Sunday, December 30, 2007

Book Review: Shadow Dance

I can't quite figure out what it is about Julie Garwood that makes her historical novels so damn good and her contemporaries so awful. Really, it's kind of hard to believe that the same author writes both books. Often I've wondered if she has a ghost writer, especially after Murder List, which I thought was terrible. (A better question would be why I continue to not just read, but buy her books). The only thing that I can figure out is that her simplistic writing style comes across as charming in the historical arena but incomplete and asinine in the modern-day setting.

All her contemporaries (with the slight exception of Killjoy have been about members of the Buchanan family. This one is about a Buchanan daughter, Jordan (who was a character is Slow Burn) and a friend and colleague of the family, Noah Clayborne (who has showed up in many of the previous books). Fans of Garwood will recognize that the Buchanan's are descendants of the Buchanan clan that was featured in the historicals The Secret and, one of my all-time favorites, Ransom. And Noah is, of course, a descendant of the Clayborne brothers from For the Roses, One Pink Rose, One White Rose, One Red Rose, and Come the Spring.

The plot of this book is pretty stupid. Jordan goes to a small town in Texas to pick up some files for her friend's sister and somehow gets tangled up in a murder mystery. When she gets in trouble she calls her brother, an FBI agent, who's partner happens to be Noah. Her brother has to leave to get back to his pregnant wife, but he has Noah stay and help Jordan. And of course, romantic sparks fly.

First off, the mystery was boring. There was no reason for me to care about it. But what really bothers me about Garwood's contemporary writing is that she throws in a bunch of stuff that turns out to be irrelevant. For instance, the files Jordan went to fetch were notes from a history professor regarding Buchanan ancestors. I kept expecting for something relevant to come out of the notes, but it never did! I get the feeling that Garwood is leaving that for another book, but that's really unsatisfying for the readers of this book. I find that she does that a lot, puts in a lot of details about things that don't matter at all. That's part of why I am so dissatisfied with her contemporaries. That being said, Shadow Dance was infinitely better than Murder List, and I think it might have been better than Slow Burn, too.

Garwood's newest book is another historical, Shadow Music, and I was really excited about that. But from the reviews I'm seeing it's not a great book and is a disappointing return to historicals. Which makes me sad.

Lindsey's Grade: C-/D+

Book Review: The Lady Chosen

I'd say this Stephanie Laurens book ranks about average with the rest of her books. It's not her best, but not her worst, either. I have to admit that there was significantly less smut in this book than most of her works. This is the first book in The Bastion Club series, so I almost wonder if she was, when she first started the series, determined to have fewer sex scenes, but then as the series went on her old habits got the best of her! Hehe.

My complaints would be that the "mystery" in this book was pretty weak, and that there wasn't any real conflict between the hero and heroine. That being said, I think that Laurens had some good characterization with Leonora, the heroine. Leonora kind of became more self-aware as the book went on, and that made some good sense. So, the book wasn't a loss.

Lindsey's Grade: C+

P.S., If anyone cases, A Fine Passion and To Distraction are my favorites (thus far) from The Bastion Club series.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Book Review: The Devil's Web

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. It is the third in a series about three siblings, the first two being The Gilded Web and Web of Love, respectively. When I first read The Gilded Web over a year ago, it was not the hero and heroine of that book that caught my attention, but rather the subplot of James and Madeline, the hero and heroine in this book. When I saw this book of the shelves I snatched it up immediately.

Quick synopsis: James's younger sister is married to Madeline's oldest brother. When those two got together in The Gilded Web there was a lot of tension between James and Madeline. James was a somewhat tortured hero who grew up in a very strict religious household that burdened him with a whole lotta guilt. Madeline, on the other hand, grew up in a warm, loving family, and is a very vivacious young woman who at times is very immature. They share a passionate encounter, but the next day James departs for Canada and doesn't return to England for another four years. Neither James nor Madeline has forgotten the other in that time.

I really enjoy Mary Balogh's books. She is a terrific romantic writer who, usually, really gets her character. I felt like the she really nailed the character of Madeline, Madeline made complete sense to me. Madeline wants nothing more than to be in love, get married, and become a mother, but she just can't seem to meet any men that make her willing to take that step. At twenty-six she feels like a spinster, fears that she will never find someone who is right for her, and is afraid that she is a burden to her two brother who are both happily married with children. But standing in the way of her happiness is this consuming obsession she has for James--despite the fact that they quarrel whenever they are around each other and make each other miserable.

I could accept that Madeline loved James despite the horrid way he treated her because, well, sometimes you can't help who you have feelings for. And Madeline tried to make a go of their relationship.

James, however, did not make any sense to me. He was absolutely horrid to Madeline, despite the fact that he supposedly was madly in love with her. Balogh's reasons for having James hold himself back and be so dreadful just didn't make any sense to me, and the resolution of their agonizingly long conflict (it lasts nearly the entire book and culminates to the point where it seems all hope is lost) seemed too easy considering the history between them.

So I was delighted with Madeline's character, but confused with James's. Overall, I would recommend this book because it did tug on my heartstrings, which is always nice, an emotional attachment. But I wouldn't recommend reading it unless you've already read The Gilded Web and preferably Web of Love, too, because the character of Madeline is really a work in progress over all three of these books.

Lindsey's Grade: B

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Book Review: A Force of Nature—The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford

Man, after reading this book I feel like I owe Ernest Rutherford a personal apology for not fully realizing how frickin' awesome he was! I have long proclaimed Niels Bohr to be my favorite scientist—mainly because his model of the hydrogen model and the energy levels is so brilliant it blows my mind—but Niels owed a lot of what he did to Rutherford. Heck, nearly every physicist and certainly every chemist today owes pretty much everything to that man. I eat up scientific history on quantum theory and the development of the atomic bomb (i.e., modern physics) like it's candy, it just fascinates me. (Case in point, the photograph I took of J. J. Thomson's Nobel Prize medal):

But when you read comprehensive histories like Diana Preston's excellent Before the Fallout, the individual genius and contributions of each scientist can get overlooked by the significance of their discoveries.

That's why this book focusing just on Rutherford is so great, because it really reinforces what a stunning scientific life he led. More than once the author compares him to Einstein, and I think it's an apt comparison. Rutherford was to experimental physics as to what Einstein was to theoretical physics. What's more, Rutherford's discoveries changed the nature of physics studies themselves (away from the experimental laboratory "tabletop" to the theoretical "blackboard"). This guy not only realized what was going on with radiation, came up with the concepts of half-lives, and named alpha and beta rays (for which he won a Nobel Prize), he also formulated the planetary model of the atom, discovered protons, and supervised the first splitting of the atom! Holy crap, that's a great resume!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Book Reviews

So the stress of finals and my abject misery over being rejected for a job effectively ended my classics fetish and sent me scurrying back to my comfort books—romance novels. As you will see I have read a great amount of Stephanie Laurens, mainly because I happen to really like her writing style. It took some getting used to, but her fluid, verbose style now makes other romance writers seem amateurish.

Stephanie Laurens: On A Wild Night

Not bad. I liked the hero.

Stephanie Laurens: The Perfect Lover

I seem to remember that I liked the set-up of the mystery in this book because it reminded me somewhat of the game Clue.

Stephanie Laurens: A Gentleman's Honor

Mmm, not my favorite of the Bastion Club series. The hero was a little too blah for my tastes.

Lisa Kleypas: Prince of Dreams

I really like Lisa Kleypas but I think this must have been one of her earliest books, because it seemed cliched and simplistic to me. Also, it got dangerously close to involving time travel, which I will go to my grave renouncing as having no place in literature, barring H. G. Wells.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

No Country for Old Men

Now that I've seen the movie AND read the book; I give a D to both.
P.S. Neither one ends well.

Books into movies?

What is with all these books being made into movies!? Does every best-selling book nowadays get made into movies no matter how bad they would be? Case in point; "Love in the time of Cholera". Boring book; torturous movie (although I'll never see it). Nuff said.

"Atonement": Amazing book; movie will likely be very good too with the actors that are in it being some of my favs; but I suspect that it will end a little differently than the book.

"No Country for Old Men": Haven't read it yet; but bought it yesterday. I have heard great things about both the book and the movie!

"Middlesex": Please, please, please! DO NOT make this into a movie! The book was very good, I thought. The movie would be just painful.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Need a good laugh when it comes to books? Try this post over at Burt Reynold's Mustache!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Adam Bede by George Eliot

As the two of us are going through a somewhat classics phase I found this review from Powell's appropriate.

A review of Adam Bede by George Eliot
by Anonymous

[Ed. Note. This review first ran in the Atlantic Monthly, October 1859.]

As Nature will have it, Great Unknowns are out of the question in any other branch of the world's business than the writing of books. If, through sponsorial neglect or cruelty, the name of our butcher or baker or candlestick-maker happens to be John, with the further and congenial addition of Smith, JOHN SMITH it is on sign-board, pass-book, and at the top, and sometimes at the bottom, of the monthly bills, in living and familiar characters. But in the matter of authorship, the world is yet far short of the Scriptural standard; in a variety of instances it has found itself unable to know men by their works; and, in deference to this short-sightedness of their fellows, merchants and lawyers and doctors have their cards, and clergymen, at least once in every twelvemonth, make the personal circuit of their congregations, so that no sheep shall wander into darkness through ignorance of the shepherd. We believe that no pursuit should be marked by greater frankness and fairness than the literary. It is a question, at least, of kindness; and it is not kind to set good people on an uneasy edge of curiosity; it is not kind to bring down upon the care-bowed heads of editors storms of communications, couched in terms of angry disputation; it is not kind to establish a perennial root of bitterness, to give an unhealthy flavor to the literary waters of unborn generations, as "Junius" did, and Scott would have done, had he been able.

Adam Bede is remarkable, not less for the unaffected Saxon style which upholds the graceful fabric of the narrative, and for the naturalness of its scenes and characters, so that the reader at once feels happy and at home among them, than for the general perception of those universal springs of action which control all society, the patient unfolding of those traits of humanity with which commonplace writers get out of temper and rudely dispense. The place and the people are of the simplest, and the language is of the simplest; and what happens from day to day, and from year to year, in the period of the action, might happen in any little village where the sun shines.

We do not know where to look, in the whole range of contemporary fictitious literature, for pictures in which the sober and the brilliant tones of Nature blend with more exquisite harmony than in those which are set in every chapter of Adam Bede . Still life -- the harvest-field, the polished kitchens, the dairies with a concentrated cool smell of all that is nourishing and sweet, the green, the porches that have vines about them and are pleasant late in the afternoon, and deep woods thrilling with birds -- all these were never more vividly, and yet tenderly depicted. The characters are drawn with a free and impartial hand, and one of them is a creation for immortality. Mrs. Poyser is a woman with an incorrigible tongue, set firmly in opposition to the mandates of a heart the overflows of whose sympathy and love keep the circle of her influence in a state of continual irrigation. Her epigrams are aromatic, and she is strong in simile, but never ventures beyond her own depth into that of her author.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Book Review: Narrow Road to the Interior

Narrow Road to the Interior by Matsuo Basho

About a year ago I went searching for a book on Basho, considered Japan's greatest haiku poet. I came to know of Basho's haiku through one of my now favorite movies, My Neighbors the Yamadas. The movie incorporates several of Basho's haiku in a manner that showcases many of the simplicities of daily life.

It took me awhile but I finally came across this book which was translated by Sam Hamill, a great poet in his own right. The book is so small that it feels like I'm reading a post-it note pad more than an actual book. It is considered the masterpiece of Basho's career and one of the most revered classics of Asian literature. It is merely a travel diary of his journey through the villages and mountain temples of the northern interior of Japan. It is beautiful, but not what I expected nor wanted. I couldn't relate or imagine life in the late 1600s and thus had difficulties reading the diary portion. The descriptions of the temples and traditions made me miss the temple I walked by everyday while in Tokyo. And there were aspects of the writing that made me realize how much I truly admire Japanese culture. The haiku were at times more geographical and nature oriented than those I remember from the film. And so I was left wanting more and wondering if the movie gave me a distorted image of Basho's work. Not all was lost however. The prose and imagery have a calming effect that brought many evenings of relaxation and was how I chose to finish the short book. Deep breaths in a literary form. Just what the doctor orders sometimes.

Kim's Grade: A