Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

At last, I have finished Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  Now I have read a book by each of the Bronte's sisters.  I'm sure there are many that will disagree with me, but I think that Anne Bronte is the lesser known sister for a reason.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall begins with the narration of Gilbert Markham, a young farmer from a small English village.  When a young widow and her son move to the village, she and Gilbert clash a bit because she is very solitary and protective of her son.  But Gilbert is rather persistent, and eventually friendship and more develops between them.  But the widow, Helen, resists any romantic relationship and, amid rumors that she is her landlord's mistress, she tells Gilbert her story.

Helen married when she was very young to a handsome and charming man who soon proved to be a reprobate.  Much of the book is about her miserable married life to Arthur Huntingdon.  I did feel for Helen, and I think that given the time the book was written in, the subject matter of a disastous marriage was pretty scandalous.  But I didn't find it all that compelling of a story.

But the book did have its moments.  There is one character, Walter Hargrave, who I found to be one of the most dispicable characters I've read about in a long time.  He is a friend of Helen's husband, Huntingdon, but he repeatedly tries to win Helen's heart.  He makes sure to take every opportunity to point out every bad thing that Huntingdon does wrong, how awful he is, as if that will induce Helen to throw aside her own morals.  I'm not describing this very well, but he's gross.  So gross.  Helen rejects him at every turn, but he won't leave her alone, no matter how clear she makes it that she wants nothing to do with him other than a polite friendship. 

Hargrave's behavior is part of the reason why I didn't really like Gilbert, because he kind of does the same thing.  He continues to pursue Helen even after she makes it clear she's not interested in a relationship.  And even after he finds out that she's still married, he uses Hargrave's logic that Huntingdon's adultry releases her from her duty of fidelity.  I couldn't understand why Helen responded to Gilbert's attention, but I suppose he does have redeeming qualities.  He's a good man (even though he is at times prone to jealous rage!) and he doesn't drink and whore around like Huntingdon and his friends did. 

But Gilbert and Helen were both a little bland.  I think that is one reason why the novels by Anne's sisters are more famous.  There's just more going on with the characters and with the plots that makes them interesting and memorable.  I mean, I'm glad that Helen gets to have her happy, pious life eventually, but it's boring. 

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Book Notes

I'm trying to make my way through The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but it is tough!  I've got a lot on my plate between now and Christmas break, but not only that, so far the book is kinda boring.  I'm judging you by your sisters, Anne Bronte!  I need something alone the lines of a secret, crazy, Creole wife or at the very least some head-banging-against-a-tree-in-agony.  So far this Gilbert dude is about as appealing as a dog shit casserole.  I actually liked Helen until she started to return his feelings.

In other Bronte news, I finished watching the newest film adaptation of Jane Eyre, and it's HAWT.  Me likes.  I don't care if you sexy up my classic literature, that's A-okay with me!  Like Colin Firth's pond scene in Pride and Prejudice or Matthew Macfadyen's cavat-less early morning walk to the Bennett residence in the later version.  The sexier the better!  I got more upset over Mr. Rochester not losing his hand.  WTF?  That's his penance to be paid for trying to incriminate Jane in his bigamy plot!

Finally, we read a case in my law school class today that involved the Hindenburg explosion.  I'm sure most people who think of the Hindenburg think of that reporter guy who squawked on and on, "Oh the humanity!"  Me?  I thought of Julia Marks Wakefield.

Julia Marks Wakefield?  You ask, Who the heck is that?

Only Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield's great-grandmother who tragically perished in the Hindenburg diaster, leaving her husband and young son behind!  Come on, you don't remember that from Sweet Valley Saga: The Wakefield Legacy?  Then perhaps this will refresh your memory! (Finding that website pretty much made me week. Scroll down to the inside cover picture and you'll see what I mean about the Hindenburg.)

Man, I want to get my hands on one of those books so bad.  I wonder how they would seem to me now.  Fifteen or so years ago I couldn't get enough of them!  (Obviously, as I still remember the plot.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Book Review: Rebecca


I have mixed feelings about Rebecca.  It was certainly entertaining, but there were so many frustrating things about it, too.  But then, I'm pretty sure that I was supposed to find those things frustrating.  I guess I can sum it up by saying that du Maurier certainly knows how to evoke certain emotions from her readers.

For those who are not familiar with Rebecca, it is the story of the second Mrs. de Winter.  (The reader never knows her first name.)  She is young, shy, and gauche when she marries Maxim de Winter, a man old enough to be her father, after a whirlwind "romance" in Monte Carlo where they met on vacation.

Things are going well until the newlyweds return to Manderley, Maxim's family home in Cornwall, England.  Maxim's first wife, Rebecca, drowned in a boating accident ten months prior to the second marriage, and the staff there are constantly telling the new wife "Mrs. de Winter did it this way," "Mrs. de Winter did it that way," etc.  It's pretty rude that these servants keep reminding the new wife that she is taking someone else's place.  The housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, is particularly bad, and she takes an immediate dislike to the new wife.

You want to just scream at the new wife to grow a spine and put these rude servants in their place, but she doesn't do it.  It is understandable why she doesn't—she's practically fresh out of the schoolroom, and she has no experience managing a household, etc.  She needs to rely on the servants to tell her how to get stuff done, but all they can do is bring up her husband's dead wife.  And it's not just the servants.  Maxim's sister, his grandmother, and others are constantly bringing up Rebecca.

To make matters worse, Rebecca was everything the new wife is not.  Beautiful, witty, outgoing, etc.  So it's not surprising that the new wife develops a crippling complex.  She worries constantly that people will gossip about her and her marriage.  And she eventually becomes convinced that Maxim will never love her the way he loved Rebecca.

My annoyance with the new wife was hard to overcome at times, but I think that is an integral part of the story.  You really, really want her to stand up for herself, and even she wants to stand up for herself, but she's so terrified of making a false move that she just plays it safe.  I thought it was a very realistic portrayal, as unappealing as it was.

There is an air of mystery to the book, too, but I can't really discuss it without giving too much away.  So warning: SPOILERS AFTER THE JUMP!  (For those of you who are not going to continue reading, just trust me that the story is a very fun read.)

Status Update

Oh my God, ya'll. This book Rebecca just got CRAZY! Crazy good!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Book Reviews: Romance Novels

So now all the smugness I felt about reading Jane Eyre has faded as I reveal that I read four romance novels in between reading the classic. Hey man, it’s midterm time. I have a history of this.

To Desire A Devil by Elizabeth Hoyt
I was pretty disappointed by this book. The hero returns from the dead (actually he just returns from North America where he’d been held captive by Indians for the past seven years but believed dead by those back home) and asserts his right to his family title, which had passed to the heroine’s uncle.

The romance in this was too much too fast. This guy was held captive for seven years and, at some point, tortured. And although he has some mental health issues from the ordeal, they didn’t really seem too bad. He was ready to jump into bed and into love with the heroine. It just felt like a ruse to me. If an author is going to make the readers anticipate a book (this is the final in a four-part series) because of the whole back-from-the-dead ploy, then she’d better be genuine about how she’s going to resolve it. Any real person that went through what the hero went through would be pretty fucked up in the head, and a pretty little Englishwoman would not be a panacea.

This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James
I quit reading Eloisa James after the first book in this six-part series, Desperate Duchesses. I intensely disliked that book. But after a few years I caved and read her again. Overall I liked this book even though I totally called the ending about a quarter of the way through. I like the hero and heroine, who are a married couple trying to reconcile after a nine year estrangement. (He’s a duke and needs an heir, hence the reconciliation.)

What I didn’t like was what took the couple so freakin’ long! She loves him, he appears to love her, they have open communication, but for at least half the book they’re just circling around each other. It felt forced to me.

A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James
I liked this one better than its predecessor. It was a pretty standard romance. I don’t recall there being anything that really jumped out at me, good or bad. Oh yeah, except the fact that the hero was a blockhead about a certain matter. The hero has been a fixture in all six books in the series, and even though I’ve only read two of the previous books, it just seemed like his thought processes in this one did not match the man he appeared to be in the earlier books. That felt forced, too.

By Love Undone by Suzanne Enoch
I thought this was a cute little book. I really believed the affection between the hero and heroine, and I believed the conflict that posed a barrier to their happiness. It’s not an earth shattering piece of literature, but it was good enough for me.

I'm back! With 3 books!

I'm back, and with a vengeance. Though I've made my way through 33 books this year so far, (yes, I kept track!), I have to start somewhere, and I'm not going to start at the beginning. Instead, I'll start with the 3 books I've read this week.

1. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
This book was by far the best of the 3 I read this week. This is the first Jonathan Lethem book I've read - much to the dismay of one his biggest fans, my lovely husband Aaron. He's been trying to get me to read one of his books for about 5 years. I actually started this book before, but sort of lost interest and abandoned it. But I'm glad I came back.

This is a detective story at heart, but it has much more than a typical who-done-it story line. What made this book so compelling was that the "detective" suffers from Tourette's syndrome, and he is just such an interesting and funny character to follow. Lionel Essrog & several other boys, all orphans, were enlisted by Frank Minna to do various & mysterious jobs around town. They grew up doing this work, and eventually became Minna Men - employed by Minna, but kept in the dark about a lot of his dealings. Minna is killed early on, and Lionel spends the rest of the book discovering his secrets, and tracking down his killer.

The characters are truly compelling, and I think there's a pretty good pay-off in the end without all the plot-twisting cover up look this way while the mystery is that way that you typically find in a mystery story. I am looking forward to reading more of Lethem's books, and I highly recommend this as a great place to start.

2. Envy by Anna Godbersen.
This is the 3rd in a series that I borrowed from Lindsey. I think she's reviewed these before, so I'll keep it short. Basically this is Gossip Girl in the early 1900's. Silly & predictable "scandal". But still somehow enjoyable. I get a kick out of thinking that this was right around the time my great grandma was born. Although, I'm sure "out west" was a very different place than New York in this era, so she probably didn't live anywhere near as scandalous a life. Bummer.

If you feel like a silly fun read that you can finish in a couple of hours, go for it. And don't let your husband's scoffs at the type of books you read deter you.

3. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.
Like the book above, this is a pretty mindless read. And another one I was made fun of for reading. But oh well. I read it anyway.
This follows pretty much exactly the same path of the last 2 Dan Brown books. Robert Langdon finds himself plucked out of his everyday life and "surprise!" he has precious few hours to reveal a mystery hidden for the last xxx years by the xxx group to save xxx's life. Will he do it! Can he survive!

I usually like Dan Brown's books until the endings, which are all just sort of... there. It's usually a bunch of scandal and surprise at some group being misunderstood and a big reveal as to who the bad guy really is, and this book was just the same.

The story itself was less compelling than The DaVinci code, but that might be because it wasn't set in Europe, which is always more interesting to me. I think that this book is a good fast paced read, which is at times suspensful (predictable or not). I always like puzzles and codes, and the like.

What I find most annoying about Brown's books, though, is the way he uses Langdon to spew his own obnoxious pretentiousness. (is that a word?) Langdon always points out these words that have alternate meanings or clever origins, whatever. I think Brown uses Langdon, though, to try and sound smart & well researched as an author, and that bugs me.

Anyway... Is it worth the read? Maybe. Fast paced mindlessness doesn't bother me, but if it bothers you, you probably already know not to read a Dan Brown book, and you don't need me to tell you that.

So there you have it! My week in books so far. I forgot how terrible I am at reviewing books, but oh well! Who cares! I'll be back with more mindlessness at a later date. ta ta.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book Review: Jane Eyre

Hooray! I finished Jane Eyre about a decade after I first tried to read it! I don't know about you, but I always feel such smug satisfaction after reading a work of classic literature. I can feel my snobbery increase.

And alas, I must confess that I actually enjoyed Jane Eyre quite a bit. Ten years ago I found the title character to be boring, but I think I quit reading too early. She didn't really win my respect until after Rochester proposes. There were certainly signs of her feisty independence prior to that point, but I was unconvinced. Then she really turned it on:

Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty, and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.

Poor Jane! You give it to that big, rich oaf you're sure is cruelly teasing you! And what do you know, little Jane Eyre turned out to be quite the budding feminist:

"Oh comply!” [the inner voice] said. “Think of his misery, think of his danger, look at his state when left alone; remember his headlong nature, consider the recklessness following on despair; soothe him, save him, love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?

Still indomitable was the reply. “
I care for myself.

Love it. You've got to love Jane, if for no other reason, because she really knows how to stick to her guns. She is not immune to emotion and temptation, but she is a strong enough woman to make her own choices.

After reading Jane Eyre, I feel I am now well-versed in the great romantic literary heroes from the first half of the nineteenth century: Darcy, Heathcliff, and Rochester. (Was Pride and Prejudice written before 1800? Well, let's pretend here that it wasn't.) It seems like I read somewhere that Rochester was voted the most romantic literary hero. I guess I can see that. He's more passionate than Darcy, but less crazy than Heathcliff. Not a bad combo.

Like Jane, Rochester also had to grow on me as the novel progressed. It was very well done of Bronte, I must say. I loved this little description that really seemed up sum up Rochester's feelings towards Jane:

Mr. Rochester had sometimes read my unspoken thoughts with an acumen to me incomprehensible; in the present instance he took no notice of my abrupt vocal response, but smiled at me with a certain smile he had of his own, and which he used but on rare occasions. He seemed to think it too good for common purposes; it was the real sunshine of feeling—he shed it over me now.

It's so romantic! He gives her his special smile! Sure, Rochester has some MAY-JA flaws, but as with Heathcliff, I'm willing to forgive them because I know his history. And poor Rochester! Married to a crazy lady for four years before he finally decides that he deserves to have a life of his own. But he can't escape her, and Thornfield becomes tainted with her presence:

The glamour of inexperience is over your eyes,” he answered; “and you see it through a charmed medium; you cannot discern that the gilding is slime and the silk draperies cobwebs; that the marble is sordid slate, and the polished woods mere refuse chips and scaly bark.

It is so tempting to hate Rochester for what he does to both Bertha and Jane. But I found that I couldn't hate him. In fact, the way he treats his mad wife is actually kind of endearing (once you remind yourself that mental health professionals at that time probably couldn't have done anything more for Bertha):

I could have lodged her safety enough, had not a scruple about the unhealthiness of the situation, in the heart of a wood, made my conscience recoil from the arrangement. Probable those damp walls would soon have eased me of her charge; but to each villain his own vice; and mine is not a tendency to indirect assassination, even of what I most hate.

My favorite passage in the book occurs after Jane and Rochester's wedding is thwarted, when he confesses to her in private. He pours out his heart to her describing the misery he's lived with and the hope that Jane brought into his life. It's so well done that you can easily forgive him for wanting to marry Jane despite the fact that his wife was still alive. He loves Jane so much!

Contrast that with the proposal Jane gets from St. John Rivers. Charlotte Bronte, I bow down to you. If the reader was unconvinced about Rochester's love for Jane, then this sealed the deal. When St. John bumbles his proposal so massively, you start to see how accurately Rochester saw Jane. Unlike St. John, Rochester looked past the exterior to the real person within, and that is who he loved. I was indisputably on Team Rochester at that point. When he said the following to Jane, telling her that he would continue to love her even if she went mad like Bertha, I audibly sighed:

Your mind is my treasure, and if it were broken it would be my treasure still . . . . In your quiet moments you should have no watcher and no nurse but me; and I could hang over you with untiring tenderness, though you gave me no smile in return; and never weary of gazing into your eyes, thought they no longer had a ray of recognition for me.

Is that not the sweetest thing ever? And how ironic that Rochester is so willing to be Jane's nurse, but after he is blinded and maimed he doubts that she would want him in his state.

As far as the writing goes, I think Jane Eyre beats Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice. It is so beautiful and vivid. But as far as the love story goes, I say it comes in third. I don't know; I really enjoyed this book, but I didn't fall in love with it.

BTW, I added the film version to Netflix queue, the one starring the actors in the picture I chose. Is it just me, or are both of them a wee too attractive to be Jane and Rochester? I mean, considering that the book hits us over the head again and again with the fact that they're both ugly? I don't care, I still want to see it. I'll just tell myself that what was ugly back then is seksi now. Kind of like when people used to tell me that I would have been the epitome of beauty two hundred years ago because I'm plump and pale. Gee thanks, that really helps me now in the twenty-first century.

(I really have to get this shirt now.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Literacy Characters You'd Sleep With?

Some website has compiled a list of 15 Literacy Characters We'd Totally Sleep With. (The list is apparently compiled by women or gay men, because they are all male.) It made me wonder, who are the literary characters you'd sleep with?

I'm trying to think of others who would be on my list. I'm thinking Sidney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities. I don't know what it was about him—certainly not his chronic depression—but I liked him a lot. It must have been that whole redeeming-himself-at-the-end thing.

I read so many romance novels, which are pretty much written around male characters women would want to sleep with, so I'm having trouble limiting it down to specific characters. Ha.

Anyone else want to chime in?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Twilight Craze Hits Classic Literature

The other day I was browsing through Barnes and Noble when I happened to stop by a display of books with Twilight-inspired book covers. Figuring that someone had decided to capitalize on the Twilight craze, I looked closer and, lo and behold, the books were Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, and Romeo and Juliet. Ah, public domain. Sometimes you're not so great.

Now, I have to admit that I think the Twilight series cover art is quite good. It's simple, but at the same time all a person has to do is see a book cover with an image against a black background to conjure up a Twilight association. (For example, this is the Wuthering Heights cover that tipped me off.) So well done on that account.

But something about this doesn't sit well with me. I googled this phenomenon yesterday, and many people have already chimed in, so I'm not going to repeat a lot of what I've heard. I just thought I'd share my own reaction.

I don't think there's anything wrong with getting turned onto classics through pop culture references. Heck, that's how I learn about most classics. I saw Clueless before I'd ever heard of Emma. I was first introduced to Kate and Bianca through 10 Things I Hate About You. And I enjoy performances of Twelfth Night because I think She's The Man is one of the greatest films ever made.

But those are modern retellings of classic stories--an obvious homage. Wuthering Heights is just a reference in the Twilight series.

If you look closely at the book cover in the link above, you'll see that it advertises Wuthering Heights as "Bella and Edward's Favorite Book." That's going a little too far. That's turning Wuthering Heights into an homage to Twilight, and that's just wrong. Furthermore, I can't imagine that Stephenie Meyer would ever want anyone to think that she's comparing herself to Emily Brönte.

But ultimately I'm uncomfortable with all this because I think it's rather patronizing to the young (and not so young) readers of Twilight. Slap a similar cover on and they'll suddenly want to read it? First of all, the girls reading Twilight are readers, clearly. So they've probably heard of Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, and Romeo and Juliet. If they haven't read them yet, they probably won't be moved to read them by fancy new covers. They know what they are--classics written in centuries-old, sometimes difficult to understand language. Heck, there's a reason they're reading Twilight and not Moby Dick. Similarly, even if Twilight did inspire in them a desire to read Wuthering Heights, Twilight has been out for years now. They have probably picked it up on their own already.

I know I just wasted a lot of energy critiquing the advertising world, because the whole point of its existence is to try to manipulate consumers, but it still pisses me off because I do not fall for that shit. I roll my eyes and groan every time I see some Austen sequel/tribute in the bookstore. Classic literature is, in my opinion, sacred. It shouldn't be used as a gimmick to get us to buy some modern crap. It's even worse in a case like this, where the author of the new work has not brought this upon her/him, but instead some idiot marketing person dreamed it up.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Book Review: Supreme Courtship

I picked this book up from a display at Barnes and Noble and after reading the summary on the back cover, I was hooked.

This is really all you need to know to grasp how fun the plot of this book is:

The President of the United States has dismal approval ratings. He vetoes every spending bill that comes across his desk. Congress has drafted a constitutional amendment limiting presidents to a single term; they hate him that much (even though he's a good guy). When a Supreme Court justice goes bonkers and is forced to retire, the President nominates two eminently qualified judges.

Both are destroyed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by a Senator who wanted (and even asked for!) the nomination himself.

Fed up, the President says "what the hell" and nominates Pepper Cartwright, TV judge along the lines of Judge Judy, to the United States Supreme Court.

I know, right? 'Nuf said. I bought it.

But it gets even better. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court cast the deciding vote in a case that legalized gay marriage across the United States. A few days later, his wife left him for another woman.

Now you know where the "courtship" in Supreme Courtship comes in.

This was a fun and funny book that I read in less than a day. It's a not-so-subtle satire, which was nice because it meant that I got the satire (unlike in On Beauty). I recommend!

Lindsey's Grade: A-

Book Review: Bed of Roses

For me, reading a Nora Roberts book is usually like watching a romantic comedy. I know I’m going to like it, because it follows a specific formula, but I’m probably not going to love it, because it follows a specific formula. And usually, that’s okay with me. I know what I’m getting into.

It’s even easier to tell what you’re getting into with Nora Roberts books because she often writes in trilogies. In this case, it is a quartet based on four friends who run a wedding coordinator (and more) business. First of all, let me just say that I find it highly suspect that childhood friends would each grow up to excel at their own distinct interests that just so happen to be exactly what you would need for a wedding. For instance, Mac is a fantastic photographer, Emma is a fantastic florist, Laurel is a fantastic cake designer, and Parker is a fantastic organizer/planner whose family estate is the perfect wedding venue. There’s just no way this could happen in real life.

Which gets me to my complaints about Bed of Roses, the second book in the quartet. This is Emma’s book. Let’s talk about Emma a bit. She is apparently drop-dead gorgeous. Men ask her out all the time, so much that she can now effortlessly deflect or attract men with skill. She lives in a guest house on her friend Parker’s estate where she has her own studio to do her floral arrangements. Her parents are still madly in love with each other. She went to a posh private academy in Greenwich, Connecticut, where she still lives. She works with her three lifelong best friends every day. Their business is successful beyond their expectations. And her girlfriends will drop everything, no questions asked, to be there when she needs them.

Enter Jack, the hero of the story. He’s a smokin’ hot piece of man meat. Built, blonde, and green-eyed. He’s also smart and successful. He went to Yale, and he has his own architecture firm in Greenwich. And he pretty much wants to have hot sex with Emma whenever she wants it.

Are you seeing my problem here?

EMMA’S LIFE IS FUCKING PERFECT! It seriously is. I can’t really hold it against Emma because she knows it. At one point in the book she tells her friend that she’s the luckiest woman in the world because she kind of is. But I can hold it against Nora Roberts because she should know better! Sure, romance novels are supposed to be fantasy escapism, but I like a little realism in there, too. All of the other women have at least something going on in their lives that makes you think that it wouldn’t be completely awesome to be them. Mac’s mother is a crazy bitch and her father moved on to his second family. Laurel’s father did something to lose all the family money when she was a teenager so she went from rich girl to make-it-on-your-own at a very vulnerable time in her life. Also, she’s in love with a man who sees her as his sister. And Parker owns her awesome family estate because both of her parents were killed in a plane crash, which probably is why she’s such a control freak. But Emma? Nope. She’s perfect. Beautiful and bubbly with her loving nuclear family.

I suppose that’s a fair choice for Roberts to make, Emma being perfect and all that, because it does add diversity to the group of women. But it’s just not fun to read about. Where is the conflict? Seriously, the entire conflict of this book is Jack’s fear of commitment which I did not think was all that irrational. The climax of the story takes the form of a fight he and Emma have and, to be honest, I was on Jack’s side. Who doesn’t think that a declaration of love and happily ever after is not so crazy to hold back on if you’ve only been dating for two months? And what Emma does to spark the fight was pretty dumb, I thought. She knows this guy, she knows the issues he has with space and commitment, but instead of talking to him to test the waters, she just goes and does something only to explode when he doesn’t react the way she wanted him to. Also, I kind of resented the way that Emma’s friends completely took her side on the issue, too. My friends, and my mother, would point out everything that I did wrong. But then again, I’m a spinster and Emma’s boinking hot dudes.

So I guess in the end I was jealous of Emma, but in my defense it was really hard not to be. Yeah, I would like to have her wonderful life. So thanks, Nora Roberts, all you’ve done is made me feel even worse about being a plain Jane, chubby single gal.

Lindsey’s Grade: C

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Book Quotes

One of my favorite things about reading is coming across a passage that just grabs your attention and really speaks to you. The last few years I've been trying to remember to write down such passages. I don't always remember, but I have accumulated a small collection, and I thought I'd share from that.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
She was borned in slavery time when folks, dat is black folks, didn’t sit down anytime dey felt lak it. So sittin’ on porches lak de white madam looked lak uh mighty fine thing tuh her. Dat’s what she wanted for me—don’t keer what it cost. Git up on uh high chair and sit dere. She didn’t have time tuh think what tuh do after you got up on de stool uh do nothin’. De object wuz tuh git dere. So Ah got up on de high stool lak she told me, but Pheoby, Ah done nearly languished tuh death up dere. Ah felt like de world wuz cryin’ extry and Ah ain’t read de common news get.

Sigh. I love that. This passage occurs as Janie is explaining to her friend why she left her second husband, a wealthy storeowner who basically treated her as an ornament. This is such a beautiful, wonderful book.

All She Ever Wanted by Anita Shreve
I count you among the most fortunate of persons to have felt so strongly for another human being, however unhappy the outcome. Is this not the point of our existence?

This passage really speaks to me because it makes me think about my first love and my first broken heart. I remember how badly I hurt, but I also remember how grateful I was that I had the chance to love someone like that.

The Alchemist's Daughter by Katharine McMahon
He didn’t teach me that with some people what seems to be real, isn’t real at all. I used to trust what I saw. He taught me that if I could see a thing and touch it, and if it behaved as I hoped it would, then these were true qualities. But I find that men aren’t like that, so how do I know what I can trust?

I think that this passage by itself is wonderful. But it also is an amazing synopsis of the book. The heroine was raised by her scientist father, and she lived with him until she met a man who seduced her, married her, and took her away from her sheltered life. I just love how McMahon was able to capture her book in this single passage.

Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazer
Maybe I should have packed up and gone to Washington for good, used my friends there to find a position. Put that Wayah Town behind me. There are many who can make new selves at a moment's notice. Slough a skin, dismiss memory, move on. But that is not a skill I ever acquired.

Like the character in this book, I have never acquired that skill either. I remember reading this and thinking of the people I know who seem to be able to move to another stage of their life and abandon the old one. And I thought about how much I value the people I've met at each stage of my life and how I hope to never lose those connections.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
I would give up the unessential; I would give up my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself. I can’t make it more clear; it’s only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me.

This is so powerful. It is a distinction I think a lot of modern mothers are not able to make. When I read this I recalled the feeling I got when I read The Feminine Mystique for the first time. I remember being overcome with the need to call my mother and thank her for never sacrificing her own identify for me. That, in my opinion, is the best gift a mother can give.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Oh, Wuthering Heights, where do I start? The romance in this book is unparalleled—it moved me more than any love story ever has. I cry when I reread these passages. (Yes, I'm that lame.) There are so many passages that make me cry and take my breath away. Here are my favorites.

What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning; my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger; I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath—a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind—not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.

Two words would comprehend my future—death and hell; existence, after losing her, would be hell. Yet I was a fool to fancy for a moment that she valued Edgar Linton’s attachment more than mine. If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn’t love as much in eighty years as I could in a day. And Catherine has a heart as deep as I have; the sea could be as readily contained in the horse trough, as her whole affection be monopolized by him.

“You teach me how cruel you’ve been—cruel and false. Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry, and wring out my kisses and tears; they’ll blight you—they’ll damn you. You loved me—then what right had you to leave me? What right—answer me—for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart—you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine. So much the worse for me, that I am strong. Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you—oh, God! would you like to live with your soul in the grave?”
“Let me alone. Let me alone,” sobbed Catherine. “If I’ve done wrong, I’m dying for it. It is enough! You left me too—but I won’t upbraid you! I forgive you. Forgive me!”
“It is hard to forgive, and to look at those eyes, and feel those wasted hands,” he answered. “Kiss me again, and don’t let me see your eyes! I forgive what you have done to me. I love
my murderer—but yours! How can I?”

May she wake in torment!” he cried, with frightful vehemence, stamping his foot, and groaning in a sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion. “Why, she’s a liar to the end! Where is she? Not there—not in heaven—not perished—where? Oh! you said you cared nothing for my sufferings! And I pray one prayer—I repeat it till my tongue stiffens—Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living! You said I killed you—haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers. I believe—I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!

Yes, I know Heathcliff and Cathy love past the point of madness, but I still eat it up. Swoon!

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Mrs. Allen was one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them.

An observation only a single woman can truly appreciate, I think.

River Lady by Jude Deveraux
Immediately, Wesley knew there was only one cure for her misery: he was going to make love to her.

And sometimes I write passages down because they are just too ridiculous not to.

Book Review: The Untamed Bride

Full disclosure: I like pretty much everything Stephanie Laurens writes. This summer when I was purging my book collection for a yard sale, her books were absolute keepers. So my love of her work probably makes me biased when I review her books.

The Untamed Bride is the first in Laurens's new four-part series about the Black Cobra Cult and the four Englishmen who are tasking with bringing it down. The four men are army officers who have been stationed in India since Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. (Laurens ties these men to the Cynsters—the family that most of her books are based on—by explaining that they fought with the Cynster men at Waterloo.) The governor of India turns to the four men when he needs help in bringing down a villainous cult that follows a man called The Black Cobra. These cultists are essentially terrorists who go into villages and murder, rape, and pillage for no purpose other than to cause civil unrest. The British government has surmised that the Black Cobra himself is an Englishman who is capitalizing on the general feelings of anti-imperialism. The four men (actually five, as I'll explain) finally find the man they believe to be responsible after a few months of investigation. But this man is the son of one of the most powerful peers in England, an earl who essentially has the Prince Regent's ear. So they cannot accuse the son of being an evil cult leader without solid, irrefutable evidence. It is only after one of the five is murdered by the cultists that the other four discover their fallen comrade managed to attain this crucial evidence before he died. And he passed it on to them.

Royce, the Duke of Wolverstone (a.k.a. Dalziel from Laurens's Bastion Club series) is England's ex-spymaster, and he devises a plan for the men to bring the evidence safely back to England where he will then publicly expose the public. Three of the men will carry a copy of the evidence and one will carry the original—but no one will know which is which. Each man is to travel by a separate route back to England—but they will not know each other's routes. Only Royce knows the routes, but even he does not know who is going which way. Each man resigns his military commission and goes on his way. That is essentially the introduction to the whole series. And of course, because this is a series of romance novels, each man will undoubtedly acquire a lovely young lady along the way.

The Untamed Bride is Derek's story. Derek (or Del as he is called because of his last name that I can't remember—Delborough, maybe?) is the oldest and highest ranking of the men. He travels by sea back to England, and although there are a few threats on his life along the way, he makes it safely to Southampton. But there is a letter waiting for him at Southampton from his only living relatives—his aunts—telling him that they have arranged for him to escort a Miss Deliah Duncannon to her home (which is in the same county as Del's family home). His aunts, of course, don't know that Del has more pressing matters on his plate. He tries to avoid the responsibility of escorting Deliah, until she quite by chance happens to save his life from a Black Cobra assassin. Because the assassin saw her, she is now at risk, and Del agrees that she will join him. Oh yeah, and Deliah is a stone-cold fox.

A lot of people complain that Laurens's heros and heroines are all the same. And... they are. But in this book, I think it works. Deliah is returning to England after seven years away in Jamaica where she was sent by her family after she had an affair with a man that did not do the honorable thing (i.e., he slept with her and refused to marry her). She's a very headstrong character who basically tells Del what he's going to do and when he's going to do it. But her sexual desires and strong personality have left her feeling like she does not fit in among polite society. When Del tells her that she is going to meet all of the Cynster wives (oh, yeah, there is totally a Cynster reunion in this book) which includes a duchess, a countess, and a lot of rich married women, she is understandably very nervous and worried about fitting in. But, because she's just like all the other Laurens heroines, it is actually a wonderful experience for her to find a group of women that see all her characteristics as strengths and not flaws. I thought that was very well done of Laurens. I also thought it was a bit of a response to her critics, as if she was saying, "There's a reason they're all the same, you know." I liked the fact that Deliah could be a strong woman who still had a lot of insecurities because it made it easier to relate to her.

Also, I gotta say, I actually liked that the hero and heroine jumped into bed with each other (not right away) with little prior thought or planning. If you've ever read a Laurens book, you know that the build-up to the nookie is often ridiculously drawn out. That was one aspect that made this book feel different than her others. All in all, this wasn't my favorite Laurens book, but it was still a fun read. In the back of the book there is a sneak peak of the next book in the series, The Elusive Bride, and I'm really looking forward to that one, too. The heroine, Emily, was with the fifth officer when he died, and she is the one that passes the evidence on to the other four men. Should be a good read!

Book Musings

I was in Barnes & Noble today, and I noticed a few things:

1. Am I the only one who gets depressed in bookstores because there are so many books you want to read but never enough time?

2. Why do parents let their kids scream repeatedly in B&N? I think it's akin to a library. (Not that public screaming is okay in any store, but bookstores seem worse somehow.)

3. They have issued a deluxe edition of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It has painted illustrations and a gorgeous hardcover. I'm pretty pissed because I want it bad but I already have the original paperback edition! Urgh! I mean, I understand that they couldn't come out with that edition until they knew the book would be a success, but still! I want! (Family members, take note for Christmas!)

4. I have decided to give Jane Eyre another try. Mostly because I totally want this shirt, and I need to decide if Mr. Rochester is on the same playing field with Heathcliff, WHO I ADORE. (BTW, check out Kate Beaton's comic that the shirt is based on. It is awesome.) Last time I tried to read Jane Eyre, I was in high school and generally had poor literary tastes. I think I quit before Jane even met Rochester because as I recall it was quite depressing. I already know the ending, though, so hopefully that doesn't ruin the experience. I don't think it will because I've come to realize that I enjoy the classics for the amazing writing more than the pure story. I have my beloved romance novels for the stories.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Review: Les Liaisons Dangereuses

If you've seen the movie "Dangerous Liaisons" or "Cruel Intentions," then you have a pretty good grasp of what Les Liaisons Dangereuses is about. But I would still recommend reading the book because it's awesome.

Don't you love how my book reviews read like 6th 3rd grade book reports? I thought so.

Okay, I will say more. Les Liaisons Dangereuses is set in France during the 1780's (pre-Revolution). The format of the book is 175 letters written between the various characters. The two principle characters are the Vicomte (Viscount) de Valmont and the Marquise (Marchioness) de Merteuil. The book revolves around them and their relationship. Valmont is generally known as a rouge, a rake, a man who seduces women for sport. The Marquise, however, is a wealthy aristocratic widow who has maintained an air of social respectability. But she is the really the one to watch out for.

Valmont and M. de Merteuil meet when their respective lovers cast them aside in order to "hook up," for lack of a better term. The two of them form their own attachment (and by "attachment" I mean sexual dalliance) after the experience, and remain friends after they part ways. M. de Merteuil, however, holds quite a grudge against the man who cast her aside, the Comte (Count) de Gercourt. When the opportunity to get back at him presents itself, she takes advantage of it.

A distant relative of hers, the Madame de Volanges, has a fifteen year-old daughter fresh out of the convent, named Cecile, and she has arranged a marriage between her daughter and Gercourt. M. de Merteuil is outraged and insulted when she discovers this, in part because it adds insult to injury that she should in any way to related to Gercourt. So she hatches a plan to cuckhold Gercourt by ensuring that his innocent bride-to-be is not-so-innocent when she marries him. For this, she needs the assistance of her friend and legendary seducer-of-women, Valmont.

But Valmont has a scheme of his own. He is visiting his aunt's country home when he meets the Presidente de Tourvel, a beautiful and virtuous woman who is renowned for her faith, piety, and fidelity. What better challenge could there be, what greater claim to greatness could he acquire, than if he were to seduce the Presidente and gain her submission? He turns down M. de Merteuil's offer to seduce Cecile Volanges in order to focus on the Presidente. But M. de Merteuil does not give up, she just uses other means to accomplish her goal. Particularly she looks to a young chevalier (knight), Danceny, who shares a mutual affection with Cecile.

But when Valmont's efforts are hindered after Madame de Volanges tells the Presidente about his reputation, he decides to take his revenge upon Madame de Volanges by taking on the seduction of both the Presidente and Cecile.

Valmont and the M. de Merteuil are absolutely ruthless. They lie effortlessly in letters to their victims, then gleefully relate their successes in letters to each other. I love the letter format of this book because it beautifully demonstrates their duplicity and utter lack of shame. And although Valmont is the character who does most of the work in this book—he is the one doing the on-the-ground seduction—this book belongs to the M. de Merteuil. She's a fascinating character, and I think Laclos is an absolute genius for creating her and knowing exactly how she would act and react in certain situations. My favorite line of hers comes when she is describing her latest boy toy and how he wants their relationship to be exclusive: "He must rate me lightly indeed, if he believes he has worth enough to make me constant!" God, is that the story of my life or what?

Valmont's character development is certainly a crucial plot point of this book (and if I recall, it seemed to dominate the movie Cruel Intentions, too) as he begins to fall for the Presidente. But the M. de Merteuil is always one step ahead of him. She sees where he is heading long before he does. She knows just what buttons to push, exactly what to say in order to get Valmont to do what she wants him to do. She's not immune herself, however. The events she and Valmont have put into motion also drag her along a path she never intended to go down. But she was never manipulated. Unlike the other female characters in the book, she falls victim only to herself and her own weaknesses. Despite how evil she is, I love her for that. I respect her for it. She is a one-of-a-kind woman, and she knows it:

Oh! keep your advice and your fear for those delirious women who call themselves sentimental; whose exalted imagination would make one believe that nature has placed their senses in their heads; who, having never reflected, persist in confounding love with the lover; who, in their mad illusion, believe that he with whom they have pursued pleasure is its sole depository; and truly superstitious, show the priest the respect and faith which is only due to the divinity. Be still more afraid for those who, their vanity being larger than their prudence, do not know, at need, how to consent to being abandoned. Tremble, above all, for those women, active in their indolence, whom you call women of sensibility, and over whom love takes hold so easily and with such power; who feel the need of being occupied with it, even when they are not enjoying it; and, giving themselves up unreservedly to the fermentation of their ideas, bring forth from them those letters so sweet, but so dangerous to write, and are not afraid to confide these proofs of their weakness to the object which causes it: imprudent ones, who do not know how to discern in their present lover their enemy to be.

But what have I in common with these unreflecting women?

Above all else, Laclos's story is exquisitely crafted. And the translation I read by Ernest Dowson was also great; everything flowed wonderfully, and each character had their own tone that remained consistent throughout the book. There are parts of this book that made me laugh out loud and parts that made me gasp in disbelief at just how debase Valmont and the M. de Merteuil could be. As far as classics go, it is one of the most entertaining books I've read. If it weren't for the sexy sexy sex all throughout the book, I would have wondered why this isn't more standard school reading. Loved it.

Lindsey's Grade: A+

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Book Review: On Beauty

Anyone who even tangentially follows book news will remember that when Zadie Smith's On Beauty came out a few years ago, it was basically hailed as a masterpiece. It made all sorts of "Best of" lists, and I think it won some awards, too. So when I was looking for a book to read at Charles de Gaulle airport this summer, before a long flight home to the States, I picked this one up. (Also, I had a few euros I needed to get rid of.) I anticipated a reading experience that would knock my socks off.

Not so much.

I truly, honestly think that I am not intellectual enough to "get" this book. The reviews on the cover and all that talk about how funny and hilarious it is. Uh, not funny. Not hilarious. Apparently it's a satire. Of what, I'm still not sure, but I think maybe intellectuals and intellectualism. I am not an intellectual. I will admit that without hesitation. So I think that's why I wasn't able to pick up on the satire.

Zadie Smith, however, is an incredible writer. There's nothing I hate more than reading a book where the author's efforts are so obvious. Good writing is effortless, and Smith's writing is effortless. Unfortunately, I just didn't care about the people she was writing about. The book centers around a family in Massachusetts—the Belseys. The father, Howard, is an art professor at a small college in the town where they live. The mother, Kiki, is a nurse/health administrator. Their three children are Jerome, Zora, and Levi. Everyone has their own story in this book, and most of them are interconnected. I liked Kiki and the kids, but Howard... gross. No. Didn't like him at all. I think he was being satirized, but like I said, if you don't know what is being satirized, it's not funny. (Like that whole New Yorker cover of Michelle Obama during the campaign.)

I read a lot of reviews of this book on, and a lot of people seemed to agree with me that this book was not all that and a bag of chips, as the industry reviews would have led us to believe. So it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who found this to be a rather forgettable book. I guess that in the end I'm not sorry I read it, though. Maybe someday I can have a pseudo-intellectual conversation with someone about how I'm not intellectual enough to enjoy it.

Book Review: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

Earlier this year I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and as one would expect from the title, it was amazing. When people expressed puzzlement over what the book would be like, I responded with, "It's Pride and Prejudice. With zombies." And a big part of what made the book so enjoyable was reading familiar dialogue that had a whole different meaning. For instance, my favorite example of this is when Lady Catherine questions Elizabeth about her education, etc. In the original novel, Lady Catherine is of course asking about the standard education for young women of gentility. She expresses shock that five girls have been brought up without a governess. In P & P & Z, the "education" they discuss is their martial arts education (aimed of course at how to defend oneself against zombies). Lady Catherine expresses shock that they have no ninjas, if I recall correct.

I don't know, maybe it's just me, but the whole concept of the same, traditional dialogue having a new, zombie-related meaning, was my favorite thing about the book.

After reading P & P & Z, I anxiously awaited the release of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Now, Sense and Sensibility is actually the only one of Austen's books that I have not actually read, but I own two separate film adaptations, and I love both of them.

But I didn't find S & S & SM to be nearly as enjoyable as P & P & Z. Mostly because the story had much more significant deviations from Austen's story than P & P & Z did. Apparently this was intentional. I read in an article by S & S & SM's author that the feedback on P & P & Z asked for less of Austen's original text. (As the article reports, 85% of P & P & Z was Austen's text.) So the publisher gave the author of S & S & SM permission to embellish significantly more. Blasphemy, I say.

Not that there aren't high points to S & S & SM. The scene where Lucy Steele tells Elinor about her engagement to Edward is pretty awesome. And there was one line by Mrs. Jennings that was utter delight, but all in all, I didn't find as much humor here as I did in P & P & Z. I think there may be another reason for that, however, apart from the dialogue/text. Pride and Prejudice is just full of characters ripe for parody; Sense and Sensibility, less so. Mrs. Jennings and Sir John were pretty much it as far as humor goes in S & S & SM. But in P & P & Z we had Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine, Lydia, Wickham, and Charlotte Lucas (hands down the funniest).

I'm curious to see what Quirk books will tackle next, however.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Book Review: Birdsong

It seems to me that the majority of war movies and war novels that I've encountered have dealt with World War II. I don't know why that is exactly, but I suspect it has to do with a few things: (1) It is seen as the "noble" war because of Hilter and the Nazis; (2) There are so many high-profile things to come out of WWII such as the Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, and Hiroshima/Nagasaki; and (3) Many people have known people who are still alive that fought in the war.

World War I, on the other hand, doesn't seem to get much attention. That is one thing I liked about Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks—it pays the proper homage to the men that fought in the trenches. This book is pretty intense. When Faulks takes his characters through the Battle of Somme in July of 1916, I had to stop reading and take a break. It was just too much for me. Normally I don't have a problem watching or reading about horrible things, but somehow this was different. I think that when you read a work of fiction that deals with a homicidal psychopath, or even hear about something like that on the news, it is not so difficult to take in because, although you know these things happen to actual people, you can assure yourself that it's rare and isolated.

You can't do that when you read about the lives of the soldiers in Birdsong because these experiences were not rare and isolated. A generation of men lived through this hell, and it was hell.

Once more in ragged suicidal lines they trudged toward the pattering death of mounted guns. Bloodied beyond caring, Stephen watched the packets of lives with their memories and loves go spinning and vomiting into the ground. Death had no meaning, but still the numbers of them went on and on and in that new infinity there was still horror.

It feels real because it is real. Great Britain just lost its last WWI veteran about a month ago, and the knowledge that a man who had experienced all of this lived on this earth with me is pretty powerful. I didn't much care for Part I of this book, which involved the pre-war experiences of the main character, Stephen Wraysford, because I felt that it was a pretty run-of-the-mill romance. But I suppose it's necessary to set you up for Stephen's experiences during the war. There are also a few portions set in 1978 with Stephen's granddaughter that I could have done without, but they also just serve to amplify the other portions of the book.

As far as war novels go, this is one of the best I've ever read. This was supposed to be "The War to End All Wars," and I can certainly understand why. How anyone who lived through that could ever want to enter into another war twenty years later is beyond me.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Summer Book Clubs

I joined two books clubs this summer, and between the two clubs I read four books. (I did not read a fifth book club book due to a longer-than-expected recovery from wisdom teeth extraction surgery. Ouch!) But anyway, here they are.

I don't even know where to start with this book. It is (inexplicably) set in 1991, and it centers around Connie, a doctoral candidate in history at Harvard University. Connie has just been granted candidacy and has to start thinking about thesis subjects when her mother asks her to look after an old house about an hour from Cambridge that belonged to Connie's grandmother. While Connie is exploring the old house, she finds a piece of paper with the words "Deliverance Dane" on them. Because she's curious and seems to want to avoid her thesis work, Connie starts investigating and discovers Deliverance Dane was a witch (at least ruled to be one) that bequeathed a book to her daughter, who then passed it on, etc, etc. Connie searches for this book for the rest of the novel.

Don't waste your time reading this book. I personally don't think it ever goes anywhere interesting. The ending is predictable, and Connie is a fucking idiot. We're supposed to believe she's this brilliant scholar, but the damn woman doesn't even realize what her own name is. Seriously. I'm not making that up. I figured out what her name actually was and what significance it held before she did. Lame. Katherine Howe seems to think that her readers are retarded and will put up with Connie being so dumb.

But what I disliked most about The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane was that is so obviously full of smug. Howe is clearly a New Englander who did graduate work at Harvard, because, from the way she writes this book, she seems to think that Connie's life is pretty normal. Not only that, she is always throwing in little comments about grad school, Harvard, New England, etc, to prove to the reader that she's an insider or something. It's so annoying, because I really felt like the privilege of her life was completely lost on Howe. I know people say to write about what you know, but most of the world doesn't give a shit about some lame-ass grad student from 1991 who wears a lot of turtlenecks and spends her summer doing NOTHING worthwhile. Meanwhile, people are losing their homes and children are going hungry.

Don't read Sarah's Key if you don't want to shoot yourself in the head afterwards. Okay, that's unfair. But this book is super depressing.

It is mostly set in modern Paris. The main character Julia is an American who is married to a Frenchman and has lived in Paris for years. She works as a journalist, and one day she is assigned to write about the anniversary of an event in Paris history when the French government collaborated with the Nazi occupiers to detain and deport Parisian Jews. From one of the first deportations, most people went to Auschwitz and a staggering percentage of them died.

I forget how Julia makes the connection, but she eventually links the apartment she and her husband have inherited from his grandmother to a Jewish family that lived there before being taken away, particularly their young daughter. The incredibly sad story revolves around this girl.

I did like this book, but at the same time I didn't. I liked it because it alerted me to a part of French history that I really didn't know about. The author's characterizations of the French people in the book and the way they reacted to it was very interesting, and I got the impression it was something she'd experienced firsthand. A lot of French people do not like to talk about these events because it is a very shameful part of their history. This was not Nazi's knocking on doors, rounding people up, and busing them to their deaths—this was French police and French people. But on the other hand, Julia's reaction to events 60 years in the past that she had nothing to do with struck me as very manufactured. You'd have to read the book to know what I mean, but it just seemed unnatural to me how emotionally involved Julia got.

Fun tidbit: I got a little worked up at the book club discussion of this book after a woman in the group shared her thought that "religion is to blame for all bad things," or something along those lines. I'm all for laying blame at religion's feet when it's due, but I hardly think that the Holocaust can be laid at the feet of religion.

Here's what I will say about Run: it was a good story, but I didn't really take away any deeper message. The story revolves around an incident in Boston during the winter. Tip and Teddy are black, biological brothers who were adopted by a white couple. When they were very small, their adopted mother died of cancer, and they were raised by their father, Doyle, who eventually becomes mayor of Boston. They have an older brother, Sullivan, who is their parent's biological child.

When they're older, Sullivan is the black sheep who lived through a scandal that damaged his father's career. Doyle has poured all of his energy into Tip and Teddy with aspirations of them going into politics, but neither is interested. Tip just wants to study ichthyology (his major in college), and Teddy is interested in the priesthood (their mother's uncle is a Catholic priest). The three of them (Doyle, Tip, and Teddy) go to a Jesse Jackson lecture Doyle forced them to go to, and as they're leaving a car nearly hits Tip as he's not paying attention. He is saved when a woman knocks him out of the way, only to be hit herself. Her ten year-old daughter Kenya witnesses it. It's not really a spoiler if I tell you that the woman is Tip and Teddy's biological mother, and she's severely injured.

The rest of the book is basically about the aftermath of the accident, and Kenya. Like I said, I really enjoyed the story, but I was not really moved by it, in the sense that I'll remember this book for years to come. Not a bad read, though.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, however, is great. A very, very good book. It is centered around two woman from Afghanistan, and their stories are so sad. It is a great way to get a better grasp on what life is like for Afghani women, even though this book spans a couple decades.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Crazy For The Storm

I saw this book at Starbucks, and even though it seemed over-exposed and generic, I thought it sounded like a good read….it was.

It is the true, autobiographical story of Norm, an 11-yo California kid with divorced, but attentive parents. He just won the state championship for down-hill skiing and is flying back to pick up his trophy when his plane crashes, killing the pilot and his beloved father. The book flashes back between the crash and past experiences with him and his father as he was growing up.

At first, I felt like Norm was just a spoiled, un-appreciative kid that didn’t know what a good life he had. I think the author did this on purpose in order to juxtapose the reality of his situation before and after the crash. The scenes from the crash were kind of hard to picture (I just skipped over most of the descriptions because they didn’t make much sense). It was still very engrossing, and I had to keep reminding myself that he was only 11 years old!

My only beef was that I felt like there was a big chunk missing from the book. After telling the story of the crash, he takes the timeline up until he is about 13 years old, and he still hasn’t come to terms with his father’s death. Then he leaves all these issues unresolved and jumps up to when he is in his 40’s with a son of his own. While I enjoyed and was strangely touched by the scenes with his own son, I would have liked to know if he got counseling, why he chose to go to UCLA (instead of Yale or Harvard like his dad wanted), if he ever skied professionally again.

Love the one you're with

Emily Giffin really has a talented writing style. She makes you identify with the characters in her books to a degree that I have not experienced with any other author. Her other books include “Something Borrowed” and “Something Blue”. I really liked this book a lot. It was a little bit hard to read because I hate anything that has to do with adultery. This book is about a woman who has been happily married for only 3 months when she runs across her old boyfriend, the one who got away. She never fully understood why they had broken up, but he makes it clear that he wants to turn back the clock when he sees her again.

As the character progresses through the story, rationalizing and making decisions that place her closer and closer to her ex, however innocently, I inexplicably find myself thinking that I would have done the same. I won’t spoil the ending for all you readers because it is a great book that feels very real-to-life, don’t miss it!

Careless in Red

I’ve read every book that Elizabeth George has written. She is the best mystery/suspense writer out there. Her novels are not so much “scary” mysterious as they are “intellectually” mysterious. This is her latest book. Her hero, Detective Lynley is hiking along the England coastline, still reeling from the senseless and tragic murder of his wife and unborn child when he finds a body. Against his will, he is drawn into the investigation. While I wouldn’t rate this as one of her best books, I was pleasantly surprised. I had all but written George off because I loved the character of Helen, Lynley’s slain wife. I didn’t see how the story-line could be continued without her. However, I was pleasantly surprised that I still cared for the other characters enough to remain interested. I think George was laying the groundwork in this book for Lynley’s recovery and in future books there may be new romantic possibilities? There is one in this book, but he just isn’t ready. I’m looking forward to her future writings.

Born to Run

I can’t remember where I first heard of this book, but I never would have picked it up and paid full price if I hadn’t gotten a tip that it was good. But it wasn’t just good….

…it was amazing! It starts off with a 50-something guy who suffers from running injuries. He is told by multiple doctors that he was not built to run and needs to stop. This isn’t a option for him because he loves running and wants to complete an ultra-marathon (50-miles). He embarks on a journey to unlock the secrets of long-distance runners. Along the way he exposes the athletic-shoe industry and the marketing that duped us all into thinking we need ultra-padded, ultra-air/gel shoes to cushion this unnatural human activity…running. In reality, the human body was built for long distance running, most of us just go about it the wrong way. In fact, it may be our running prowess that gave us the evolutionary edge against the Neanderthals.

The author manages to transform himself into an injury-free distance runner with the help of a good coach, a new stride and an old, worn-out pair of shoes. The book climaxes with a secret 50-mile race through the Mexico mountains, pitting the greatest ultra-marathoner in the US against the greatest ones in the world, the Tarahumara Indians. While I can definitely guarantee that I’ll never run an ultra-marathon, I found this book to be inspirational to the human spirit and an excellent read, even if you aren’t an athlete…yet!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Book Review: Blue Smoke and Murder

Good news! Blue Smoke and Murder is classic Lowell and not the disappointing piles of poop The Wrong Hostage and Innocent as Sin were. This book is more on the scale of Always Time to Die (which I enjoyed).

It still centers around St. Kilda Consulting, which I think it totally weird, but whatever. The heroine, Jill, is a river guide who saves the life of a son of two St. Kilda operatives. In payment, his father tells her that if she ever needs help, to call him. Scarcely a month later, Jill's great-aunt dies in a suspicious fire, one of twelve family paintings is destroyed, and Jill's life is threatened. So she calls in her favor, and hottie operative Zach shows up to help her out.

The story really centers around the painting, and Lowell goes on and on about Western art. (If you've ever read an Elizabeth Lowell contemporary, you know how she tends to do that with art, jewels, minerals, etc.) But it isn't as boring as it usually is.

Also, there is real, genuine chemistry between Jill and Zach. That was something that was definitely missing in Innocent as Sin.

It was an entertaining read.

Book Review: Death Angel

Started off interesting.

Ended boring.

Too much internal contemplation by the characters.

Not enough dialogue.

Book Review: At Last Comes Love

Turns out, this review is a bit like the last one, given that I'm reviewing the third book in a series. This time it's Mary Balogh's Huxtable series. (I think there are going to be two more.) The series is about a family of siblings, the Huxtables, who grew up modestly as the children of a clergyman. Margaret is the oldest, then Vanessa, then Katherine, then the only son, Stephen. In the first book, First Comes Marriage they are living in a small village, all under the same roof except Vanessa, who married a local man and was widowed a year later. She lives with her in-laws until a nobleman shows up in the village one day and announces that Stephen, at seventeen, is now an earl due to the death of some distant relatives.

I can't exactly remember why the nobleman (I'm going to call him Elliott, because that's his name) decides that he's going to marry one of the Huxtable sisters, but he does. And he settles on Margaret, who is the oldest and also very beautiful. But Margaret has been in love with her childhood sweetheart for years, and he's been away at war for four years. Vanessa knows that her sister is waiting on her long-lost love, so she intervenes and offers herself to Elliott.

The rest of the book deals with their relationship, and I liked it, but that's probably because I like all Mary Balogh books. Vanessa has some issues she needs to deal with due to the fact that she's the ugly duckling among her beautiful siblings. And I can't remember Elliott's issues, but I seem to remember that he said some, too. I liked this book.

Then Comes Seduction is Katherine's story. It starts when she unfortunately becomes the object of a bet by Jasper, a young, rakish baron. He bets that he can get her to surrender her virginity in a fortnight, and he almost succeeds. But at the last minute he has an attack of conscience, and steps away.

Three years later, they encounter each other again, and because the bet was made publicly in a gambling house, the men of society know about their past. A scandal threatens, and Katherine reluctantly agrees to marry him.

I liked this book, too. Balogh's books are hard to describe because they focus so much on the relationship between the hero and heroine. There's usually not a whole else going on externally. I seem to remember, however, that Jasper had a motivation for entering the marriage, as well. He has a younger half-sister, and he shares guardianship with her cousin, who wants nothing more than to have full-guardianship (and access to her fortune). A respectable wife would help Jasper's cause in that area.

I think it is at the end of First Comes Marriage that Margaret finds out that the man she's been waiting for, Crispin Dew, married a Spanish lady when he was away at war. Naturally she's very hurt and feels betrayed. She's thirty when she encounters Crispin for the first time, and because he has wounded her pride, she lies and tells him that she's engaged. She actually expects to get engaged soon, because she has a male friend who has proposed many times but that she has always turned down. But lately she had been thinking that she wants to accept and start her own family, instead of just being aunt to her sister's children.

Unfortunately for Margaret, the night she plans on accepting him is the night her friend announces his engagement to someone else. So Margaret finds herself at a ball with Crispin and no fiance. Lucky for her, when she flees the ballroom she runs into a man who conveniently agrees to be her fiance. As it turns out, he's been a social outcast for the past five years due to the fact that he left his bride at the altar and ran away with her married sister-in-law.

Like I said, Balogh's books are all about the relationships, so there's not much more to say other than I liked this book, but I didn't love it.

Book Review: Always a Scoundrel

I just recently finished reading Always a Scoundrel by Suzanne Enoch, the third book in her Notorious Gentlemen trilogy. The series follows three male friends in Regency England who fought together in the Peninsular Wars. The hero of the first book, After the Kiss, is Sullivan Waring, the illegitimate son of a nobleman. The hero of the second book, Before the Scandal is Phinneas Something-or-Other, the younger brother of a nobleman. And this book is about Bramwell Johns, the second son of a duke. Perhaps it's the fact that the three of them lack the responsibilities that go along with a title that makes these guys act so "notoriously." Sully is a housethief, Phin is a highwayman, and Bram copies Sully to become a housethief himself.

I actually really enjoyed After the Kiss. I read a lot of Regency romance novels, so it's not uncommon that I'll read a book without really engaging in it in any way. But that didn't happen this book. I thought that the romance between the hero and heroine was sweet and genuine. Also, the development of their relationship came across as very natural, not rushed, as often happens in romance novels.

Before the Scandal, however, must have been very forgettable because I basically forgot everything about it. I couldn't even remember what the heroine's name was when I was reading Always a Scoundrel. Oops.

I would say that After the Scoundrel was better than the second book but not as good as the first. Bramwell Johns is supposed to be the ultimate bad guy, totally beyond redemption. He's friends with the worst guy in the ton. (I can't remember his name.) The two of them don't really have a real friendship because no one is really friends with the other guy. Also, Bram is not quite the lost cause his friend is because when he finds out that his friend is blackmailing a young lady to marry him, he feels the need to prevent the marriage.

As it just so happens, he falls in love with the lady himself.

What was hard for me to buy about the story was Bram's reformation. I'm kind of tired of that storyline. And, I didn't understand what it was about Rosamund that changed his mind. Smart Bitch Candy would attribute it to Rose's magic hoo-haa. Despite the fact that she's perfectly ordinary, he is dying to have her. It's a little hard to believe.

And there's another reason why I don't like that tired storyline. These rakish heroes are always total manwhores before they meet their heroines. And almost without fail, the women that they sleep with are portrayed as slutty, vindictive, moral-less women. Meanwhile, the heroes just move on to the virginal heroine.

That really bothers me. It takes two to tango, but it is only the women who have sex outside of love who are so villainized. They are written as really, really terrible people. It makes you wonder why these men even bothered with them to begin with, and why they seem to be capable of redemption but the women don't. It just makes me uncomfortable that they are always passed over for the pure virgins.

But all in all, Always the Scoundrel was a pretty good book if you can get past Bram's transformation from rakehell to devoted husband.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Book Review: Mistress of the Monarchy

The first book I ever read by Alison Weir was The Wars of the Roses. I had just taken History of England in my freshman year of college and the people and events of the time period captivated me. After I read the book, I was also captivated by one historical figure in particular, John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III of England.

There is just something about John of Gaunt that draws you in. I probably took notice of him because, although he himself was never king, his direct descendants peppered the throne of not just England but Europe. Every English king starting with Henry IV is a direct descendant of the greatest nobleman in England. The Wars of the Roses are essentially his descendants battling it out. John of Gaunt married Blanche of Lancaster and became the Duke of Lancaster, so obviously the Lancastrians are his descendants. But Richard of York was also his great-grandson by virtue of his bastard daughter, Joan Beaufort. So his blood ran through the Yorkists as well. And not only was Henry VIII his great-great-great-grandson, but Catherine of Aragon was his great-great-granddaughter.

The progeny of John of Gaunt is captivating, but even more so because the Beauforts were his bastards with his mistress, Katherine Swynford. And the Beaufords were pretty bad-ass themselves. Katherine was the daughter of a lowly herald in Edward III's court, but her direct descendants include Edward IV, Edward V, and Richard III (through her daughter Joan Beaufort); Henry VII and all the Tudors (through her son John Beaufort); and also James I and the Stewarts (though both her grandchildren John Beaufort and Joan Beaufort). Her son Henry Beaufort became a cardinal and apparently just narrowly missed being appointed Pope.

So long story short, Katherine Swynford is interesting, particularly because she was John of Gaunt's mistress for nine years before he married her after his second wife died. Mistress of the Monarchy is purportedly about her life, but really it is about her and John. Because she was of rather inconsequential birth, most the information Weir has about Katherine comes from John. For instance, Weir estimates the birthdates of the four Beaufort children based upon substantial gifts John made to her. Any insight into her personal feelings and thoughts is just conjecture, but one thing becomes abundantly clear: John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford loved each other very much. It's just a classic love story—the rich, powerful, noble hero and the beautiful, intelligent heroine. What more could you ask for?