'd like to make several excuses, none of which is very good: heat, headaches, school prep, and several word games that keep distracting me. However, the main reason is because this month I have made poor book selections. The books I have chosen haven't been holding my attention, but I have begrudgingly stuck with them as I have no other pressing alternatives. If you've read a great book lately I'd love to hear your suggestions. 

And another diversion from my usual posts. I recently read a blog post by a "professional reader" asking how much of a book a person needed to read before they could say they read the book. I have always thought in order to say you've read a book you must have read the entire thing, but apparently I am way off base. This blogger, who reads and reviews books for a living, along with most of those who responded to his post, said that after halfway, you could consider it read! HMMMM, that explains a LOT! I have frequently wondered how certain books could get such glowing reports... now I know. 




Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Orphan Master's Son

by Adam Johnson

Johnson wrote this book after a visit to North Korea and extensive research on the country, with the intention of relaying the story of a nation built on propaganda. To the North Koreans, it doesn't matter that the foundation is fictitious, "every citizen is forced to become a character whose motivations, desires and fears are dictated by the script." Johnson shares the miserable living conditions, the violence, the torture and the attitudes of the citizens in a way that seems unbelievable, even when you know it is true. 


The story is written in two parts, meeting Jun Do and the confessions of General Ga, however, these two men are so intertwined as to become one. Jun Do's story reflects the life of an average comrade, who works in the mines, conducts diplomatic missions and spends time in the work camps. General Ga realtes the life of the privileged, those who are in the upper ranks of Kim Jong Il's regime. He receives better rations, lives in a mansion in a secluded neighborhood and is elevated above the mainstream.


The information presented in The Orphan Master's Son was interesting, astonishing and horrifying all at once. The nature of this story was so dystopian that it wasn't a book I was naturally drawn to reading even though it was well written. Perhaps if I hadn't just been on a spell of reading several in that genre, I might have digested this account better. This is a lengthy story and gets confusing at times, particularly in the second half. I also got a bit tired of the interrogator's narrative. But, if you are interested in learning about North Korea and don't want a history, I would recommend this book. I realize even though this is fiction, much of it is a reality for those living in NK. My life is just so far removed from this lifestyle I can't imagine how people would succumb to that totalitarian regime.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Doc

by Mary Doria Russell

If you're looking for a dramatized story of the gunfight at the OK Corral you'll need to find another book, as the point of this one is to paint a picture of Dodge City in 1878, the people and politics that ruled the day and the relationship that grew between Doc Holliday, Kate Horony and the Wyatt brothers prior to that notorious event. Although Ms. Russell clearly did a lot of research and dedicated significant space to feature each character, her slant on them might cause a true historian to question this account.  The discrepancy isn't necessarily in details as in her desire to present John Henry Holliday in a sympathetic light, which is diametrically opposed to any other rendition I've heard. Keeping in mind that the majority of my western cowboy information was gleaned from the playground and the movies, I understood Doc Holliday, the Earp's and the rest of that crowd to be a bunch of cheating, drunken, philandering hustlers. But after reading Doc I learned a few other things.

I didn't know Doc was classically educated, spoke several languages, was a pianist and lived most of his life dying of consumption (tuberculosis). I didn't know he was born with a cleft palate, his mother died when he was 15 after which his father quickly remarried and sent John off to live with an aunt. I didn't know he would rather have made his living as a dentist than as a gambler. Didn't know Kate Horony grew up in a wealthy home but was orphaned when she was 15 then sexually assaulted by the foster father. Didn't know the Earp's father was physically abusive. So if you can ignore the hot tempers and altercations and run-ins with the law, the gambling and drinking and prostitution, these make out to be pretty good guys.

Throughout the book, Ms. Russell comments on the western era media's over exaggeration of this group and these events in order to make best-selling dime-store novels; I assume in a effort to give credibility to her version. Which brings me back to a quote from Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending, "That's one of the central problems with history, isn't it sir? That question of subjective versus objective interpretation, the fact that we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us."

Regardless, Doc was interesting and well written. If you like historical fiction this would be a good summer read.



Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Expats

by Chris Pavone

When Dexter Moore takes an overseas job, his wife quits hers and the family packs off to Europe. Once there, Kate begins to suspect her husband isn't being completely honest with her and she begins to investigate. All the while she is keeping her own secrets and discovering others that may devastate her future. Because the story is written on three time lines (present day, near past and distant past), it presents some confusion, particularly in the beginning, so it takes almost a third of the book before you get a sense of the plot.

Having been an expat, I think Pavone does a pretty good job of revealing that lifestyle, but that isn't the point. As a thriller, it is lacking much thrill and the big shadow hanging over Kate's head throughout the story turns into a dud. It isn't until the last 30 pages that the deceptions begin to unravel and the cons come to light. Even though I am aware of the many securities breeches and concerns within companies, I question the feasibility of this scam.

The Expats is the second book I've read this month that despite it not being a great book I think the author has potential.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Founding Brothers

by Joseph Ellis

"...there is nothing new under the sun." (Eccl 1:9)

Founding Brothers made this abundantly clear. From the birth of our nation until now politicians have been debating many of the same issues, have been tickling the ears of the people, have been "flip-flopping" and have been self-importantly trying to make history.

Ellis presents the founding of our nation in six separate sections, which relate much of our early history while attempting to shed light on the relationships among these men. The author tried to humanize them using records and letters, yet emphasized that Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Adams, Hamilton and the rest, had a heightened sense of their historical significance. They recognized they were plotting a new course, their decisions were extremely crucial and they believed the success or failure of this new nation rested on their shoulders. It is clear that Ellis is partial to Adams, presenting him with sympathy while painting Jefferson with a darker brush.

The narration in this audio was stiff and text-book like, the separate sections didn't build upon one another as chapters, making it a bit choppy. I'm not sure if I'd have stuck it out in text, because it was sometimes hard to keep listening. I rarely read straight history, so don't have much to compare it to, which also makes me feel a bit unqualified to rate it. It was good information.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Criminal Plots Challenge

Complete!
That ends the reading challenges for the year.

Here is what I read:
1. Book with weapon in the title: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
2. Book published more than 10 years ago: Crooked House by Agatha Christie
3. Book written by an author from home state: Twisted Perception by Bob Avey
4. Book with protagonist of different sex than author: Woman in White by Wilke Collins
5. Book written by author using a pen name: Blaze by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King)
6. Stand alone novel by an author writing a series: Mozart's Last Aria by Matt Rees



Friday, June 22, 2012

Sharp Objects

by Gillian Flynn

Initially, I wanted to read Gone Girl by this same author, but when I saw this title, I picked it instead because it would meet criteria for my reading challenge. In a nutshell, a small town girl turned big town news reporter returns to her hometown to cover a suspected serial killing. In barely over 300 pages, the author introduces enough personal, family and social issues to confuse a psychologist! Alcoholism, drug abuse, underage sex, rape, cutting, munchausen by proxy, fixations, child abuse and neglect, murder, gun rights, animal rights, mean girls... I could go on and on; these people lived in one seriously warped town! The story was far-fetched, yet predictable. And unfortunately, very little was resolved among all that mess. Never the less, Sharp Objects is Flynn's first novel and I think she has potential, it just may be a while before I can give her another shot.

If  you have read any of her others, let me know if I should try again.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Blaze

by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King)

In my efforts to chip away at that criminal plots challenge, I needed to read a crime novel written by an author using a pen name. I didn't find many who fit this category and originally wanted to read a book by Andy Stack (aka Ann Rule), unfortunately these books do not come in a digital format, so I went for this one.

If you are an avid SK reader you will know that within his novels, King frequently gives a nod to characters and places in his other novels. My DH recently found this flow chart of these connections  Flowchart: Connections in Stephen King novels What is amazing is that he does this same thing as Bachman! In Blaze he mentions Shawshack Prison (from Shawshank Redemption), Derry (town in It, Insomnia, Dreamcatcher and 11/22/63), the last name Cullen (also a main character in The Stand), and the last name Coslaw (also a student in 11/22/63).  I'm sure there were other connections I missed, but since I know he does this I tend to be on the lookout.

Even though Blaze would not be at the top of my SK favorites, the man is a skilled writer and can just take a story and run. Here, Clayton Blaisedell, Jr. and his con partner, George (who is actually dead and talking in Blaze's head) kidnap a baby from a wealthy family in order to collect a large ransom and retire somewhere warm. The story relies on flashback telling the story of Blaze's youth while concurrently relaying the kidnap caper. King originally wrote this novel in 1973, but didn't have it published until 2007 after major editing.

It's a quick read that SK fans should read, however don't let this be your first!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Crooked House

by Agatha Christi

It has been years since I've read Agatha Christi. When I was in high school, I went through a phase of reading the Hercule Poirot mysteries and must have liked them because I read most of them. I selected this book to meet the criteria for that criminal plot challenge.... I haven't forgotten it.

Crooked House is very much in keeping with what I remember of those others, very succinct and straightforward. In this book the abundant dialogue almost gives the feeling of reading a play. Ms. Christie identified this book as one of her favorites, which gave it the edge over some others I considered. The premise is three generations of one eccentric family living together in one house, the grandfather is poisoned and everyone is a suspect.

As far as mysteries go, not much; as far as novels go, ditto.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mozart's Last Aria

by Matt Rees

In Mozart's Last Aria, Matt Rees explores the mystery that surrounds the early demise of Amadeus Mozart. Running with the popular belief that he was poisoned, Rees employs Nannerl, Mozart's elder sister, who takes it upon herself to discover the murderer. The idea has a lot of potential, unfortunately Rees' account falls short. His character development is weak, the characters and situations are unbelievable, he loses plot focus, and the story line gets bogged down in terminology familiar only to a musical progeny.

First, my disclaimer:  I have almost no knowledge of music terminology and am only minimally familiar with the works of Mozart, as in, I have heard some of his pieces. I'm not sure where my lack of musical knowledge falls among the general public, but in this book it is a stumbling block. Next, the story begins as somewhat of an historical mystery, but midway through gets sidetracked in an unfathomable romance and then struggles unsuccessfully to return to the original purpose. Then, the main character is confusing and confused. She is presented as a determined and independent woman at the same time she is manipulated by her father, gets trapped into a marriage of convenience, and is morally weak. On one page she is making harsh demands of princes and barons and on the next she is falling helplessly into their arms (a favorite ploy of Nora Roberts). In short, she is unlikeable and unbelievable. Finally, the writing is forced, resembling a high schooler's essay that required varieties of the absolute phrase.

Didn't like it and wouldn't recommend it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Warmth of Other Suns

by Isabel Wilkerson

Ms. Wilkerson has taken on a little addressed slice of the American pie in The Warmth of Other Suns. As a whole, the story is at times a sad, tragic, yet interesting piece of history. Wilkerson shows the extent of her research in the book, which mainly follows three people's journeys and adventures as they escape the repressive southern states for a perceived freedom and jobs in the north and west. Each of the people individually presents their personal hardships both in the south and in their "promised lands"and at the same time, they collectively tell the story of the Great Migration of blacks in America between 1915-1970.

Ida Mae Gladney left her Mississippi home in the late 20's for a brief stay in Milwaukee, but ultimately ended up in Chicago's South Shore. She, her husband and her small children snuck away from their life of share cropping in hopes of freedom. George Starling escaped his certain death (lynching) in Florida after disagreements with the citrus picking companies. He landed in New York with his wife, taking a job with the railways. Robert Foster made it big in California as a renowned physician and surgeon when he left Louisiana to get away from the prejudices of the south. They were all trying to escape Jim Crow and poverty and the impending sense of servitude that permeated the south. Unfortunately, the north didn't always live up to their expectations, as Martin Luther King indicated, "Let's not fool ourselves, we are far from the Promised Land, both north and south." There were two other issues that blacks faced in their attempts to assimilate;  many could never "truly put behind them the hurts {they} had endured in the South" and those that were unhappy still needed to "prove that their decision to move north was the superior and right thing to do."

I enjoyed the authors integration of quotes and give her credit for tackling this daunting tale of American Blacks. Although Ms. Wilkerson had a great story to tell, I found the book unnecessarily long, overly repetitive and lacking continuity. Because of the particular format, Wilkerson retells events over and over again, which I felt detracted from the message. If the presentation were more succinct these amazing life stories would really stand out!


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Unbroken

by Laura Hillenbrand

About 10 years ago my SIL recommended Seabiscuit. Even though I couldn't imagine liking a book about a race horse, I not only enjoyed it, I recommended it to others! Now I am recommending another book by the same author, Unbroken, a WWII survival story. The main thing that differentiates this World War II story from so many others is that it recounts the lesser told Pacific encounter.

Once again, Hillenbrand tells the story of a "racehorse", Louis Zamperini, who ran in the Berlin Olympics and even shook hands with the Fuhrer! Louie was on track to be the first person to break the 4-minute mile when he was drafted by the Air Force as a bombardier and assigned to the Green Hornet, a B24. When Louie's plane went down somewhere over the Pacific, he and two of his crewmates spent over 47 days adrift before being captured by the Japanese. Louie then spent the next 2 1/2 years surviving horrific circumstances and torture until his release at the war's end. While the focus of the book is clearly Zamperini, Hillenbrand also gives honor to other war heroes who suffered alongside him. The book details Zamperini's life from childhood through post-war life, and at times I found it a bit long-winded. The author tends toward the dramatic- Hollywood style, but tells a riveting and heart-wrenching tale.

Since I listened to this book on my ipod over several weeks, my review may be a little different than a reader's. I'd recommend this book if you like war stories, history, biography or stories of overcoming. Well done and sure to be coming to a theater near you. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

I believe A Tale of Two Cities was required reading when I was in 8th grade because I remember Mr. Gershwin trying so hard to convince our class that this was a great literary work. I really wanted to believe him, because I thought he was such a fun teacher, but at the time I just didn't like it. I only grasped that it was a story about London and Paris and the French Revolution. A few weeks ago, one of my reading buddies was recounting a debate she and another friend were having about which was the better Dickens work, A Tale of Two Cities or Great Expectations. I was immediately taken aback because of my negative pre-teen recollections. But because I have such respect for these two women, I decided I needed to give Dickens another shot.

Without a doubt, the introduction is one of the most recognized in literature: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." And that intro is both a foreshadow and a summary of the rest of the book.

Even so, I read with trepidation. I found the first half of the book moving rather slowly and a bit hard to follow. The chapters jumped from character to character and city to city and it was hard for me to determine a path. I felt a bit bogged down, but determined. And now I say with confidence, "Stick with it my friends!" The second half of the book takes hold of you and pulls you to the finish, "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

You were right Mr. Gershwin, this is a great literary work! 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Defending Jacob

by William Landay

It's been a while since I have ventured into the courtroom thriller of fiction, but years ago I read them pretty regularly. While reading Defending Jacob, I kept remembering Scott Turow's best-seller Presumed Innocent, probably because of the first-person narrative of the trial, the flashbacks relating the details and the extreme lengths undertaken trying to elicit a not guilty verdict from a jury.

Defending Jacob addresses some controversial ideas: bullying, the murder gene, the electronic age distancing of families and family responsibility to society. In this story, the 14-year old son of the town's lead district attorney is accused of murdering one of his classmates, turning the prosecutor into the defender. The father, Andy Barber will now go to any measure to prove his son innocent, even concealing inculpatory evidence. The author does a pretty good job detailing how this trial affects the family in all phases of the ordeal. He also presents some thought provoking concepts related to the idea that some people are born to kill or have an irresistible and uncontrollable propensity toward violence.

The story does tend to drag in some parts and is often repetitive. I had a hard time believing the son was only 14. I didn't think the language of the teens was well representative of that age group and I couldn't buy that the father was so clueless, given circumstances and his profession. Without giving anything away, I was not surprised by the ending... in case that is what the author was looking for.

Even so, it was a page turner and if you like courtroom suspense you'd probably enjoy this book.







Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margret Atwood

This is the second dystopian novel I have read in the past few months and it is not for me! In The Handmaid's Tale, the future world reflects a similar scenario to that of Iran after their revolution, where a westernized society is overtaken by religious extremists, forcing women into burkas and taking away their freedoms as a pretense of protection. This book has some interesting ideas, but I found it pretty slow and rather uneventful. At times I was reminded of The Stepford Wives (1975 movie- never read the book and didn't see the remake) just the robotic type women and their routine-ness.

Yes, I got it; we need to be on guard not to let our world slip into the hands of wacko's.  But so many freedoms are taken away "for our protection" and people don't see it until it's too late (Patriot Act). It's easy to warn or scoff from a  distance or after-the-fact, but as the New Orleans Saints have shown, people rarely stand for right if they are in the minority or if the leader makes the actions sound right.

If you like the 1984 type stuff this may be for you.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Dovekeepers

by Alice Hoffman

It isn't hard to get sucked into the fast paced action at the beginning of The Dovekeepers. The story begins with the second Roman invasion of Jerusalem in 70 AD, focusing on one family's struggle to escape the massacre, their journey through the desert to a refuge at Masada and the ensuing siege of that stronghold. Prior to this novel, I'd not read much about this incident, but this book inspired me to do some research on Masada and the zealots who defended that fortress to their death. In regard to historical accuracy,  Ms. Hoffman did her research and tried to stick to the facts of the actual events as recounted by Josephus. I found these sections of the novel very intriguing and wish the story had centered on them rather than making them merely a backdrop. I guess Ms. Hoffman didn't feel the history in and of itself contained enough interest so she tried to jazz it up with characters whose stories were overly fantastical.

Hoffman has an engaging writing style that keeps the plot moving and keeps the reader interested. She has a great imagination and is very detailed and descriptive. Although this is not a quick read, I think it is worth the time.

My biggest problem with the book was that the lifestyles of the leading female characters didn't seem representative of women you'd expect to find in Masada, they seemed more indicative of heretics in the early Inquisition period. They spent their time making potions, offering sacrifices to Ashtoreth, constructing charms and amulets for protection and chanting to scare away demons. This does not seem like the behavior of women who were part of a religious sect whose vow to bow down to no one but God led them to mass suicide rather than surrender to the Romans. Regardless, if you like historical fiction, I'd recommend it.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

NIght Stalks the Mansion

by Harold Cameron and Constance Westbie

Night Stalks the Mansion tells the paranormal encounters one family faced while living in an 1837's Pennsylvania mansion. The Cameron family rented this home during the 1960's where they shared the residence with at least two ghosts. Harold Cameron recounts the many strange incidents that led the family to make a pact with the spirits. Every family member, numerous guests and most of the hired help heard both heavy and light footsteps throughout the house and on the mansion grounds, smelled terrible odors directed in specific locations and experienced objects that were moved or went missing. These happenings turned Harold and his two older sons into amateur sleuths on a mission to discover the reasons these beings were tied to earth.

The book was published about the same time as Amityville Horror, which has a similar story of ghostly events, however unlike the Lutz family who lived in the Amityville home, the Cameron's never felt directly threatened by the spirits on Plum Lane. The "agreement" struck between the Cameron's and the ghosts allowed the family a manageable, although uneasy provision to live out their two-year lease.

I won't comment on whether or not this really happened; the family believes it to be true. I know many people who have had other-worldly encounters and have personally experienced a few situations that have caused me to wonder about the spirit realm myself. I think if you are looking for that, you can probably find it. The book won't win any literary awards, but if you like an interesting ghost story, this is a quick read. I downloaded this ebook free from Pixel of Ink.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise

by Julia Stuart

I have happened upon another novel laced with British tongue-and-cheek humor, quirky characters and almost (but not quite) unbelievable dilemmas. In many ways I was reminded of The Sisters Brothers in the eccentric characters and their crazy and funny situations. Some of the more laughable in this book are: a bird with the "trots", a Beefeater choking on the monopoly boot, a preacher who writes erotic novels under a female alias, the ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh and a lost bearded pig, oh and don't forget the 200-year-old pet tortoise. The story develops out of two main backdrops: the Tower of London, which is home to most of these characters and the London Underground Lost Properties Office, the workplace of Hebe Jones, wife of Balthazar, Yeoman Warder in charge of the Royal Menagerie. The author weaves many unusual historical facts and folklore into the story without distracting from the plot.

However The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise is not all amusement. There is a surprising aspect of sadness and loneliness throughout that catch you off guard inside the silliness. Each character is struggling to make a connection, to feel wanted and needed or to figure out how to cope with rejection.

I think this book would go perfect with a spot of tea and a biscuit. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Looking for a good book?

I am always looking for books to read and have gone about that in a number of ways: friend recommendations, Bookmarks magazine and Amazon suggestions. I also have googled "books everyone should read" or "best books" for lists.
For some time I have been aware of the goodreads site, but did not use it as intended. I just used it for their lists of reading suggestions, but I never created an account until yesterday, and wish I had done so long ago! Once registered (it's free), you are led to select your favorite reading genres. After this you begin rating books you've read within each genre, selecting ones that you'd like to read, etc. If you rate a book 3-star or above, the site immediately adds a short list of similar books you also might enjoy reading. At the end of this process you end up with a bookshelf of books you'd like to read and goodreads recommendations based on your favorites. This is very cool!

Another site my DH introduced to me is Pixel of Ink, which is a site offering free and bargain Kindle books. You can register to receive daily emails offering each days free or greatly discounted ebooks.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Woman in White

by Wilke Collins

The Woman in White does not fail as the precursor of the modern mystery genre with it's gripping tale of an innocent woman in love with a man who is not her equal, being forced into a marriage with a greedy brute whose only interest is her inheritance. Collins weaves an absorbing story through a number of first person narratives that build upon one another revealing a spiteful wrong and the efforts at vindication through a search for that elusive woman in white.

While this is a well told and well written novel, it does fall into the traps of many Victorian classics: wordiness, melodrama and excessive description. And as with those novels, it captures the essence of British society, roles of women, inequality, rules of law and even delves into the standards and quality of medical care. In addition, many common themes are present in this story: thwarted love, inheritance, aristocracy and the class system, the delicacy of a woman's nature and the triumph of good over evil. All of these aspects Collins presents in a twisting mystery that might have you second guessing yourself.

The original story was published as a serial, which may have been a great way to read it. When Stephen King's The Green Mile was first released, it was done in this manner and I could hardly wait each month for the next segments publication; it was great!

This would be perfect to read by the pool this summer and you can download it free from Amazon.

The Song of Achilles

by Madeline Miller

This is not the modern-day Iliad as promised by reviewers, but rather the story of a relationship between a god and a man. Unfortunately, reading this book may ruin your remembrances of Homer's legendary epic since Ms. Miller gives second place to the Trojan War, pursuing instead a supposed homosexual relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. When the story first showed signs of moving this direction I was taken aback. I hadn't read the Iliad since high school, but remembered it being one of my favorite assigned reading materials. I certainly didn't recall any romantic relationship between the hero and his companion, but wondered if in my naivety I had misunderstood that as a teen. But no, after a quick Spark notes check, I was reassured that this author wanted to make a statement. I was very disappointed in this rendition of the friendship between Patroclus and Achilles because I had always compared it to the friendship between David and Jonathan in the Bible. I was also disappointed that so much of the story was spent developing this affair and so little spent on all that matters regarding Troy, Greece and the wrath of Achilles, which was the main focus for Homer.

I will give credit to Ms. Miller in her writing style, which is captivating and engaging, but the gushing love affair was not only too much for my tastes, but skewed my view of an otherwise admirable companionship between two men.

Furthermore, I can't imagine The Song of Achilles appealing to anyone I know following this blog. For a second time this month I say, "Stick with the classic.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Listening is an Act of Love

by David Isay

This book came highly recommended by one of my "pew pals" at church so I was anxious to read it, but because I had such great exercise success with my previous audiobook, and because the title is Listening is an Act of Love, I thought this might be my next exercise motivator. Unfortunately, this is NOT the audiobook to buy for a number of reasons:
1. It is a tearjerker! Crying and exercising do not mix.
2. It is VERY abridged: so much so that it isn't fun. Each person's story in this audio version is so shortened that you barely get a sense of what they are discussing before the next clip begins. Granted, this is my fault for not carefully reading the fine print on the description, which gives listening time as 55 minutes, but I did not see the word "abridged"anywhere.
3. I realize here again this problem is solely mine, but I could not find a way to slow down the listening speed, so instead of 55 minutes of dialogue, I heard 37. These were some fast talkers :)

However, what I did learn from the snippets of this audiobook is that I want to read the real thing. A few of the excerpts were really memorable:
1. A Black American lady was trying to register to vote in the 40's and was stopped from doing so by a registration board (a panel of white men) who asked her frivolous questions. This woman did not give up her efforts to register, but went daily to the board until she got her voter ID. Typically, these racial stories turn me off a bit because sometimes I think harboring those feelings and continuing to revisit them only causes more division among a society trying to overcome, but her telling of it was moving. This emotion is one thing that you wouldn't get by reading the book.
2. A man who lost his fiance in the 9/11 disaster. This man clearly still loved the woman and talked about how she made his life better. The thing that pained me the most about his story was his ending when he said, "Don't worry Karen, I will see you again. I will do enough good to make it up there." I just wanted to grab that man and say Don't worry mister, Jesus already did enough good for you to make it up there!

This was a neat idea, but I am not going to rate it because I didn't get enough to do so. I'm sure you'll see an addendum in the near future. The one thing I can rate is the audiobook, which clearly I DO NOT recommend; go for the text.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Thousand Splendid Suns

by Khaled Hosseini

This is actually the third time I started to "read" A Thousand Splendid Suns. You'll note the quotes surrounding the word read because I actually listened to the audiobook, and this was the third time I started it. I first got the CD's to listen to on a lengthy car trip where I was the only driver, but never got past the very beginning. At a later date, I transferred the CD's onto my ipod, thinking I would listen, and again started and didn't get too far. What led me to this final attempt (and I did listen to the entire story this time) was my need for some change in my exercise or motivation to do so. I decided to try listening to a book rather than music while I ran on my elliptical trainer, and surprisingly, this worked! What was happening is that my playlists were all so familiar that I began counting minutes on the elliptical.... with the book, each day something new was happening and that kept me interested in something other than the clock, even though I did not find this a particularly good book, it was plenty to serve its purpose for me.

Now I will get down to the business at hand, the review. I think it's only fair for me to rate this in two parts: audio and story. I'll begin with the audio because I believe that may have had a major impact on what I heard of the story. I did not like the narrator at all. Although she had a nice speaking voice, she talked/read SLOW!!!! It drove me crazy at first, but I decided I'd accept that because, as I said, it was keeping me going on the workout. I have learned that many audiobooks offer a read speed option, which this book did not, but would be of benefit. In addition to her slow speech, she had an annoying tendency to read with an accent only those words or phrases in the story that were native, kind of like Giada de Laurentiis does in her cooking show whenever she says Ricotta (ree COOO tah) but speaks normal English the rest of the time. This bothers me.

As for the story, the author does a good job of depicting life for women in a Muslim society and provides an elementary history of Afghanistan from the mid 1960's through the early 2000's. Overall this is well done, but some of the allusions rubbed me the wrong way, and here I should say that this may be a result of the narrator's tone and I may not have had the same reaction if I were reading it myself, it's hard to say.
I liked the women in the book and liked hearing of their hardships and efforts to overcome, but the second problem I had with the book is that it went too long! The story should have ended right after the final ordeal with Miriam (not a spoiler), which would have meant at least 2-3 hours less listening time and the rest of the story would have gone without saying. The author/editor needs to remember that wrapping everything up into a tidy package isn't always beneficial and often detrimental.

Although it's too late for me to read this story anew, hundreds who did actually read it (as opposed to listening) gave it 4 1/2 star reviews, so if you are inclined, I might say try the print.

No matter though, for now I am looking for another audiobook and my heart thanks me :)

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy

by Margot Livesey

The Flight of Gemma Hardy is promoted as a "modern day" Jane Eyre. I loved Jane; Gemma is no Jane, much as she may try! Rather than using Bronte's classic as a springboard, Ms. Livesey used it as a sort of checklist, and unfortunately missed the mark. In the beginning of the novel the two stories run almost exactly parallel: Jane/Gemma orphaned, move in with cruel aunt, blamed for fight with mean cousin, gets sent off as a working student at a poor boarding school, makes friends with sickly girl who dies in her arms, becomes teacher to orphaned niece of Sinclair/Rochester, falls in love with him etc. In the instances where Livesey veers from the classic she does so to the detriment of the story and characters: her reason for leaving Mr. Sinclair at the altar, the lesbians who revive her, stealing from the family who hired her in her time of need and her reconnection with Sinclair.

I'd like to say that Ms. Livesey has a nice writing style, but I found it hard to focus on that when I was constantly comparing her book with Bronte's, and hers just didn't measure up. Maybe if she tried something of her own imaginings her style would shine.

For anyone who may feel inclined to read Gemma Hardy, I'd suggest you just dust off your copy of Jane Eyre instead.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Before I Go To Sleep

by S.J. Watson

Let me begin by saying that the premise of this book is rather intriguing. A woman suffers from both long term and short term memory loss after a terrible accident resulting in each day being new to her. Every morning, Christine wakes up in a home she does not recognize, to a man she doesn't know as her husband, not really knowing who she is and having no recollection of a past beyond her youth. Her husband has gone to extreme lengths to make accommodations for her memory loss and patiently retells her stories any time she has a fleeting glimpse of some past event. As the story progresses, Christine begins keeping a journal and discovers that her husband's stories are full of holes, and thus begins the mystery.

While I liked the idea of Before I Go To Sleep, midway through I found it dragging a bit and even somewhat predictable. Long before the end I knew what was going to happen, which I won't divulge for those who will choose to read it. I also found several problems that made it tough to swallow what happened. Without giving too much away I'll mention that both the relationship with her doctor and the deal with her son just didn't work. In particular, if the doctor had a file on her, which the story indicates he did, then he would have known much earlier about some of the discrepancies.

Overall, it was a decent read and would be great made into movie.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Back of the Napkin

by Dan Roam

My husband picked up this book after a sparked interest in sketchnotes. After hearing him talk about it, along with several blog posts on the subject, I thought this method might be of some use to me. I will admit, I did not read the entire book, but only part one; part two consists of using the method in specific work situations and examples, which didn't apply to my needs. As I went through The Back of the Napkin I was reminded of my mom. From my recollection, she incorporated sketching into many of her notes and always when writing things for us kids. I always thought she was such a great artist! I can remember her drawing faces into every little swirly doodle :)

My main reason for thinking to apply sketchnotes was for my daily Bible reading. I have started a daily schedule to read through Acts and the epistles in 90 days. In the beginning, the program has me reading one chapter from Acts and one from Romans each day. After day 3, I felt a little bewildered in keeping track of the flow of events in each book, so I thought I'd jot down the highlights of each chapter and glance over those before the daily readings. Here is what I came up with for the first chapters:


Acts 1: Jesus ascends up to heaven and the apostles replace Judas with Matthias by casting lots.











Romans 1: Paul desires to go to Rome and God hands people over to their sinful desires.



What I have discovered so far (I'm only at chapter 6 in each book) is that sketching Acts is much easier than sketching Romans! The Acts is an historical account of people, places and things while Romans speaks of ideas, convictions and beliefs. I'm challenged in visualizing these concepts. Despite that, I think taking the time to visualize and sketch these chapters is helping me order and remember them.
I'm not sure how well I'd do taking sketchnotes in real time, like during a lecture, but I'm going to try it on Sunday morning's sermon. The book gives very practical steps in visualizing and sketching using six x six rules of what we see and what we show. I believe with practice this would be a great note-taking method.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Sense of an Ending

by Julian Barnes

This book won the 2011 Man Booker Award after the author having several titles on that list in the past few years. The Sense of an Ending is an analytical novella of memories and remembering, time, history, death and life, self-examination, forgiving and forgiveness, and guilt.

Tony is an aging man reflecting on his rather average life, from young adulthood through middle-age. When he is reunited with a friend of his youth, through an unfortunate event, he must come to terms with his incomplete memory and the history he has created for himself. He realizes "history is that certainty produced at the point where imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation."

Through the narration, readers can't help but contemplate their own lives and memories and actions they look back on with regret. This story is not overly wordy, but is full of the right words. I read several reviewer comments regarding the somewhat confusing conflict between Tony and his ex-lover, Veronica and their frustration at "not getting it" but am convinced this is an intentional act by the author to put the reader in the shoes of the main character. I liked the philosophical nature of this book.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Hunger Games

by Suzanne Collins

This book has received much publicity and praise since its release and is now the basis of a major motion picture to be released this spring, so I wanted to see what all the hype was about. The Hunger Games is the first in a trilogy aimed at young adults. My feelings are mixed on this one; the story did keep your attention, but the premise was hard to take. Here we have a twelve district country suffering under a cruel totalitarian regime, that as part of its control mechanism forces each district to offer two of their children (12-18 year olds) as competitors in an annual gladiator-type event.

In this story,  24 teens are chosen by lottery and then spend several days preparing themselves to enter an arena where they hunt each other down and savagely murder one another, the victor is the sole survivor. The entire event is aired on live tv throughout the districts, where viewing is required, and passed off as entertainment (think Roman Empire). These hunger games have been in effect for 74 years to remind the citizens of the futility of rebellion. There is only a hint of objection from the main characters to this brutality, who are helpless to rebel and can only fulfill their obligation in the arena. I know many futuristic novels have similar themes, but I find it a bit disturbing that this is such a wildly popular novel for teens.

I will give the author credit for writing a very readable book that kept the story moving forward at a fast pace. However, much of the story and dialogue seem forced and I found Katniss (the main character) a little shallow. Despite that, readers will cheer for her success. I realize my opinion is a great minority, maybe I was expecting too much after all of the promotion. Since this is only book one, I will at least read the next in this series hoping for a better future.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Twisted Perception

by Bob Avey

Naturally, since I decided to take the Criminal Plots challenge, I selected a book that would meet one of the requirements. Twisted Perception is written by an Oklahoma author and is Avey's debut novel. The premise of the story is that Detective Elliot, who is investigating a murder that may be connected to a serial killer, also happens to be the main suspect. Oddly enough, Elliot himself isn't sure whether or not he's guilty. Most chapters are told from the third person with some narrations from the killer's perspective interspersed throughout the story. To reinforce the confusion, many of the killers thoughts and experiences coincide with Elliot's. I found these interjected accounts a bit creepy and because the author wanted to disguise the killer, his narrations were elusive to the point of distraction.

A lot of characters had similar names that played into the outcome, but I found some of the relationships far-fetched. Since I don't like giving spoilers, I'll say there was a twist, which made the ending somewhat unexpected but not entirely. The book was a quick, easy read, overall okay.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Criminal Plots Challenge

My book club of the past 10 years is sort of dissolving. Although I sometimes contemplated dropping out and occasionally disliked the selected book, now that it is "on hold" I have missed it. I miss meeting with the ladies who I became friends with but now rarely see, I miss reading books I probably wouldn't have picked up on my own, and I miss discussing those books. I was often surprised to hear positive comments about books I didn't like and I found it interesting to hear opposite opinions. Sometimes the discussions made me look at the book from a different perspective (always a good thing for me). I also think the book club provided more focus to my reading. Since I knew a book would be discussed I looked for things I liked and didn't and I looked for interesting quotes or sections of the story that were challenging or thought-provoking. Now though, I just read.
The challenge I did at the first of the year helped fill the void a little so I started searching the internet for another. Here is one I found that I thought feasible:  http://criminalplots.blogspot.com/search/label/2012    Even though mystery/ crime/ thriller isn't my go-to genre, it's something I like to read.

I looked into an historical fiction challenge, but it only classified by the number of HF books you read in the year.... I kind of like the title challenges because it makes you search for something specific, meaning it may not be one you'd choose otherwise.

Here are the title requirements for this challenge:
1. Weapon in the title
2. Published more than 10 years ago
3. Written by author from home state
4. Protagonist opposite sex of author
5. Written by author using a pen name
6. Stand-alone book by author who writes a series

So, until we meet again......

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Elephant's Journey

by Jose Saramago

When I saw this book about a year ago I considered reading it, but being familiar with Saramago's writing style, I knew I'd need to be in the right frame of mind to tackle the complete disregard of punctuation and capitalization he employs. He turns what should be a quick and fun read into a mental exercise that can be worth the effort in the end..... but you must be prepared!

The Elephant's Journey is very loosely based on an event in 1551 when the king of Portugal gifts an Indian elephant to his cousin the archduke of Austria. The story follows the elephant, Solomon and his mahout (keeper) from their departure in Lisbon across Spain, on a sea voyage to Italy, through the treacherous Alps to his arrival in Vienna. It is told from the point of view of a distant narrator, in a very story-telling fashion, including much chasing of rabbits! Intermixed with the travelogue are Saramago's observations on society, religion, status and relationships, at times quite humorous.

I'm sure that Saramago's failure to use periods and quotes and other such marks used in elementary writing is intentional, but I think it is a disservice to his point. Or maybe that is his point! I'm iffy on the recommendation.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Night Circus

by Erin Morgenstern

My overall impression of this book was enjoyable, reading it was almost like being in a dream. Morgenstern's writing is simple yet full of descriptive imagery that made the circus come alive and left me wishing to explore it on my own. The Night Circus begins as a challenge created by a pair of magicians trying to prove whose magical method is superior. Complications arise when they fall in love and come to two understandings: the circus cannot stand without them and to win means to lose (I don't want to give too much of a spoiler).

I give credit to the author for her originality and imagination; the concept was very clever. Although I did find the descriptions and details of each circus tent intriguing on their own, at some point I was also ready for some more substance to the story that would justify these elaborations. I think the story could have been stronger by placing more emphasis on the battle between the magicians, which would lend support to each of the creations. At some point earlier along the journey, I also wanted the competitors to gain a better understanding of the rules, which always remain elusive to them and the reader.

All in all it is a good book that is fun to read. I look forward to more from this author.