Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Review: Sea Glass by Anita Shreve

Sea Glass: A NovelTitle: Sea Glass

Author: Anita Shreve


Pages: 376

Source: The library where I work

Rating: 10/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge; 451 Challenge

First Sentence: "Honora sets the cardboard suitcase on the slab of granite."

Summary (From book flap):

It is a house on the beach. Honora doesn't mind renting -- despite its age and all its flaws, the old house is the perfect place for a new marriage. She and Sexton throw themselves into their new life together. Each morning, Honora collects sea glass washed up on the shore, each piece carrying a different story in its muted hues.

Sexton finds a way to buy the house, but his timing is perfectly wrong. The economy takes a sickening plunge, and as financial pressures mount, Honora begins to see how little she knows this man she has married -- and to realize just how threatening the world outside her front door can be.

Like those translucent shards that Honora finds on the beach, Sea Glass is layered with the textures, colors, and voices of another time. There is Vivian, an irreverent Boston socialite who becomes Honora's closest friend even as she rejects every form of convention. McDermott, a man who works in a nearby mill, presses Honora's deepest notions of trust -- even as he embroils her in a dangerous dispute. And there's Alphonse, a boy whose openness becomes the bond that holds these people together as their world is flying apart.

My Two Cents:

This was my first experience with Anita Shreve, and I can definitely say it will not be my last. Unfortunately, the rest of my book club didn't feel the same way. Of the four of us who were able to make it to the meeting, two hadn't finished it and one didn't like the book. Oh, well.

Shreve's writing is really high-caliber. She paints a picture, not only of the people about whom you're reading, but also of the times. I felt as if I was really there on the beach, at the strike rallies, etc., when she described them. On the back of my copy of the book, she's compared to Edith Wharton and Henry James. I can't speak much for the James comparison (I've read so little of his work), but when it comes to the ability to make the reader see the time period and the characters, she's on par with Wharton.

I thought that the situation in which Shreve set this novel -- on the cusp of the Great Depression and in the midst of a labor strike -- was great. It really brought together characters from all social levels, from Vivian on the top all the way down to Alphonse and McDermott on the bottom, together and showed them reacting to things they had never experienced before.

With the exception of Sexton, I can't think of a character I didn't like. I think I saw some of myself in Honora, a woman who just wants to keep her nice home and have her quiet life and her husband. Vivian made me laugh often, and I loved how she finally hits her stride and steps outside her normal experiences to get involved with the striking workers. McDermott had to grow on me a bit. I didn't like him at first, but I really came to like and admire him as a character. My favorite character, though, was Alphonse. He's the little boy that everyone wishes they knew and I felt so sorry for him. He was, as someone at my book club said, the only character who had no control over his situation. I spent the entire book hoping things would turn out well for him.

The only problem I had with this book, and it was very minor, was that the chapters flipping among all the different characters for each chapter was a little disarming at first. It's not an unusual route to take in narrating a novel, but it just took a bit longer for me to get used to it because there were so many characters who had their own chapters. But, once I got past that, it was a really easy read.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: March 30, 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 are my teasers:

Angelology: A NovelDr. Seraphina turned to me and took my hand. "You were very brave, Celestine, and one day you will make an excellent angelologist." Angelology by Danielle Trussoni, p. 431 (Large print edition)








No Hope for Gomez!

Joseph and Dietrich dying similar deaths had to mean that Dietrich was killed to keep him from discovering something (or to keep him from sharing something he'd already discovered). The two men didn't travel in the same circles, didn't have similar hobbies, hadn't joined the same clubs, so it was unlikely they'd attracted the killer's attention the same way. No Hope for Gomez! by Graham Parke, p. 113






Sherlock Holmes: Selected Stories (Oxford World's Classics)

"He is going to bring you up to my rooms, and I shall ask you for a true account of the matter. You must make a clean breast of it, for if you do I hope that I may be of use to you." "The Sign of Four," Sherlock Holmes Selected Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, p. 169

Monday, March 29, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?: March 29, 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 past week.

This week, I read:

Sea Glass by Anita Shreve

Columbine by Dave Cullen

The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw

The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens

Gone With the Wind (Chapters 28-36) by Margaret Mitchell

This week, I reviewed (Click on the title to read my review):

A Century Turns by William J. Bennett

The River Kings' Road by Liane Merciel

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

Columbine by Dave Cullen


Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

This week, I'm reading:

Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni


Sherlock Holmes Selected Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


Gone With the Wind (Chapters 37-45) by Margaret Mitchell


This week, I hope to begin reading:

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

No Hope for Gomez by Graham Parke

What are you reading this week?

 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Review: Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

Franny and ZooeyTitle: Franny and Zooey

Author: J.D. Salinger

Pages: 202

Source: Personal library

Rating: 6/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

First Sentence: "Though brilliantly sunny, Saturday morning was overcoat weather again, not just topcoat weather, as it had been all week and as everyone had hoped it would stay for the big weekend -- the weekend of the Yale game."

Summary (From The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature):

Volume containing two interrelated stories by J.D. Salinger, published in book form in 1961. The stories, originally published in The New Yorker magazine, concern Franny and Zooey Glass, two members of the family that was the subject of most of Salinger's short fiction. Franny is an intellectually precocious late adolescent who tries to attain spiritual purification by obsessively reiterating the "Jesus prayer" as an antidote to the perceived superficiality and corruptness of life. She subsequently suffers a nervous breakdown. In the second story, her next older brother, Zooey, attempts to heal Franny by pointing out that her constant repetition of the "Jesus prayer" is as self-involved and egotistical as the egotism against which she rails.

My Two Cents:

This one just didn't do it for me. It took me so long to read those 202 pages, it was ridiculous.

I've met the Glass family before, in a reading of Nine Stories in high school. I really don't remember much about them or the short stories, and I kind of wish I did. I feel as if it might have helped me out with Franny and Zooey in some way.

Much of my problem with this one, I think, was that nothing happens, not really. Sure, in the "Franny" section, there's lunch and some breaks to the bathroom, but the "Zooey" section is largely just a long conversation while he sits in the bath. I usually can handle nothing-happens novels, but this one was just too much for me.

I think a lot of my problem came in the almost relentless repetition of concepts. Franny and Zooey are incredibly bright, and their brothers fed their blossoming intellects with all sorts of precocious ideas; Franny thinks everyone else is shallow; Zooey thinks Franny is being dramatic and needs to snap out of it. Over and over and over. For 202 pages. If I hadn't spent my hard-earned money on this one, I would've thrown it out the truck window on the highway on the way to Nashville. Seriously.

I didn't like anyone in this book, and that's probably another thing that made this a difficult read for me. I thought Franny was just being over-dramatic, and I thought Zooey was a jerk. Plain and simple.

Don't get me wrong, Salinger was a great writer. The prose is about the only thing that propelled me through the book. I knew that there had to be some point to this, even if I wasn't really seeing much of one, because it was the Almighty Salinger. But his writing is as rich as ever.

I think I'll stick to a re-read of Catcher in the Rye if I want anymore Salinger. This was not for me.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Review: Columbine by Dave Cullen

ColumbineTitle: Columbine

Author: Dave Cullen

Pages: 358

Source: Interlibrary loan

Rating: 10/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

First Sentence: "He told them he loved them."

Summary (From book flap):

On April 20, 1999, two boys left an indelible stamp on the American psyche. Their goal was simple: to blow up their school, Oklahoma City-style, and to leave "a lasting impression on the world." Their bombs failed, but the ensuing shooting defined a new era of school violence -- irrevocably branding every subsequent shooting "another Columbine."

When we think of Columbine, we think of the Trench Coat Mafia; we think of Cassie Bernall, the girl we thought professed her faith before she was shot; and we think of the boy pulling himself out of a school window -- the whole world was watching him. Now, in a riveting piece of journalism nearly ten years in the making, comes the story none of us knew. In this revelatory book, Dave Cullen has delivered a profile of teenage killers that goes to the heart of psychopathology. He lays bare the callous brutality of mastermind Eric Harris and the quavering, suicidal Dylan Klebold, who went to the prom three days earlier and obsessed about love in his journal.

The result is an astonishing account of two good students with lots of friends, who were secretly stockpiling a basement cache of weapons, recording their raging hatred, and manipulating every adult who got in their way. They left signs everywhere, described by Cullen with a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, thousands of pages of police files, FBI psychologists, and the boys' tapes and diaries, he gives the first complete account of the Columbine tragedy.

My Two Cents:

I wish I had a little more time between finishing this book and writing this review to allow what I read to sink in a bit, but I have to return it through the interlibrary loan system and must write my review now.

Disclaimer: There are a lot of conflicting reviews about the truth and validity of the things Cullen presents as fact in this book -- Some people claim that he bends the facts to fit his "mold" for the killers. I can't speak to a lot of these claims for several reasons: 1) I have not examined the evidence myself; 2) Many of the people voicing opposition to Cullen's book are either very close to the incident or are amateur researchers and are in no way experts; 3) The only people who truly can tell us a motive for the killings are dead. As a result, in this review, I will operate under the assumption that Cullen did his due diligence as a journalist and fully vetted things before presenting them as fact.

I was in the eighth grade when the attack on Columbine High School occurred. Even though I watched the TV reports and read the newspaper articles and discussed the incident in classes, there was so much that I missed.

This is the most riveting piece of non-fiction I have ever read. Cullen uses the evidence to propel his narrative, which reads more like the plot of a psychological thriller than reality. I had to keep reminding myself that this really happened; it wasn't a mystery novel. Most of what I read chilled me to the bone.

Cullen was on the scene at Columbine from day on, so he has a unique perspective on the incident and has seen it through the last 10-plus years. He lays out many of the myths which arose in the early hours after the tragedy: That the killers targeted their victims; that they belonged to a murderous group called the Trench Coat Mafia; that library victim Cassie Bernall professed her faith in God immediately before she was killed. The myths are brought to the reader's attention, and then Cullen shows why they likely developed.

The central thesis of Cullen's work, and the question everyone is still asking, is the one that is not really answered by the end: Why? The problem, Cullen shows, is that there really was no definable, singular reason. These were two incredibly troubled boys who carefully plotted a heinous attack in order to kill as many people as they could. The killers, especially Eric Harris, believed that they knew something about mankind that the rest of us didn't, and the people in their school would pay for their blindness. One of the first things I really was stunned to learn (Like most of the tragedies that unfolded following Columbine -- 9/11, Virginia Tech, etc. -- I watched for a short time and read the newspapers, but after awhile, it became too much too often, and I didn't read anymore) that the attack was really a failed bombing. Harris and Klebold planted two bombs in the cafeteria with the intent that they would take out upwards of 400 people and possibly collapse the library onto the cafeteria. They armed themselves with guns with the plan to mow down those fleeing the building following the explosions. They planted two more bombs in their cars with the thought that they would wipe out emergency personnel and journalists who had gathered in the parking lot. None of those bombs detonated, and the bombing turned into an improvised shooting rampage.

The differences between Harris and Klebold, as presented by Cullen, are striking. Klebold was a seriously depressed young man who had no ability to see himself as worthwhile. He contemplated killing himself for a long time, possibly years, before actually acting on it. Up until the day of the attack, it even appeared as if he might back out of the plan. Harris, on the other hand, was a textbook psychopath. He could charm anyone and convince them of anything they wanted to hear. He was prone to frightening outbursts of rage, but showed few other emotions. His journals show that he fantasized about doing away with the majority of the world's population, simply because he thought they were unworthy of living and were not as enlightened as he was. He was the mastermind behind the plan, and convinced Klebold to follow along.

This is a hard one, as you can tell, for me to review in terms of the traditional sense. There was so much in here that I remembered and so much I didn't know. These revelations overshadowed much of my usual ability to evaluate a book (Quality of writing, structure, etc.). Cullen is a fabulous writer; this entire book, as I said before, reads more like a heart-pounding horror show than a recounting of a real event. It unfolds not in a linear timeline, but often with chapters showing pre-attack, during-attack and post-attack in alternating chapters. It is a very effective way to lay out a book like this.

I would recommend this book to anyone who remembers the attacks or who isn't sure what to remember. Buckle up and prepare to be rocked. I will say that this is one of the most intense things I have ever read, and can get graphic in places, so if you're at all sensitive to those sorts of things, I would suggest staying away.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review and Blog Tour: The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

The Girl Who Chased the Moon: A Novel
Title: The Girl Who Chased the Moon

Author: Sarah Addison Allen

Pages: 265

Source: Publisher for the Pump Up Your Book Promotion tour

Rating: 10/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

First Sentence: "It took a moment for Emily to realize the car had come to a stop."

Summary (From back of book):
Emily Benedict has come to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother's life. But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew, she realizes that mysteries aren't solved in Mullaby, they're a way of life. Here are rooms where the wallpaper changes to suit your mood. Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight. And a neighbor, Julia Winterson, bakes hope in the form of cakes, not only wishing to satisfy the town's sweet tooth, but also dreaming of rekindling the love she fears might be lost forever.
Can a hummindbird cake really bring back a lost love? Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily's backyard? The answers are never what you expect. But in this town of lovable misfits, the unexpected fits right in.

My Two Cents:
This was another stellar read from Sarah Addison Allen. I truly can't say enough good things about her books, nor can I recommend them to enough people.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon has a little more magic than Allen's first book, Garden Spells, but it's still fully believable. In fact, the magic is so believable that I wanted to move immediately to Mullaby so I could know each and every one of these characters.

I have to say that my favorite character in here was Grandpa Vance. At just over 8 feet tall, he is a Mullaby legend in his own right, but an incident involving his daughter 20 years earlier places him even more on the periphery of the people in town. He is certainly a "gentle giant" who doesn't know how to handle living with Emily, but who tries hard. One of the sweetest parts about Vance, I think, is his tendency to check the dryer at random intervals. I'm not going to tell you why, because that's explained in the book, but the explanation brought tears to my eyes.

I also loved Julia. She was sassy and standoffish, but Allen shows you the reason why she tries to keep aloof from others, especially Sawyer. I loved that she was a baker. To me, characters who have a specific identity or hobby, especially one that is deeply rooted in their past, are really interesting. A person's hobbies can tell a lot about them, and I liked hearing the reasons why Julia began baking.

To me, there was a lot more that could have been done with this book, though. Even as detailed as it was, there were some things I would have liked to see more of. I especially wanted to see more of the interactions between Win and his father. The Coffeys have a huge family secret that Win's father is desperate that no one should know, but we really don't ever get his reasons as to why he's so desperate to keep the secret. It's insinuated, especially based on past events, but I kind of would have liked to see a little more discussion between Win and his father on the matter.

Also, the book ended too soon. I know Allen wanted to leave the reader with a little mystery, even though it's obvious how that mystery will be resolved, but I would have really liked to see how it played out instead of imagining it. But that's just me!

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes books with a little bit of mystery and whimsy. This was a fun, quick read.

About Sarah Addison Allen

Sarah Addison Allen is the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen. She was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, where she is currently at work on her next novel. You can visit Sarah Addison Allen’s website at www.sarahaddisonallen.com.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in order to participate in the Pump Up Your Book Promotion tour. Receiving a free copy in no way influenced my review.

Review and Blog Tour: The River Kings' Road by Liane Merciel

The River Kings' Road: A Novel of IthelasTitle: The River Kings' Road

Author: Liane Merciel

Pages: 388

Source: Publisher

Rating: 9/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

First Sentence: "Brys Tarnell was not a pious man."

Summary (From book flap):

A fragile period of peace between the eternally warring kingdoms of Oakharn and Langmyr is shattered when a surprise massacre fueled by bloodmagic ravages the Langmyrne border village of Willowfield, killing its inhabitants -- including a visiting Oakharne lord and his family -- and leaving behind a scene so grisly that even the carrion eaters avoid its desecrated earth. But the dead lord's infant heir has survived the carnage -- a discovery that entwines the destinies of Brys Tarnell, a mercenary who rescues the helpless and ailing babe, and who enlists a Langmyr peasant, a young mother herself, to nourish and nurture the child of her enemies as they travel a dark, perilous road ... Odosse, the peasant woman whose only weapons are wit, courage, and her fierce maternal love -- and who risks everything she holds dear to protect her new charge ... Sir Kelland, a divinely blessed Knight of the Sun, called upon to unmask the architects behind the slaughter and avert war between ancestral enemies ... Bitharn, Kelland's companion on his journey, who conceals her lifelong love for the Knight behind her flawless archery skills -- and whose feelings may ultimately be Kelland's undoing ... and Leferic, an Oakharne Lord's bitter youngest son, whose dark ambitions fuel the most horrific acts of violence. As one infant's life hands in the balance, so too does the fate of thousands, while deep in the forest, a Maimed Witch practices an evil bloodmagic that could doom them all...

My Two Cents:
I love fantasies in the epic, sweeping, Lord of the Rings style, so when I had the chance to review this one, I grabbed it!

This book, Merciel's first and the first in a planned series, is what I call a "quiet" fantasy. It's obviously set in another world, as there's talk of magic and witches and all sorts of other things, but the setting is not so remote that you have to think really hard to conjure up the fantastical elements. In other words, there are no out-there races of beings or green skies or anything. This is a book I could very easily see taking place back during Medieval times, as the overall setting is very similar. 

Merciel has a really strong narrative voice. Her writing is descriptive without being overly flowery. Much of the time, it seemed as if the story was being told to me, perhaps by one of the bards of old. At least, I like to think of it that way.

There are so many characters in this book, it was hard to pick just one as a favorite. After much deliberation, I decided that Bitharn, the young woman often mistaken for a young man due to her archery skills, is my favorite. I liked that she wasn't all tomboy or all girly-girl; she was enough of a mix of both to really endear her to me as a character.

The story was an interesting one: It begins with a mass murder from which a little boy is rescued. A knight must assure the safety of the infant, as the child is the heir to a lordship. From there, the story branches out to encompass several major characters scattered far and wide throughout the realm, and their stations in life range from peasant to knight to Blessed (I think of them as something akin to monks) to lords. It's a sweeping tale, and Merciel leaves enough cliffhangers -- but still answers enough questions -- to make the reader want to read the next book in the series.

The breadth of the story was also one of its weak points, I thought. Since there were so many characters doing so many different things, it was hard to really get to know any one of them intimately. Sure, I liked a lot of the characters and I felt that I knew enough about them that I could make judgments as to what type of people they were, but I really would've liked to have spent more time with a few of the characters instead of seeing the story from so many different viewpoints. I hope that future books in this series focus more closely on specific characters.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy, and those who enjoy tales set in realms of old. This is a really enjoyable read.

Note: This book was sent to me by Simon and Schuster for the purpose of this blog tour. Receiving a free copy in no way influenced my review of this book.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review: A Century Turns by William J. Bennett

A Century Turns: New Hopes, New FearsTitle: A Century Turns: New Hopes, New Fears

Author: William J. Bennett

Pages: 275

Source: Publisher, via Booksneeze

Rating: 8/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

First Sentence: "I was not going to write this book -- at least not right now."

Summary (From book flap):

Where is America going? Just look at the decades between 1988 and 2008.
As America collectively exhaled at the end of the Cold War, we loosened our grip on the fear of nuclear confrontation for the first time since WWII. Some scholars even characterized the collapse of the Soviet Union as the end of history itself. Peace was palpable.
But America's domestic and global vitals changed almost instantly, and turbulence, not tranquility, marked the turn of the century: the war on drugs, race riots, values debates, deep economic shifts, and the growing threat of terrorism on U.S. soil that would tragically play out in 2001.
And there were storms abroad: U.S. forces landed in Panama, Somalia, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Names such as Yasser Arafat, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden folded seamlessly -- and almost instantly -- into the American vernacular.
In A Century Turns, William J. Bennett explores America's recent and momentous history -- the contentious election of 1988, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of global Communism, the presidency of William Jefferson Clinton, the technological and commercial boom of the 1990s, the war on terror, and the election of America's first black president.
Surveying politics and pop culture, economics and technology, war and religion, Bennett pieces together the players, the personalities, the feats and the failures that transformed key moments in the American story. And he captures it all with piercing insight and unrelenting optimism.
Where is America going? Recent history offers only signposts. What Bennett makes clear is that we are at a critical juncture: "Today, the levels of both hope and fear are at a high point. Whether we can expand the former and reduce the latter ... will depend on what we do with the challenges before us today."

My Two Cents:

Not being much of a non-fiction fan, I tend to choose my non-fiction very carefully. It's usually limited to biographies of Shakespeare and other Elizabethan figures. But, I decided to branch out a bit with this one, and I'm glad I did.

Bennett takes a look at the last 20 years in American history, from 1988 to 2008. He focuses mainly on the political climate and events involving the president, but he does give a little taste of what was going on in popular culture during that time period, too.

I was alive during the entire time span, but was so young for much of it that I don't remember the details. Bennett's book was a great refresher for me. I found myself reading about events and thinking, "Oh, I remember that, but I didn't remember that detail." The early- to mid-90s, during the presidency of Clinton, was a period I was especially grateful for the extra details. I was young (elementary and middle school), yet I still paid attention to the news and politics. I didn't understand much of what I was hearing, so re-learning all of what happened knowing what I know now was great.

Bennett's writing is solid, although his sentences can get a bit convoluted from time to time. He breaks each chapter up into smaller sections, which was helpful for small bouts of reading. However, he occasionally would "rabbit trail" within those smaller sections from politics into popular culture, and I thought the book could have used a little editing in that sense.

One of the things that bothered me about this book was that Bennett seems to adopt the view of the press that everyone else has: They're vultures who swoop in whenever there's a good story and peck until there's nothing but bones left. Sure, there are some reporters who are horribly relentless, but the majority of the press is just trying to make an honest living and tell the truth. Since Bennett spent much of his adult life in politics (He was the Secretary of Education in the 1980s), his view of the press is very different from mine. End rant in which I defend my former profession.

Another thing that bothered me was his fairly cursory coverage of the 2008 election. Whole books can (and have) been written on the subject, sure, but I think he should have either covered all the candidates in play (he didn't) or not touched the election at all.

Overall, though, I think this is a great look at recent history. I like that books are starting to come out now on recent events, books that show a little more of the cultural bias than will show up in history books in later decades. I think it helps preserve something that's lacking in looking back on historical periods of times past; they're written about by historians who are so far removed from the actual events that the impressions are open to interpretation. With books written shortly after the events by people who lived through them, I think there's a different perspective and a new understanding that's important.

Teaser Tuesday: March 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!

Here are this week's teasers:

Sea Glass: A NovelAfter the meeting, there is always a rally at one of the mill gates and usually there is a song session, which is supposed to pep up the picketers, though some of the songs are just too embarrassing to sing. And then one or two of the strike leaders will give interviews to the newspaper reporters who have been coming into town. Sea Glass by Anita Shreve, p. 279






The Swimming PoolShe arranged for Toni to sleep over at a friend's and drove to Mashantum on a Friday midday toward the end of September. She went to the house, feeling like a trespasser, dropped off her things, and then went straight to the beach. The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw, p. 149 (This is an ARC, page numbers and wording may be different in the final copy)

Monday, March 22, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?: March 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 past week.

I'm playing a bit of catch-up here and posting two weeks' worth of reading. Last Monday, we were in Nashville, so I didn't have a chance to post my usual IM!WAYR?

In the last two weeks, I finished:
A Century Turns by William J. Bennett
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
The River Kings' Road by Liane Merciel
Fallen by Lauren Kate
Gone With the Wind (Chapters 10-27) by Margaret Mitchell

In the last two weeks, I reviewed:

This week, I'm reading:
Sea Glass by Anita Shreve
The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw
Gone With the Wind Chapters 28-36 by Margaret Mitchell

This week, I hope to begin reading:
Vampyre Blood: Eight Pints of Trouble by George Earl Parker
The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens
Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

What are you reading this week?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gone With the Wind Read-Along: Chapters 19-27

This book just keeps on rolling! I thought last week's section was eventful, but this week's was so much more so.

I really grew to like Scarlett during this portion of the book. For the first five or six chapters, she was still pretty selfish, but she came into her own later on. She has to take charge and lead everyone out of Atlanta as the Union soldiers come into town, she has to get them to Tara and she has to take charge and run Tara because no one else can. She actually stops being petrified of hard work (Even though she resists it for as long as she can manage) and she stops whining about the little inconveniences.

Mitchell says that Scarlett reaches a point of no return; from this moment on she will never be the same. I hope that's true, because I enjoyed seeing Scarlett as a strong, not just a smart-mouthed, woman able to take care of things on her own.

There was a lot more tension and drama in this portion of the book, also. Melanie goes through a hard labor, there's a lot of fighting around Atlanta, the city begins to burn, Scarlett and the others refugee toward Tara, there's very little food left to feed nine people, the Union comes through Tara, etc., etc. Mitchell does a great job of rendering a sense of urgency in the scenes.

My favorite scene in this section of the book was when the Union soldiers ransack Tara as Scarlett stands and watches. She is tired of the Union taking things that belong to her family and those she cares about, and she decides to make a stand. I laughed out loud when she shoved the Union soldier's wallet down the baby's diaper. I never would have thought of that! And, I was so glad she finally began to show a little bit of love toward Wade by rescuing Charles' sword from the soldiers.

So much has happened in this novel already, and I'm not nearly halfway through. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Friday, March 19, 2010

(Sort of) Review: The Annotated Nose by Marc Estrin

The Annotated Nose: An Annotated Edition of William Hundwasser's Cult Classic The NoseTitle: The Annotated Nose: An Annotated Edition of William Hundwasser's Cult Classic The Nose

Authors: Marc Estrin, Delia Robinson and Alexei Pigov

Pages: 418

Source: Interlibrary loan

Rating: I'm not going to give an official rating, as I was unable to finish the book

Summary (From Goodreads.com):

The most unlikely life of a most unsightly man. Marc Estrin discovers that another writer's novel-THE NOSE- not only has spawned a bizarre cult among the nation's youth but also is based on the extraordinary life of a real person-an outcast named Alexei Pigov. Estrin searches Alexei out and ask him to provide annotations to THE NOSE. Alexei says that-although the events of the novel might, for the most part, be real-the purported reasons for them are all damnable lies. On the left-hand page of The Annotated Nose we read THE NOSE itself, and take in its beautifully unsettling illustrations by Delia Robinson. On the right-hand page we follow Alexei's complaints-always surprising and often farreaching. The layers in Estrin's remarkable comic book are as multiple, eclectric, and outrageous as the sequence of mask Alexei wears to hide his face from the world over the caroming trajectory of hie most unlikely life. The Annotated Nose is at once Marc Estrin's most playful and most ambitious work to date. 


My Two Cents:

This book had a lot going for it. It is one of the most well-produced books I have ever read: It's heavy, the typeface and layout are interesting and the black-and-white illustrations are gorgeous. The concept is one of the most intriguing out there: The author, Marc Estrin, claims to have attended a lecture at a college by a man with a huge cult following. He discovers that the man's cult following stems from a book that has become a non-conformists' bible. So, he tracks down the book's subject, Alexei Pigov, a man with a large nose and an even larger personality. Pigov wants to set the record straight: While most of the events in The Nose are true, he claims that William Hundwasser embellished too much.


At first, I was enamored with both the "original" text of The Nose and with Pigov's "annotations." Both were sarcastic and well-written, my personal hallmarks of a good satire. But, after the first 100 pages or so, it just became too much. The "Hundwasser" portions were just trying too hard to be clever, and the "annotations" were too snarky. I tried to power through it, but only made another 40 pages before I gave in. I just couldn't finish this book.

Even though the book became too much for me and I had to put it down, it really was well-written. I think I might seek out Estrin's other, less ambitious books to see what a full text from him is like. I loved all the allusions (I'm really big on allusions), especially when lesser-known writers and artists were referred to.

I do wish this book hadn't just beaten me over the head with the sarcasm and anger. I think I would have enjoyed the rest of it.

Note:
I attempted to read this book as part of the Spotlight Series on Unbridled Books, which was created to shine a light on the quality books produced by small-press publishers. For more information, or to visit the other blogs participating in the spotlight, visit the blog.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Gone With the Wind Read-along: Chapters 10-18

I'm going to have to reach back in my mind a little bit on this week's post. I ended up reading the chapters in three-chapter sections, and I read the first section on Monday. Whew. A long time ago!

Gone With the WindThe story really has started to get moving. It was a bit slow in the first nine chapters, mainly because we had to receive our introductions to all the characters and the setting. But, in this section, the story starts to take off.

I love how we get to see Rhett so much more often in this section. He's absolutely my favorite character thus far. He is a blockade buster and speculator, and makes no bones about the fact that he's in his job for nothing other than the money. He doesn't agree with the "noble" reasons everyone gives for the war, and speaks out against the Confederacy's chances to win at every chance he gets. I admire his ability to have his own opinions and principles and stick to them, regardless of what anyone else says.

Once again, I was not terribly fond of Scarlett. She continually ignores the fact that Ashley is married to her sister-in-law, yet she still thinks of him as being in love with her. She dreams incessantly about him returning from the war and the two of them running off together. I guess I could chalk this mindset up to the fact that Scarlett is still very young in both age and emotional maturity, but her constant talk of Ashley as "hers" just rubs me the wrong way.

Two of my favorite scenes in this section of the book take place surrounding significant military events.

The first great scene is when all the women in town are gathered at the newspaper office, waiting to hear of the casualties at Gettysburg. Despite the fact that there are dozens of women around, the scene is eerily quiet. Then, when the casualty lists come out, Mitchell does a great job of showing the devastation of women who lost loved ones and the relief of those whose loved ones were not on the list.

My second favorite scene comes as the state militia is riding/marching out to assist the army against Sherman's march toward Atlanta. It's a heartbreaking scene to read, as the group is just one long parade of young boys and old men who should not be going to war. Scarlett's horror at seeing some of the men, especially Mr. Wilkes, setting off to the battlefield is obvious.

So far, I am really enjoying this book (Still!). I can't wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Clear Away the Clutter Read-a-Thon


 




Thanks to Jennifer at Rundpinne, I found this great, easy read-a-thon that (hopefully!) will help me power through that mounting stack of review books and some of my personal TBR pile.

Kate encourages everyone, blogger or not, to participate in the read-a-thon. You don't even have to commit to a certain number of hours or books or pages. Just hop on in and read, read, read!

Here are some of the details:

The Clear Away the Clutter Read-a-Thon begins at 7 a.m. Monday, April 5, and ends at 11 p.m. Sunday, April 11. There will even be prizes! Seriously, who can say no to prizes?

As for me, I think I will attempt a total of 60 hours (2 1/2 days total) of reading over the course of the challenge. Ambitious? Yes. No one ever called me a slacker!

For more information, visit Kate.

Review: The Forest House by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Forest House (Avalon, Book 2)Title: The Forest House

Author: Marion Zimmer Bradley

Pages: 417

Source: Personal library

Rating: 5/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

First Sentence: "A cold wind was whipping the torches into fiery tails."

Summary (From back of book):

She was Eilan, the daughter of a Druidic warleader and gifted with visions. In a land struggling to survive both Roman conquerors and her own people's enemies, surely fate had marked her to become a priestess of the Forest House.

But first Eilan had chosen a different, forbidden path -- to love Gaius, a soldier of mixed blood among the legions sent to subdue her country. And so, she must hide a terrible secret when she is anointed as the new High Priestess. With mighty enemies poised to usurp the wealth of magic the Forest House sheltered, Eilan could only trust in the power of the great Goddess to find her destiny amidst the treacherous labyrinth in which fate had placed her..."

My Two Cents:

I read The Mists of Avalon a few years ago and loved it. I have always had a fascination with Arthurian legends, not helped at all by my love of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I thought that Mists was very imaginative and I made a lot of sense as a re-imagining of Arthurian legend. When I finished that book, I picked up two of the other books in the series, thinking they'd be just as great.

Too bad I was so sorely disappointed by The Forest House that I don't know if I even want to make the time to read The Lady of Avalon.

The book started off well enough, with Eilan and her aunt Dieda finding Roman soldier Gaius in a boar pit. Gaius is half-British, so he is able to speak and look British enough to pass in the household of Bendeigid without raising suspicions. I thought Eilan was sweet and nurturing, and worthy of the love that Gaius gains for her. Gaius, even, seemed a nice character whose deception of the family was warranted because he was injured. I liked them.

But then, everything kind of fell apart.

I can't really put a finger on when it all went south, but I just stopped liking and even caring about Eilan and Gaius. Sure, people change as they grow older and gain more responsibility, but they both changed so dramatically it was difficult for me to even identify them as the young people I liked so much earlier in the book. Eilan becomes very aloof and cold, partially because she has to remain aloof as High Priestess, but she just doesn't seem to care about anyone around her. Gaius becomes just an awful person -- He uses his Roman wife as a baby machine until he discovers she cannot have anymore children (Leaving him without a male heir), and then he dumps her. He doesn't care about his daughters. He sleeps around with slaves and concubines, and propositions one of the young women living at the Forest House.

I just did not like them at all by the end of the book, so I didn't care what happened to them.

The only character I did like throughout the novel was Caillean, one of the priestesses at the Forest House. She showed the right amount of sympathy and love to those around her, often giving Eilan more respect and love than I felt she deserved. I felt she was much more well-rounded than the "main" characters, perhaps because Bradley was setting her up as the central character for The Lady of Avalon.

The only thing I liked about this book was Bradley's writing. It flows well and is very evocative.

Booking Through Thursday: Illustrious

How do you feel about illustrations in your books? Graphs? Photos? Sketches?

 For more Booking Through Thursday responses, click here.

Obviously,  the illustrations/sketches/photos have to fit the topic of the book or else, why are they there?

I prefer my photos and such to be spread throughout the book. If I'm reading a history book, I like to have the photos stuck right in with the text instead of clumped together in a bunch of glossy sheets in the center of the book. I'm not a big fan of those big photo-clumps.

What about you? Do you like illustrations in your books?



 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Review: The Zan-Gah novels by Allan Richard Shickman

Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure
Zan-Gah and the Beautiful CountryTitle: Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure and Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country

Author: Allan Richard Shickman

Pages: 148 and 151

Source: Publisher

Rating: 8/10 for both

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

First Sentence: "From a long distance a traveler, or some wild thing, might see within the deep and absolute blackness of night an intense orange light which looked from afar like a glowing coal."

Summary (That I made up):
Zan-Gah is a two-book series following Zan, a young man living in a prehistoric civilization. When he proves himself a brave warrior, Zan-Gah (Named in part for the rock where his victory took place) sets off to find his long-lost twin.

He must learn to rely on himself and to develop a head for diplomacy that carries him through many tough situations.

My Two Cents:

I wasn't sure what to expect from these books. The premise sounded interesting, but the covers had me a little skeptical.

Shickman does a great job creating (What I would guess is) a fairly true portrayal of prehistoric life. The work is very clearly divided by gender. Survival is an everyday battle. Life is tough. But these books are not all war-making and hunting. Shickman creates some realistic human interactions and family dynamics, which make the books a fun read.

The books are labeled YA/Teen, and I would recommend them to anyone between 10 and 12 years old. Shickman creates a story that would be interesting and engaging to this age group without talking down to them. There are some more advanced words in the Zan-Gah novels. The plot is fairly uncomplicated and action-packed, which would make it great for reluctant readers.

I thought Zan-Gah was a great role model of a character for kids. He begins the series at a non-descript but "young" age, I'm guessing around 12. He shows bravery and leadership skills even at this young age. He is kind to everyone, and he treats his elders with respect. Over the course of the novels, he ages probably two to three years (As far as I could guess), so he's a young teenager by the end. I think preteens would really be able to identify with him.

One thing I would have liked to see a little bit more in Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure was some plot complication. It was a relatively straightforward record of Zan's journey to find his brother (Although there was some tribal rivalry thrown in), but I would have liked to see an extra side story or something thrown in for good measure. There are several extra side stories and complications in Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country, and I think it was that extra depth to the story that pushed it above the first novel in my estimation.

Teaser Tuesday: March 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!

I've decided to do something a little different than normal for my Teaser Tuesdays from now on. Usually, I'll give you a teaser for every book I'm reading. Since I sometimes carry books throughout a couple of weeks because I can be a lazy reader when I want to be, I'm going to avoid giving you guys teasers from the same books for multiple weeks. Instead, I'll just give you teasers for the newest books.

Sound good?

On to this week's teasers:

Franny and ZooeyMy telephone problems aside, Bessie's current letter is really a Zooey letter. I'm to write and tell you that you have your Whole Life Before You and that it's Criminal if you don't go after your Ph.D. before you go in for the actor's life in a big way. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger, p. 57








FallenThere was no way to explain to them what had happened that night or what she'd been going through since then. She had gone straight back to classes, though not by her own choice. Fallen by Lauren Kate, p. 263

Monday, March 8, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?: March 8, 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 past week.


It was a slow reading week for me. I just couldn't seem to settle down and reign in my short attention span, so I only finished one book.


This week, I finished reading:

The Forest House by Marion Zimmer Bradley


This week, I reviewed (Click on the title to read my review):

Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toibin
Gone With the Wind (Chapters 1-9) by Margaret Mitchell

This week, I'm reading:

Gone With the Wind (Chapters 10-18) by Margaret Mitchell
A Century Turns by William J. Bennett
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
Fallen by Kate Francis

This week, I hope to begin reading:

Gone With the Wind (Chapters 19-27) by Margaret Mitchell
The Flesh Statue by U.L. Harper
The Lady of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Sea Glass by Anita Shreve

What are you reading this week? 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Gone With the Wind Read-Along: Chapters 1-9

Last week, I found this post by Amy at My Friend Amy. She was proposing an informal read-along of Gone With the Wind and The Wind Done Gone. I've had a used copy of GWTW sitting on my shelf for awhile now, so I thought joining in as other bloggers read the book would be fun.

First, I must warn you that I have never read this book, nor have I seen the movie. I know, shocking, isn't it? It's just something that hasn't appealed to me until recently, even though I love the Civil War era. As a result of 25 years of complete lack of exposure to GWTW, outside of the occasional clip or famous line, I had no idea what to expect. I likely will draw some conclusions as I read this book that those of you who have read the book/seen the movie may laugh at because they're likely very naive in terms of what happens later, but I like to live under my rock, thank you very much.

Gone With the WindHere's what I thought of the first nine chapters:

I think Mitchell does a great job of portraying life in antebellum Georgia. The settings are lush and green, the manners are genteel and the people are charming. I can already see why, simply on the strength of her writing alone, Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize for this book.

I have to discuss Scarlett O'Hara, as she is the main character and all. At first, I really liked her. She was just sassy enough to endear her to me, and she had a little extra spark that wasn't considered "proper" in a Southern belle. Then, she became a shallow little teenager. I had to keep reminding myself that she is only 16 years old, which accounts for her selfish behavior and flighty ways, because she was so obsessive about finding a husband. She has no ability to be nice or charitable to any other female, other than her mother, because she's always in competition with them.

She continued to grate on my nerves when she decided to marry Charles even though she didn't care for him. But, again, I had to remind myself that she was only 16 and a lot of 16-year-olds do really stupid, selfish things. However, she didn't get any better in the selfish department after getting married, becoming a widow and having a baby. If anything, she got worse because she became so jealous of all the girls her age who didn't have to live under the same restrictions she did.

Even though we only see him briefly in the first nine chapters -- once at the Wilkes' barbecue and once at the hospital fundraiser -- I really, really like Rhett Butler already. He impresses me as a Mr. Darcy: A man who has a bad reputation and makes for a really good foil to the main character. I think there's definitely a lot more to him than meets the eye, but we shall see.

I also really like Melanie. She's quiet, kind and definitely more deserving of Ashley Wilkes (What we know of him now, at least) than Scarlett is.

I'm really excited to read the rest of this book over the course of the next several weeks. I'm glad Amy decided to host this read-along and break the book down into manageable sections because, if I were to tackle it straight off my shelves and on my own, I think I might just end up putting it aside for something else because it's just so long.

In My Mailbox (5)

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

 

The Life of Glass by Jillian Cantor - This signed (!!) copy was a win from The Novel Girls and sent to me by Jillian Cantor herself!


Next by James Hynes - A Twitter win from @littlebrown - This is a Reagan Arthur book, so I am so excited to read it for the Reagan Arthur Books Challenge hosted by Kathy at Bermudaonion and Julie at Booking Mama!

Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser by William Irwin and Richard Brian Davis - From the publisher for review

It's Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian by Samir Selmanovic - From the publisher for review

Denise's Daily Dozen by Denise Austin - A win from The Book Chick 


What was in your mailbox this week?

 






 
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