Thursday, February 25, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Why I Read

For more Booking Through Thursday responses, click here.
I’ve seen this quotation in several places lately. It’s from Sven Birkerts’ ‘The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age’:
“To read, when one does so of one’s own free will, is to make a volitional statement, to cast a vote; it is to posit an elsewhere and set off toward it. And like any traveling, reading is at once a movement and a comment of sorts about the place one has left. To open a book voluntarily is at some level to remark the insufficiency either of one’s life or one’s orientation toward it.”
To what extent does this describe you?
I don't feel as if this describes my reasons for reading whatsoever. I read because I enjoy learning about new people, places and things. I read because I want to be able, in some small way, to experience things so remote from my own life that I could never have knowledge of them first-hand.

I guess, though, if you view the desire for more knowledge or experiences different from your own to be an "insufficiency," because it technically is, then this quotation would describe me and all others who read.

Hmm... Two sides of the same coin... What do you think?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review: Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner

Certain Girls: A Novel
Title: Certain Girls

Author: Jennifer Weiner

Pages: 384

Source: The library where I work

Rating: 5/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge; Take Another Chance challenge (Challenge 7: Break a Prejudice)

First Sentence: "When I was a kid, our small-town paper published wedding announcements, with descriptions of the ceremonies and dresses and pictures of the brides."

Summary (From book flap):

Readers fell in love with Cannie Shapiro, the smart, sharp-tongued, bighearted heroine of Good in Bed who found her happy ending after her mother came out of the closet, her father fell out of her life, and her ex-boyfriend started chronicling their ex-sex life in the pages of a national magazine.

Now Cannie's back. After her debut novel -- a fictionalized (and highly sexualized) verson of her life -- became an overnight bestseller, she dropped out of the public eye and turned to writing science fiction under a pseudonym. She's happily married to the tall, charming diet doctor Peter Krushelevansky and has settled into a life that she finds wonderfully predictable -- knitting in the front row of her daughter Joy's drama rehearsals, volunteering at the library, and taking over-forty yoga classes with her best friend Samantha.

As preparations for Joy's bat mitzvah begin, everything seems right in Cannie's world. Then Joy discovers the novel Cannie wrote years before and suddenly finds herself faced with what she thinks is the truth about her own conception -- the story her mother hid from her all her life. When Peter surprises his wife by saying he wants to have a baby, the family is forced to reconsider its history, its future, and what it means to be truly happy.

My Two Cents:

I'm going to preface this review with a few caveats. 1) I have never read a book considered "chick-lit" before. 2) I've definitely not read this novel's predecessor, Good in Bed. I had planned to read Good in Bed instead of this one, but my library doesn't have it for some odd reason. 3) I don't like novels in which characters have a changeable flaw, whine about it, but do nothing to change.

We now return to our regularly-scheduled review.

Certain Girls started out fairly strong. In fact, I actually liked it for the first 100 pages or so. It was funny, the writing was solid, and I could kind of see people resembling the characters existing.

Then, it all went downhill from there.

First, Joy bugged me to no end. Sure, she's 12-going-on-13, so she's bound to be annoying and snotty, but Joy was just far, far too snotty for my taste. She snaps and talks back and sneaks around. If she were my daughter and pulling the same stunts, I would ground her and take away all privileges. She routinely (In her narration) calls her mother fat, and that really got to me. I also consistently wondered where she got a lot of the money she was using to buy things and go places. An allowance was mentioned once, and it's pretty obvious that the family wasn't hurting for money, but the ease with which Joy spent her money on things surprised me. Maybe that's just my disconnect from that world that's talking. Joy was definitely my least-favorite character, even at the end.

I also was not fond of the people surrounding the central family. They all seemed much to money-hungry and concerned with status and fame. Of course, a lot of people are like that, but there was just something about how they all handled and viewed their money that didn't sit right with me.

Cannie got on my nerves, too, but I liked her a little better than I liked Joy. I think a lot of the reason why I couldn't stand Joy was because there was nothing in her background story that would cause her to be so mean and bitter. She just was mean and bitter. Cannie, however, had been hurt many times, and she had been deeply hurt, so there was a reason behind her actions. Did I agree with many of them? No, but I could see where they came from.

I wasn't a fan of how Cannie continually thought she was fat or looked dowdy, but never did anything about it. I have struggled, as many women have, with body image issues in the past, but I'm a firm believer in the power of thinking. If you want to change something about yourself, then change it, don't just think about changing it. Cannie was all thought and no action.

Weiner's writing, however, was what saved the rating on this book. She's actually a very good writer, even if I don't like her choice of characters. I found myself laughing out loud at several times.

I've always thought that "chick-lit" is about shallow themes and shallow people, and I'm sure there's plenty of that out there. I nearly picked up The Devil Wears Prada to read for this portion of the TAC Challenge, but I've seen the movie and hated it, so I didn't want to torture myself. Talk about shallow.

Anyway, while there was a lot of superficiality in this novel, there also were some deeper issues: Parental abuse, body image, infertility. It wasn't all fluff and party dresses, which was OK with me. I just don't think I'll be reading anymore "chick-lit" anytime soon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: February 23, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Forest House (Avalon, Book 2)Here are mine:
With so unruly a horse or slave he would have known to take sterner measures. Perhaps it was harder for him to discipline Gaius because so often he saw Moruadh looking out of her son's eyes. The Forest House by Marion Zimmer Bradley, p. 200
Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure
As with his own people, there was a distinct line between the work of men and women, and as with his own, there was deep shame in crossing the well-established separation. Zan had always held the labor of women in high respect, necessary and gratefully received by everybody; yet his tribesman would no sooner do it themselves than seek to bear a child, which was the special gift of women. Zan-Gah by Allan Richard Shickman, p. 81

Brooklyn: A NovelWhen George and Jim returned, all four of them set out walking along the strand, the two men running at first to dry themselves. Eilis was amused at how tight and flimsy their swimming togs were. Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toibin, p. 232

Monday, February 22, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?: February 22, 2010

Hosted by Sheila at One Person's Journey Through a World of Books, It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly bookish meme whereby bloggers share their reading for the last week.

This week, I finished reading:
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner

This week, I reviewed (Click on the titles to read my reviews):
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

This week, I'm reading:
The Forest House by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Zan-Gah by Allan Richard Shickman
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

This week, I hope to begin reading:
Lady of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country by Allan Richard Shickman
Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Review: The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The Postmistress
Title: The Postmistress

Author: Sarah Blake

Pages: 318

Source: Jill at Book, Books Everywhere via the Borrow My ARC Tour hosted by Katrina at Bloody Bad

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

Rating: 6/10

First Sentence: "There were years after it happened, after I'd returned from the town and come back here to the busy blank of the city, when some comment would be tossed off about the Second World War and how it had gone -- some idiotic remark about clairty and purpose -- and I'd resist the urge to stub out my cigarette and bring the dinner party to a satisfying halt."

Summary (From the book flap):

It is 1940. While war is raging in Europe, in the United States President Roosevelt promises he won't send American boys over to fight.

Iris James is the postmistress of Franklin, Massachusettes, a small town on Cape Cod. Iris knows a lot more about the townspeople than she will ever say. She knows that Emma Trask has come to marry the town's young doctor. She knows that Harry Vale, the town's mechanic, inspects the ocean from the tower of the town hall, searching in vain for German U-boats he is certain will come. Iris firmly believes that her job is to deliver and keep people's secrets, to pass along the news of love and sorrow that letters carry. Yet one day Iris does the unthinkable: she slips a letter into her pocket. And then she does something even worse -- she reads the letter, then doesn't deliver it.

Meanwhile, seemingly fearless American radio gal Frankie Bard is working with Edward R. Murrow, reporting from the Blitz in London. Frankie's radio dispatches crinkle across the Atlantic, imploring listeners to pay attention to what is going on as the Nazis bomb London nightly. Then, in the last, desperate days of the summer of 1941, Frankie rides the trains out of Germany and reports what is happening. But while most of the townspeople of Franklin are convinced that the war "overseas" can't touch them, Iris and Emma -- unable to tear themselves away from Frankie's voice -- know better.

Alternating between an America on the eve of entering World War II, still safe and snug in its inability to grasp the danger at hand, and a Europe being torn apart by war, the two stories collide in a letter, bringing the war finally home to Franklin.

My Two Cents:

I have to say that I was insanely excited for this book. After reading all the positive reviews and all the people just waiting for it to be published, I thought I was going to be blown away. That excitement could have tempered my enjoyment of the book, but I don't think so.

Blake is a great writer. Her prose is smooth and fluid and lyrical. This book was a really easy read from that standpoint; I never had to go back and try to figure out what she was saying.

She's also great at writing characters. I absolutely loved Frankie and wanted to meet her in real life. I thought Blake did a pretty fair job of portraying the life and mentality of a reporter, even if Frankie was a little too "hard" for my sensibilities. She just tried too hard to distance herself from the story and to just "get the facts," but good reporting is more than that. But I digress.

I really didn't like Iris. At all. I thought I would at first, but something about her just hit the wrong nerve with me. I think she was a little too prim and know-it-all-ish, and that kind of turned me off from liking her.

I thought the story had a lot of potential. It was shaping up to be great, through the first half, and I was really liking the book a lot. But the second half of the book really, really fell flat for me. Frankie changed far too much and far too rapidly, and we really didn't see why she changed. Sure, we saw why she decided she wanted to start riding the trains, and we saw some of her train-riding. But there was a lot that was left out, and I think the book suffered for that. Frankie returns to the United States far too broken for it to be explained simply by the scenes we see in the book. Do we see some pretty catastrophic things? Yes, but we don't see enough of them. I think we spent far too much time building up to the real events of the book that the life-changing things were too rushed.

For example, I would have liked to see a lot more of Frankie talking to people on the trains. I know she was haunted by the people she talked to because of a couple of things that happened on the first leg of her journey, but she had 15 other discs to fill. There had to be some more heartbreaking stories in there that we never saw.

Maybe I just really like to hear all the tragic stories that come out of World War II and the Holocaust, so that's changing my view of the book. I just thought there was a lot more that could have been said and done.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

In My Mailbox (3/4)

Hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren, In My Mailbox explores the contents of bloggers' mailboxes on a weekly basis.

I took last weekend off for my birthday, so this is a large one!

(From the top down)

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa - Purchased with birthday money
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman - Purchased with birthday money
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See - Purchased at a used bookstore
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker - Purchased at a used bookstore
Castle Roogna by Piers Anthony - A win from the member giveaway at LibraryThing
My Ridiculous, Romantic Obsessions by Becca Wilhite - A win from the Goodreads First Reads program
The Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware - A win from Diary of an Eccentric
The Flesh Statue by U.L. Harper - Sent by the author
A Century Turns by William Bennett - Sent through Booksneeze
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake - From Books, Books Everywhere via Bloody Bad's Borrow My ARC Tour
Zan-Gah and Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country by Allan Richard Shickman - Sent by the publisher

Whew! That's a lot of books!

What was in YOUR mailbox this week?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Olympic Reading

For more Booking Through Thursday responses, click here.

You may have noticed–the Winter Olympics are going on. Is that affecting your reading time? Have you read any Olympics-themed books? What do you think about the Olympics in general? Here’s your chance to discuss!

I'm not big into sports at all, and we don't have any sort of a cable hookup on our TV, so I haven't watched a single second of the Olympics, and I don't plan to. If I did have a TV with cable hookup, I still probably wouldn't watch them.

What do you think? Is the Olympics influencing your reading at all?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants: A Novel
Title: Water for Elephants

Author: Sara Gruen

Pages: 331

Source: The library where I work

Rating: 9/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge, 451 challenge

First Sentence: "Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook."

Summary (From Goodreads):
Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell." Jacob was there because his luck had run out - orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive "ship of fools." It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act - in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

My Two Cents:
From the prologue on, I was hooked on this book. I would have finished it in less than one work shift, but I had those annoying things called patrons who kept walking through my door, so I couldn't!

I loved having Jacob as a narrator, but I liked him best when he was his current self rather than his 1930s-self (Make sense?). He was a feisty, hilarious old man who didn't want to take any guff from anyone, but who was also stuck in a situation where he had to "just do as he was told." But he wasn't all witty quips and snippy remarks; he was also profoundly sad that his family seemed no longer to have time for him, and he was genuinely excited that the circus was rolling into town.

One of the things I liked the most about Water for Elephants was the vivid portrayal of everyone on the circus -- from the lowest of the stagehands to the general manager himself, from the midget clown to the enormous elephant. Whether it's an accurate portrayal of what circus life was like in the 1930s or not, Gruen brings a whole new world to life, a world I'm sure many of us have wanted to see. How many people can attend even one circus and not wonder what it would be like to travel with them?

While some reviewers have called the ending "inevitable" and "obvious," I truly didn't see it coming until the very end. Perhaps I was just too caught up in everything else going on to think about how the book was going to end, but I'm glad that it did end that way. There were much more depressing ways this book could have ended, and we've had enough depressing endings floating around lately to fulfill my taste, thank you.

I would recommend this to anyone who's ever pondered running away with the circus, or anyone who likes vivid descriptions of people and settings. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Garden Spells (Bantam Discovery)
Title: Garden Spells

Author: Sarah Addison Allen

Pages: 286

Source: The library where I work

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

Rating: 10/10

First Sentence: "Every smiley moon, without fail, Claire dreamed of her childhood."

Summary (From book flap):
The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.
A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants -- from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys -- except for Claire's rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.
When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire's quiet life is turned upside down -- along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Clair struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy -- if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom -- or with each other.

My Two Cents:
I have been eyeing this book on the shelves of my library for ages, so when I volunteered to review Allen's newest book for the Pump Up Your Book Promotion tour in March, I figured I should probably read her first book, too. I'm glad I did.

Allen's writing draws you into a world where even the most unimaginable things, such as an apple tree whose fruit will tell you the most significant event in your life, seem completely logical. As much as I love completely fantastic worlds, such as the one J.K. Rowling created for Harry Potter, sometimes I think that worlds that look a whole lot like our own but have a magical element are more fun. I guess maybe it's the little kid in me hoping to find something magical around every corner.

Her characters are incredibly well-rounded. Claire is scared of losing someone important to her again, so that makes her standoffish and very routine-oriented. However, she is able to open herself back up to the possibility that people can change by the end of the book. To me, the ability for a character to change and learn something new over the course of a novel is the sign of a good, well-written character. Static characters who always do the same things are boring. I like characters who spice things up a little!

I absolutely adored the character of Evanelle. I wish I knew someone just like her. She has a special gift, as part of her Waverley inheritance, that she just knows that she needs to give a person a particular object at a certain time. She can't tell you what you'll need that object for, but she just knows that she needs to give it to you. I also loved her relationship with Fred, the grocer. Where Evanelle is spontaneous and disorganized, Fred likes to plan and have a place for everything. They work together really well.

My only criticism of this book is that parts of the ending were kind of predictable. I knew that a certain thing was going to happen (I won't reveal what because that'd spoil it for you!), so I spent a lot of the book just waiting for that one thing to happen. Sure, I didn't know how it was all going to play out, but I knew that it would happen. It didn't really ruin my enjoyment of the book at all, but I do like to be surprised.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a little fantasy with their realism, and anyone who enjoys women's novels. It's a great novel of family relationships and learning to trust again.

Teaser Tuesday: February 16, 2010

For those new to the blog, my giveaway of First Daughter and Last Snow by Eric Van Lustbader ends at 10 p.m. Friday, February 19. Click here to enter.

I'm hosting a 50 Followers Contest ending March 1. Click here for details.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Here are mine:

The PostmistressHe looked over at her, his eyes lingering on the neck of her blouse. It didn't matter that she was one of Ed Murrow's, nor that that broadcast had been brave, even well-written; he didn't give a damn. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (p. 202 in an ARC - Page numbers may be different in the final copy)

The Forest House (Avalon, Book 2)
But the crowds were so thick she could hardly hear what Miellyn was saying. A group of people were watching a man with a dancing bear; Senara cried out that she wanted to see, and they pressed forward for a better view. The Forest House by Marion Zimmer Bradley (p. 180)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Announcing the 50 Followers Contest!

Holy canola oil, guys! I just announced the 50 Followers Contest this morning, and here I have 50 followers. You guys are awesome!

Here are the details:

1. You must be a follower to participate. New followers are eligible, too.

2. I don't care if you live outside the US or Canada. Since my followers are so awesome, and some live far away (Hi, people in Thailand and Australia and other places!), I'm opening this contest to everyone. This includes PO Boxes.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog3. The prize is a copy of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, my favorite read from the last couple of years. If you already have a copy of this book/have read it and you win, I will give you a copy of Gourmet Rhapsody, also by Muriel Barbery. If you have/have read both of these, well, I'll think of another book!

4. All followers are eligible, but it would really, REALLY help me out if you would leave a comment with your choice of prize book and your e-mail address if you want to participate. Please, preserve my sanity!

5. Contest closes Monday, March 1 at 10 p.m. CST. I will e-mail and announce the winner shortly thereafter.

6. If, by chance, I make it to 100 followers by the end of the contest period, I will have TWO winners. Yay!

Thanks so much for all your support. I'm so excited to be able to offer this contest after just two short months of blogging!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?: February 15, 2010

A couple of things for the new visitors:

1. My giveaway of Eric Van Lustbader's First Daughter and Last Snow (Two books!) ends at 10 p.m. CST Friday. Click here to enter!

2. I'm pleased to announce that I'm almost to 50 followers! Once I hit 50 followers, I'll do a super-awesome contest! So, if you want in, follow up!

Hosted by Sheila at One Person's Journey Through a World of Books, It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly bookish meme whereby bloggers share their reading for the last week.

This week, I finished reading:Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton
The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

This week, I reviewed: (Click on the titles to read my reviews)
Tithing: Test Me in This by Douglas LeBlanc
Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf
Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

This week, I'm reading:
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
The Forest House by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Dirty Little Angels by Chris Tusa

This week, I hope to begin reading:
Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner (For the Take Another Chance Challenge)
Lady of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Zan-Gah by Allan Richard Shickman

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Review: Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

Pirate Latitudes: A NovelTitle: Pirate Latitudes

Author: Michael Crichton

Pages: 312

Source: The library where I work

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

Rating: 7/10

First Sentence: "Sir James Almont, appointed by His Majesty Charles II Governor of Jamaica, was habitually an early riser."

Summary (From book flap):

The Caribbean, 1665. A remote colony of the English Crown, the island of Jamaica holds out against the vast supremacy of the Spanish empire. Port Royal, its capital, is a cutthroat town of taverns, grog shops, and bawdy houses.
In this steamy climate there's a living to be made, a living that can end swiftly by disease -- or by dagger. For Captain Charles Hunter, gold in Spanish hands is gold for the taking, and the law of the land rests with those ruthless enough to make it.
Word in port is that the galleon El Trinidad, fresh from New Spain, is awaiting repairs in a nearby harbor. Heavily fortified, the impregnable harbor is guarded by the bloodthirsty Cazalla, a favorite commander of the Spanish king himself. With backing from a powerful ally, Hunter assembles a crew of ruffians to infiltrate the enemy outpost and commandeer El Trinidad, along with its fortune in Spanish gold. The raid is as perilous as the bloodiest tales of island legend, and Hunter will lose more than one man before he even sets foot on foreign shores, where dense jungle and the firepower of Spanish infantry stand between him and the treasure...

My Two Cents:

I'm a pretty solid Michael Crichton fan, so I was thrilled when they found a complete manuscript after his death. I was also pretty excited that his last book wouldn't be sci-fi (Even though I adore sci-fi), and would instead be a period piece about pirates. I mean, how many pirate books can you think of? I'll be the answer is not many.

The book starts out really strong. It's got all the hallmarks of Crichton -- great writing, solid characters, a compelling story. I think I read about half the book in no time flat, surprised at how swiftly everything moved. I had really high hopes for the second half, while simultaneously wondering where we could go from here because the characters seemed to have achieved their original goal.

But then, all sorts of strange things started happening. The last half of the book seemed, to me, like all three of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies stuck together without all the humor and no Johnny Depp. Every ridiculous, legendary thing that can happen to pirates happened to this particular band of pirates on one trip (A long-lost cannibal Indian tribe and a kraken? Seriously?), and I just kind of started to lose interest.

The characters also seemed to take a backseat to the action, which can be OK at times, but when all sorts of crazy things are happening one after another, the characters are just there to advance the plot and nothing else. There were characters that I would have liked to see a lot more of and to know more about, such as Lazue and the Moor, but they were just relegated to their functions in the plot.

One can only hope that these huge plot holes and issues would have been resolved had Crichton lived to polish the manuscript into a finished piece.

Booking Through Thursday: Encouragement

For more Booking Through Thursday responses, click here.

Suggested by Barbara H:

How can you encourage a non-reading child to read? What about a teen-ager? Would you require books to be read in the hopes that they would enjoy them once they got into them, or offer incentives, or just suggest interesting books? If you do offer incentives and suggestions and that doesn’t work, would you then require a certain amount of reading? At what point do you just accept that your child is a non-reader?

In the book Gifted Hands by brilliant surgeon Ben Carson, one of the things that turned his life around was his mother’s requirement that he and his brother read books and write book reports for her. That approach worked with him, but I have been afraid to try it. My children don’t need to “turn their lives around,” but they would gain so much from reading and I think they would enjoy it so much if they would just stop telling themselves, “I just don’t like to read.”
I think that, in order to encourage a reluctant reader, you have to make reading a major part of the home environment. Leave books all around the house, especially books that might be interesting to that child. Talk about books at the dinner table. Take weekly trips to the library or bookstore. Turn off the TV and computers for a certain amount of time each night and have the whole family read. For a really reluctant reader, get him/her engaged by reading books featuring favorite TV or movie characters (They're everywhere!) or read a book as a family and then watch the movie so you can talk about the differences. This last trick works really well with longer books such as the Harry Potter or Narnia series.

Personally, I think it's dangerous to force a reluctant reader to read. The likelihood that s/he will become resentful of reading as something that's forced is pretty high. It's a rare child who will be forced to read and then take off with it on his/her own. Instead, show the child how much fun reading can be. That'll speak volumes.
What do you think? How would you encourage a reluctant reader?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review: Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf

Three Guineas
Title: Three Guineas

Author: Virginia Woolf

Pages: 144

Source: My personal library

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

Rating: 10/10

First Sentence: "Three years is a long time to leave a letter unanswered, and your letter has been lying without an answer even longer than that."

Summary (From back of book):
When asked to donate one guinea for a women's college building fund, Virginia Woolf sat down and responded with a letter. As two more requests for donations came in, the much famed author and critic returned to the same letter, expanding it into this simple yet profound declaration of women's importance to society. Three Guineas became one of the foundations of modern-day cultural analysis, and Virginia Woolf's letter went on to be printed and reprinted for new generations of readers. A classic of argumentative expression and discursive style, Three Guineas is the brilliant summation of Virginia Woolf's most acute thoughts on her most impassioned topic.

My Two Cents:
I'm going to try something a little different with this review. I love Virginia Woolf and her writing, so there's really not much to be said on that topic, but I am going to give you a few of my favorite passages and tell you why they're my favorites. OK?

Your class possesses in its own right and not through marriage practically all the capital, all the land, all the valuables, and all the patronage in England. Our class possesses in its own right and not through marriage practically none of the capital, none of the land, none of the valuables, and none of the patronage in England. That such differences make for very considerable differences in mind and body, no psychologist or biologist would deny. ... Though we see the same world, we see it through different eyes. (p. 18)
In this section of the book, Woolf is writing a letter to a man who asked her for advice on how to prevent war. Here, she says that she believes that she, and other women, by extension, would never be able to prevent a solution to war that would be satisfactory to men because women have such a different realm of reference than men. Most wars are fought for money or land or property, things women in Woolf's day did not possess in their own rights. Since women did not possess the causes for wars, she says, they would be unable to find a prevention for war in the way a man would.
Even stranger, however, than the symbolic splendour of your clothes are the ceremonies that take place when you wear them. Here you kneel; there you bow; here you advance in procession behind a man carrying a silver poker; here you mount a carved chair; here you appear to do homage to a piece of painted wood; here you abase yourselves before tables covered with richly worked tapestry. And whatever these ceremonies may mean you perform them always together, always in step, always in the uniform proper to the man and the occasion. (p. 20)
This quote really has very little to do with the overall message of Three Guineas, but I marked it as one of my favorites because it reminds me of my time in England. Sure, people wear uniforms and participate in some pretty hardcore ceremonies here in the United States, especially if you're talking about the military, but never before had I seen more pomp and circumstance than at pretty much any Oxford event. Even nightly dinner (Also called formal hall) was a big deal, as students were required to wear their gowns -- Just one piece of what's known as sub fusc -- before they could even enter hall. There were processions and specific seating arrangements. I couldn't get over how much ceremony there was just in dinner!

For if you agree to these terms then you can join the professions and yet remain uncontaminated by them; you can rid them of their possessiveness, their jealousy, their pugnacity, their greed. You can use them to have a mind of your own and a will of your own. And you can use that mind and will to abolish the inhumanity, the beastliness, the horror, the folly of war. Take this guinea then and use it, not to burn the house down, but to make its windows blaze. and let the daughters of the uneducated women dance round the new house, the poor house, the house that stands in a narrow street where omnibuses pass and the street hawkers cry their wares, and let them sing, 'We have done with war! We have done with tyranny!' And their mothers will laugh from their graves, 'It is for this that we suffered obloquy and contempt! Light up the windows of the new house, daughters! Let them blaze!' (p. 83)
I love this quote because it's just so (For lack of a better term) girl power. Woolf is telling women to use whatever inch they can get, whatever small in to the professional world previously inhabited only by men (And if you read the rest, she says it is definitely a small in) and turn things upside-down. She wants women to shake things up and set the world on fire so that all their female predecessors will know that their struggles will not have been in vain.

Throughout the entirety of the book, Woolf shows her consistent gift for writing and her ability to be critical of the society in which she lived simply by showing how ridiculous some things are. This reminded me a lot of reading Mrs. Dalloway with a feminist slant.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves Virginia Woolf or anyone interested in women's issues, especially women's issues of the early half of the 20th century.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Review: The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

The Bonfire of the Vanities
Title: The Bonfire of the Vanities

Author: Tom Wolfe

Pages: 690

Source: My personal library

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

Rating: 10/10

First Sentence: "'And then say what? Say, "Forget you're hungry, forget you got shot inna back by some racist cop -- Chuck was here? Chuck come up to Harlem --'"

Summary (From Wikipedia):

The story centers on Sherman McCoy, a white, millionaire, New York City bond trader with a wife and young daughter. His life as a self-regarded "Master of The Universe" on Wall Street is destroyed when he and his mistress, Maria Ruskin, accidentally enter the Bronx at night while they are driving to Manhattan from Kennedy Airport. Finding the ramp back to the highway blocked by trash cans and a tire, McCoy exits the car to clear the way. Approached by two blacks whom they perceive — uncertainly, in Sherman's case — as predators, McCoy and Ruskin flee. Having taken the wheel of the car, which fishtails as they race away, Ruskin apparently strikes one of the two—a "skinny boy".

A faltering British alcoholic named Peter Fallow, journalist for the (fictional) tabloid City Light, is soon given the opportunity of a lifetime when he is persuaded to write a series of articles about Henry Lamb, a black youth who has allegedly been the victim of a hit and run by a wealthy white driver. Fallow cynically tolerates the manipulations of Reverend Bacon, a Harlem religious and political leader who sees the hospitalized boy as a projects success story done wrong. Fallow's series of articles on the matter ignites a series of protests and media coverage of the Lamb case.
Up for re-election and accused of foot-dragging in regards to the Lamb case, a media-obsessed Bronx District Attorney named Abe Weiss pushes for McCoy's arrest. The evidence consists of McCoy's undamaged car, which matches the description of the vehicle involved in the alleged hit and run, plus McCoy's evasive response to police questioning. The arrest humiliates McCoy and engenders in him thoughts of suicide.
Hoping to impress his boss as well as an attractive woman, Shelly Thomas, Assistant District Attorney Larry Kramer aggressively prosecutes the case, opening with an unsuccessful bid to set McCoy's bail at a quarter of a million dollars. Thomas had been a juror in another case Kramer had prosecuted to conviction. Released on bail, McCoy is besieged by demonstrators who are protesting outside his three million dollar Park Avenue condominium.
Fallow hears a rumor that Maria was at the wheel of McCoy's car when it allegedly struck Lamb, but Maria has fled the country. Trying to smoke out the truth, on the pretense of interviewing the rich and famous, Fallow meets Maria's husband, Arthur, at a pricey French restaurant. While recounting his life, Arthur chokes to death, as disturbed patrons and an annoyed maƮtre d' look on. Maria is forced to return to the United States for his funeral, where McCoy, wearing a wire, confronts her about being "the only witness." Fallow, hoping also to talk with Maria, overhears this.
Fallow's write-up of the association between McCoy and Maria prompts Assistant D.A. Kramer to offer Maria a deal: corroborate the other witness and receive immunity — or be treated as an accomplice. Maria recounts this to McCoy while he is again wearing his wire. When a private investigator employed by McCoy's lawyer, Tommy Killian, discovers a recording of a conversation that contradicts Maria's grand jury testimony, the judge assigned to the case declares the testimony "tainted" and dismisses the case.
As the epilogue, a fictional New York Times article informs us that Fallow has won the Pulitzer Prize and married the daughter of City Light owner Gerald Steiner, while Ruskin has escaped prosecution and remarried. McCoy's re-trial ends in a hung jury, split along racial lines. Kramer is removed from the prosecution after it is revealed he was involved with Shelly Thomas, the former juror in a sexual tryst at the apartment formerly used by Maria and McCoy. It is additionally revealed that McCoy has lost a civil trial to the Lamb family and, pending appeal, has a $12 million liability, which has resulted in the freezing of his assets. The all-but-forgotten Henry Lamb succumbs to his injuries; McCoy, penniless and estranged from his wife and daughter, awaits trial for vehicular manslaughter. In the novel's closing, Tommy Killian holds forth:
"If this case was being tried in foro conscientiae [in the court of the conscience], the defendants would be Abe Weiss, Reginald Bacon, and Peter Fallow of The City Light."

My Two Cents:

I absolutely loved this book. I can't count the number of times I laughed out loud.

This was my first Wolfe, but I'd heard he is a gifted prose writer. That is absolutely true. I was trying, over the course of reading this book, to think of how I would describe Wolfe's prose, and the only word I could come up with was "crackling." The words just leap off the page and come at you at a rapid-fire pace. Here's an example:

The fever began to rise again. Suppose something did get in the papers ... even a hint ... How could he ever put the Giscard deal together under a cloud like that? ... He'd be finished! ... finished! ... And even as he quaked with fear of such a catastrophe, he knew he was letting himself wallow in it for a superstitious reason. If you consciously envisioned something that dreadful, then it couldn't possibly take place, could it ... God or Fate would refuse to be anticipated by a mere mortal, wouldn't He ...
Wolfe is also great at writing characters. Every single one of the characters in here, with the exception of some of the people we only see in passing, have their little back stories and quirks. That's one of the reasons this novel is so darn long; it takes a lot of time to draw up as many characters as Wolfe does. The one thing I found with this book, though, is that it was a lot like War and Peace for me, in that I didn't really like any of the characters, and I wasn't really sure who I was supposed to like.

I didn't like Sherman at first, mostly because he seemed like a spoiled rich guy who was cheating on his wife. But, as the story progressed, I grew to feel sort of sorry for him, but all that pity ended near the close of the book.

I started out liking Larry Kramer, but quickly sunk in my eyes for a number of reasons, including cheating on his wife and trying to pad his case to make himself look good. I can't stand when characters are unfaithful to their partners. It bugs me in fiction because it's something that bugs me in real life, so I think that's one of the main reasons I couldn't actually like either Sherman or Larry.

One of the things I found really interesting about this book was that every character of a minority persuasion seemed to be a stereotype. I know Wolfe was going for capturing the milieu of New York in the 1980s, and that atmosphere included a lot of prejudice and racial tension between whites and blacks (Not to mention the racial tension is key to his plot), but I think some readers could easily be turned off by the stereotypical nature of a lot of the characters. Personally, the stereotypical characters just made me really, really frustrated because they were just so... annoying ... that I couldn't stand it when they came into the picture.

The character in particular I'm thinking of is Reverend Bacon. He is a preacher who takes the racial cause into his own hands, often blowing situations and facts out of proportion to get noticed. He leads such a vehement campaign against the Bronx District Attorney because he says that the office (Populated by white men) is ignoring the case (In reality, there's basically no evidence to go on for a really long time) that the DA's office, once they finally get Sherman into custody, holds him up as a whipping boy. Sherman's attorney makes certain deals with one of the assistant DAs -- Deals such as quick processing when Sherman's arrested, which are fairly common from what I know of the law -- but those deals are thrown out the window simply because the DA is up for reelection in a highly minority area and he knows that he must pander to the people. I guess, looking back on it, I could say that it's a combination of Bacon's accusations and the DA's political desires that made me mad. I guess that's what Wolfe was going for the whole time. Hmm...

I have to say, though, that the character that I wanted to throttle the most was Peter Fallow, the British tabloid writer. As a former journalist, I tend to get pretty riled up when I see fictionalized journalists portrayed as muckrakers and people who will do anything to get a scoop. That's not how most honest journalists work. But not Peter. He digs and digs and digs, even showing up at Maria's husband's funeral and pressing her for information on the spot. I just wanted to scream at him, "You're what makes people think journalists are bad!"

I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes a scathing look at the justice system, politics, Wall Street or pretty much anything about New York in the 1980s.

Teaser Tuesday: February 9, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Here's mine:

Tales of Soldiers and Civilians: and Other Stories (Penguin Classics)The man looked curiously about him on all sides, as one who among familiar surroundings is unable to determine his exact place and part in the scheme of things. It is so, perhaps, that we shall act when, risen from the dead, we await the call to judgment. - "A Resumed Identity," Tales of Soldiers and Civilians and Other Stories by Ambrose Bierce, page 143

Monday, February 8, 2010

Review: Tithing: Test Me in This by Douglas LeBlanc

Tithing: Test Me in This (The Ancient Practices Series)
Title: Tithing: Test Me in This

Author: Douglas LeBlanc

Pages: 152

Source: Publisher, via Booksneeze

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

Rating: 5/10

Summary (From book jacket):

Douglas LeBlanc traveled to seven states and a dozen cities within those states to talk to the people you'll read about here -- from a pastor on Chicago's tough South Side to a progressive Episcopal priest ... from a best-selling author to journalists reporting on religion issues ... from an Eastern Orthodox priest to a Seventh-day Adventist to an orthodox rabbi ... and from political and social activists. But LeBlanc discovered they have one important thing in common: a fervent belief that the ancient practice of tithing has enriched their lives and filled them with uncommon joy.
In fact, the phrase starting point crops up again and again in LeBlanc's interviews, because tithing isn't necessarily the endpoint of generosity. "What I always say to people," says interviewee Randy Alcorn, "is that if you take the standard of 10 percent and say God required it of the poorest people in Old Testament Israel, and now that we're under the grace of Jesus and ... we live in this incredibly affluent culture, do you think he would expect less of us?"

My Two Cents:

I had to give myself a couple of days away from this book to solidify my thoughts on it because, when reviewing books of a religious nature, it's hard not to let one's own beliefs creep in somewhat. I try really hard to be as impartial (In terms of politics and beliefs, not opinions) on here as I can be, so I'll try to leave any personal feelings about religion and the practice of tithing out of the way.

Personal disclaimer over.

This book is fairly well-written. It's obvious that LeBlanc is a journalist, as his prose is precise and clean. However, it lacks something that even good non-fiction writing can have -- It has no real heart behind it. Sure, the words flow well and it's easy to read this book, but there's just no feeling behind any of it. A lot of times, it seems as if LeBlanc is just relating his interview subjects' life stories instead of giving the reader any real sense of who these people are. That sense of the person -- What's felt and believed and held up as important -- is something I think should be really clear and present when dealing with a fairly polarizing topic such as religious tithing.

While all LeBlanc's interview subjects got the point across easily -- Tithing is good and good things will happen to you if you tithe, according to Scripture -- it felt as if there was a little too much of the same. No one disagreed with the tithing mandate in Scripture. Sure, the conflict among the religious community was occasionally alluded to, but LeBlanc did not seek out interview subjects who don't tithe to find out why. I felt that, because of this lack of conflict, it was a really one-sided and repetitive book. By about the third story, I was kind of bored, but I plowed through anyway. If he had found someone who doesn't tithe for whatever reason, or who doesn't believe that the Old Testament version of tithing (Which is basically what LeBlanc was dealing with here) should be adhered to anymore, I think it would have made the book more interesting.

Also, I thought LeBlanc chose his subjects a little too carefully. They were all either clergy of various denominations (There's even a rabbi in here) or they ran specific religious charities. Common sense would dictate that people who have made religious work their livelihood would ascribe to the tithing mandate. I think this book would have been much more interesting and well-rounded if LeBlanc had sought out the common churchgoer and asked for his or her opinion.

I wouldn't recommend this book to just anyone. This is a book for someone who is really interested in religious topics and wants to learn more about the specific practice of tithing.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?: February 8, 2010

Hosted by Sheila at One Person's Journey through a World of Books, It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her reading experiences throughout the week.

This was a pretty hefty reading week for me, and I have some pretty big reading plans this week, too!

This week, I finished reading:
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Last Snow by Eric Van Lustbader
The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
Tithing: Test Me in This by Douglas LeBlanc
Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf

This week, I reviewed:

This week, I'm reading:
Tales of Soldiers and Civilians and Other Stories by Ambrose Bierce
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Dirty Little Angels by Chris Tusa

This week, I hope to begin reading:
The Forest House by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton
The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

What are you reading?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

In My Mailbox (2)

Hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren, In My Mailbox explores the contents of bloggers' mailboxes on a weekly basis.

This was a pretty busy week for my mailman, and I loved it! Here's what I received:

Here we have:

Last Snow by Eric Van Lustbader was sent to me by Forge Books (I reviewed it here and my giveaway of Last Snow and First Daughter is here)

Tithing: Test Me in This  by Douglas LeBlanc was sent to me by Thomas Nelson through Booksneeze (Watch for a review of this later this week)

A signed hardcover copy of The Riddle of Berlin and a signed paperback copy of The Riddle of Berlin was a win from the author, Cym Lowell. (Watch for a giveaway of the paperback in the coming weeks)

The Girl Who Chased the Moon  by Sarah Addison Allen was sent to me by Random House for a Pump Up Your Book tour in March.

Also, in my e-mail box was a copy of Dirty Little Angels by Chris Tusa, a win from Library Thing.

What was in your mailbox this week?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Review: Last Snow by Eric Van Lustbader

Last SnowTitle: Last Snow

Author: Eric Van Lustbader

Pages: 414

Source: Publisher

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

Rating: 8/10

First Sentence: "Everything comes to an end."

Summary (From the publisher):

An American senator, supposedly on a political trip to the Ukraine, turns up dead on the island of Capri. When the President asks him to find out how and why, Jack sets out from Moscow across Eastern Europe, following a perilous trail of diplomats, criminals, and corrupt politicians. Thrust into the midst of a global jigsaw puzzle, Jack's unique dyslexic mind allows him to put together the pieces that others can't even see.

Still unreconciled to the recent death of his daughter and the dissolution of his marriage, Jack takes on a personal mission along with his official one: keeping safe from harm his two unlikely, unexpected, and incompatible companions, Annika, a rogue Russian FSB agent, and Alli, the President's daughter. As he struggles to keep both women safe and unearth the answers he seeks, hunted by everyone from the Russian mafia to the Ukrainian police to his own NSA, Jack learns just how far up the American and Russian political ladders corruption and treachery has reached. And though Jack's abilities are as good as its gets, there is much more to gain—and lose—on this journey than the truth about the Senator.

My Two Cents:

When I first was approached to review this book, I was a little hesitant because, well, we all know my dislike for thrillers. But, upon researching Eric Van Lustbader, I discovered he was chosen by the estate of Robert Ludlum to continue the Bourne series. I love the Bourne movies, so I figured I'd give Van Lustbader's book the ol' college try.

I'm glad I did.

Last Snow is what a thriller should be: Tense, engaging and with enough solid characterization to make you care what happens to the people about whom you're reading. I really had to think through this whole book thanks to all the twists and turns and new revelations coming around every corner.

The main character, Jack McClure, is a close confidant of newly seated president Carson. He's also dyslexic, which apparently gives him a unique ability to piece together some pretty far-flung clues to come up with an answer. I'm not sure how much I believed this particular portion of the story, but I was easily able to suspend my disbelief and just pretend that Jack was really, really good at what he did.

I liked Jack a lot. He had just the right balance of tough-guy exterior and soft-heartedness to strike me as being a real person. Characterization, to me, is one of the main faults of thrillers, which tend to be so plot-heavy that the authors don't take enough time fleshing out their characters to satisfy my liking. Not with this book. I was able to get a real sense for not only Jack and the other main characters, but also some of the more minor characters.

Van Lustbader's prose is really easy to read. I wouldn't say that it's necessarily poetic or anything, but it is far above what I've experienced with many other thrillers (The short, choppy sentences that oftentimes aren't even complete sentences -- I hate that!) and it moves you along nicely. Here's an example:

He simply did not know any other way to live, if this was living at all, which he'd begun to seriously doubt. And therein lay the rub, as the good Bard wrote, he thought, because the only thing to fear was doubt. He knew from his mentors that the moment you allowed doubt to creep into your thinking -- doubt about your ability, about the people around you, about the dark and gravelike profession you were in -- you were as good as dead.

The plot was also very interesting. What started out as one mission for Jack turned into something else entirely, and every step of the way made sense in the end. There were times when I could barely read fast enough to find out what was going to happen next.

And the ending. Wow. Talk about a punch in the gut that you don't see coming. You think the book's going to end one way, but then something else completely happens and you're left stunned. I'm still not totally sure if I'm pleased with the ending, but I will say it was not one of those neatly-tied-up-with-a-bow kind of endings where all the bad guys are in jail and the good guys will fight crime another day.

Another little thing I liked, just because I'm a nerd like that, was that each of the three parts of the book opened with a literary quote -- two Shakespeare and one Edmund Spenser -- and there were literary references sprinkled throughout the novel. Every time I'd see a work I know referenced, I would smile a little bit, but that's just me.

If there's one criticism that I had about this book, although it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book at all, is that every single character seemed to have some kind of tragic or checkered past. Everyone had experienced some kind of unspeakable event or heartbreak, or had a family member with a major illness or disability. While I understand this is what helps a lot of readers relate to the characters, I just couldn't help but wonder if there were any people in Jack McClure's world who hadn't experienced anything catastrophic.

Overall, this was a really enjoyable read that put a little bit of my faith back in thrillers. Of course, I'm not going to run off and read anymore James Patterson anytime soon, but it was refreshing.

To win a copy of Last Snow and the prequel, First Daughter, click here. Contest open through 10 p.m. CST Friday, Feb. 19.
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