Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Book Thoughts - Unnaturally Green by Felicia Ricci

Unnaturally Green: One Girl's Journey Along a Yellow Brick Road Less Traveled by Felicia Ricci
published 2011
274 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Ever wonder what it's like to perform in a megahit musical (when you have little idea what you're doing)? From her audition to closing night -- to every moment in between -- Felicia takes you behind the scenes of her first professional show (ever!) as she understudies the lead character of Elphaba in Wicked's San Francisco company.

As she leaps professional hurdles, she faces personal challenges as well: falling in love after heartbreak (with a spatula-wielding muscle hunk), living far away from home (in the worst neighborhood of all time), confronting her overachiever demons (and an all-consuming fear of failure), and learning, time and again, what it means to be green.

Hop into the mind of a total newbie as she gazes at professional theater's Man Behind the Curtain, in all his naked glory. Who could look away?

My thoughts:

I had a sneaking suspicion Felicia Ricci and I were going to get along fairly early on in her memoir - she's funny, self-deprecating, and feels like the kind of girl I'd like to hang out with. And then I got to page 57, and this quote:

"I cranked the music louder to drown out my thoughts, but did so at the most inconvenient of moments, just as Alanis Morrisette wailed about rain on my wedding day, which was tragic for obvious reasons, but also for the fact that she was incorrectly illustrating the concept of irony." (p. 57-58)

And YES! My husband and I have been saying that for years, so to find someone so completely random who gets it too - I understand that this has basically nothing to do with the story of a girl who got to be the Elphaba understudy, but it illustrates how quickly and completely I felt a kinship to this woman whose life, really, couldn't be more different than mine.

I came to love musical theater early, when I was a young teen and my mom took me with her to help backstage in the local community theater production of "Camelot". It seemed such a magical place, and the people who got to be a part of it every day the luckiest of people - so Ricci's awe and excitement at finding herself suddenly chosen to join that elite community were understandable.

 Ricci doesn't hide much from her readers - we get to see the fun and glamour, as well as the boredom, sweat, and tears. I hadn't thought about how much time an understudy would spend doing....nothing, and how difficult that could be. She relates her moments of triumph, and the times when she, quite literally, almost falls flat on her face. She is brutally honest about her personal life, as well, and seeing the two aspects of her life grow together makes for quite an interesting read.

Her style is informal - starting out as a blogger seems to have influenced the way she writes, and it worked for me. She tells the reader early on that this is HER memoir, and she'll write what she wants - and that attitude is evident throughout. I laughed, I rooted for her, I looked her up on YouTube - I was thoroughly engaged with this young woman from beginning to end.

I enjoyed this book very much. If you are a fan of musical theater, and of Wicked especially, I highly recommend it. It's a glimpse of the world behind the curtain, and it's fascinating and fun.

Finished: 12/18/11
Source: review copy from the author - thank you!
MPAA rating: PG-13 for language and adult situations
My rating: 8/10

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Book Thoughts - A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
published 1999
1009 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Time is out of joint. The summer of peace and plenty, ten years long, is drawing to a close, and the harsh, chill winter approaches like an angry beast. Two great leaders—Lord Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon—who held sway over an age of enforced peace are dead . . . victims of royal treachery. Now, from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns, as pretenders to the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms prepare to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war.

As a prophecy of doom cuts across the sky—a comet the color of blood and flame—six factions struggle for control of a divided land. Eddard’s son Robb has declared himself King in the North. In the south, Joffrey, the heir apparent, rules in name only, victim of the scheming courtiers who teem over King’s Landing. Robert’s two brothers each seek their own dominion, while a disfavored house turns once more to conquest. And a continent away, an exiled queen, the Mother of Dragons, risks everything to lead her precious brood across a hard hot desert to win back the crown that is rightfully hers.

A Clash of Kings transports us into a magnificent, forgotten land of revelry and revenge, wizardry and warfare. It is a tale in which maidens cavort with madmen, brother plots against brother, and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside.
Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, the price of glory may be measured in blood. And the spoils of victory may just go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel . . . and the coldest hearts. For when rulers clash, all of the land feels the tremors.

My thoughts:

October 29 - This is the second book in the series, and does feel a bit like a "connector" novel- lots of people getting to the places they need to be for the BIG SCENE that hasn't quite happened yet. All of Martin's fascinating characters are back, and he introduces us to even more - my husband tells me to get used to the new character thing, as it apparently happens in all the novels. I am already amazed that Martin can keep everyone straight in his own head.

Because there is so much traveling around, this second novel doesn't have quite the same "holy cow I have to keep reading to see what happens next" aspect that was such a part of the first one, and the war machinations are just not that exciting for me. However, I am loving the new insights Martin is giving us into his characters, and the way he infuses both good and bad into each. I know Theon is a bad guy, but Martin allows me to feel sympathetic toward his anyway by showing me how he has been displaced and marginalized all his life. I know Tyrion is a Lannister, and the Lannisters are evil, but then he helps Sansa and works against Cersei, and I start to like him despite myself. Joffrey is still a horrible little brat, but everyone else has such depth. I can't imagine how much the characters are going to live and breath for me as I read farther and farther in the series.

November 12 - Okay, scratch that - wow, does a lot of stuff happen at the end of this novel! Still quite a bit of warring, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit to skimming quite a bit of that. But my goodness, I did not expect the last several chapters. Every time I think I can see what's coming, Martin throws the story in a completely different way. It sure makes for great reading!

One of the things I think he does so well is allow the reader to view so many varying perspectives - we see individual characters' perspectives, as each chapter is told from a separate point of view. The war and upheaval are very different things to Arya and Tyrion, for example. Then he broadens out, and reminds us of the many things that have occurred that half of the characters don't even know about yet - their perspectives are much smaller than ours, because of their distance or proximity to certain events. And then, in the back of our minds, there is the nagging suspicion that all these wars and intrigues and struggles probably won't even matter anyway, because what in the world is coming over The Wall? And what will happen when the dragons arrive? The scope of Martin's storytelling is quite amazing, and I can't wait to see what happens next.

I would love to tell everyone I know to read this series, but I suspect that unless you are a fan of the genre this won't be for you. You should definitely not read this novel until you've read the first in the series - this is not a series to take out of order! My husband is on book 5, and tells me the next novel (A Storm of Swords) is even better - I can't wait!

Finished: 11/12/11
Source: my shelves
MPAA rating: R - violence, death, war, etc.
My rating: 9/10

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Book Thoughts - Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi
audiobook - narrated by Will Wheaton
published 2005
audiobook release date 12-7-10

Synopsis from publisher:

The space-faring Yherajk have come to Earth to meet us and to begin humanity's first interstellar friendship. There's just one problem: They're hideously ugly and they smell like rotting fish. So getting humanity's trust is a challenge. The Yherajk need someone who can help them close the deal. Enter Thomas Stein, who knows something about closing deals. He's one of Hollywood's hottest young agents. But although Stein may have just concluded the biggest deal of his career, it's quite another thing to negotiate for an entire alien race. To earn his percentage this time, he's going to need all the smarts, skills, and wits he can muster.
My thoughts:

1. I can listen to audiobooks on my Kindle?? Life just got a little bit better.

2. Apparently John Scalzi wrote this novel for "practice". I would imagine that makes struggling writers want to punch him, just a little.

3. How can a novel that is one part Jerry Maguire, one part Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and narrated by Wesley Crusher go wrong? It can't.

Agent to the Stars was just plain fun. I listened to most of it on my commutes to and from work, and often didn't want to go inside because I was having too much fun. In true Scalzi form, there are moments of serious emotion, and moments of philosophical introspection, but this more than any of his novels was complete entertainment. As the story reached its inevitable conclusion - and, truly, how else could it end? - I really didn't want it to be over. I would love to see this story portrayed in a visual medium of some kind - perhaps as an HBO or AMC series, since we have seen how well they do book-to-tv translations. These characters found a spot in my heart, and I'd love to walk another chapter with them.

Since I'm not terribly seasoned as an audiobook listener or reviewer, I don't yet know how Will Wheaton compares to other narrators, but I thought he was absolutely perfect for this novel. He was able to give each character his or her own voice, while still maintaining the tone of the overall story. He had me laughing out loud as he delivered Scalzi's sarcastic, pure-hearted Joshua. His timing and phrasing felt exactly right for the story he had to tell.

I cannot tell you how excited I am that I am able to read audiobooks on my Kindle! We have a subscription to, and my library also allows me to check out audiobooks, so I am very excited about this new adventure in my reading life. If you have recommendations, I would love to hear them! I know a couple of bloggers who regularly read and review audiobooks, so you can bet I will be scouring their blogs for good stuff.

Finished: 10-13-11
MPAA rating: R for language and adult situations
My rating: 8/10

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Book Thoughts - Carry Yourself Back To Me by Deborah Reed

Carry Yourself Back To Me by Deborah Reed
published 9/20/11
316 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Famed alt-country artist Annie Walsh has more than enough reason to sing her version of the blues, including a broken heart, a stalled career, and a troubled family. Annie seeks refuge from an upended love affair with her producer, Owen Pettybone, by sequestering herself at home with her old dog Detour, surrounded by a lush Florida tangelo grove. Soon, however, this quiet, small town existence comes crashing down around her. A violent murder connected to her brother Calder threatens to tear her family apart, and forces Annie to shore up her loyalties and uproot profound disappointments from her distant past. The evidence stacks against Calder, compounded by his lifelong affliction with Tourette Syndrome that causes some in the community to unjustly cast aspersions on the soundness of his mind. As the circumstances converge to challenge lifetime ties and forge unexpected new bonds, this soulful, stirring novel shifts its narrative from an imperiled and ever-changing present, where each hour brings an unforeseen and unwelcome piece of news, to the poignant childhood days of first allegiances and life-altering loss.

My thoughts:

September 30 - I've just finished the first section of this novel, and it has been a thoughtful read. There is a blurb on the front of my copy that calls it "...suspenseful, entertaining, and psychologically complex..", and so far I agree with two out of three. I am definitely intrigued by the situation the author has created, and the characters and their motivations are certainly complex. I don't know that I would yet describe it as entertaining, however - it has been rather bleak, with nobody happy in their lives or decisions. I very much like the writing, and Reed does an excellent job of evoking a sense of emotion as she describes a scene. I am very much drawn up into the story of Calder and Annie.

"She's never seen such silvery white clouds. Driftwood in the sky. Her eyes water from the bitter wind, and now the lake, the whole pastoral scene is distorted, as if looking through a fisheye lens. She blinks away tears. The frosty air hums like an E flat. Maybe this is how it feels before a snowfall." (p. 81)

October 2 - Just finished section 2, and my heart is aching. This novel of people caught in the consequences of bad choices, devastated by the results of loving too much, is quietly insinuating itself into my thoughts. The first chapter of section two, where the author foreshadows the falling apart of Annie's family, is incredibly poignant. Meeting this family when it was happy only makes their eventual distance from each other more painful. The author captured me with her story in that chapter, and turned what could have been just an okay read into something that is truly memorable.

October 6 - So, there was just the slightest bit of intensity lost after that remarkable second section, but I still feel like the novel ended well, with just the right amount of loss and redemption. The young Annie anvovd Calder continued to have more draw for me, perhaps because I could imagine what their lives might have been. Perhaps that's the reason this novel had the impact it did for me - the author was able to show exactly what kinds of people her characters could have been, the very slight distance by which happiness eluded them. It is a melancholy story, and the author certainly succeeded in evoking that mood.

I found her style of writing to be lovely - she used words in ways that surprised me, but fit perfectly to create her scene. Nothing in the novel felt like a cliche', and when I had the sense that I knew what was about to happen, it was only because it seemed like that was the only possible choice.

"Something has died in the center of her, hallowed out and blown away like powdery chalk. She starts to say his name but can't. It's no longer in the place she keeps it." (p. 240)

This novel felt like a good fall read - a curl-up-in-a-blanket type book. It was a satisfying read for me - well crafted, with strong characters and a complex set of circumstances. If you are looking for a novel with some substance for your next read, I would give this one a try.

Finished: 10/6/11
Source: review copy from publisher - thank you!
MPAA rating: R for violence, language, and sexual situations
My rating: 8/10

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Thoughts: Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto

Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto
published 2011
304 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Three years after her husband Max's death, Shelley feels no more adjusted to being a widow than she did that first terrible day. That is, until the doorbell rings. Standing on her front step is a young man who looks so much like Max–same smile, same eyes, same age, same adorable bump in his nose–he could be Max's long-lost relation. He introduces himself as Paolo, an Italian editor of American coffee table books, and shows Shelley some childhood photos. Paolo tells her that the man in the photos, the bearded man who Paolo says is his grandfather though he never seems to age, is Max. Her Max. And he is alive and well.
As outrageous as Paolo's claims seem–how could her husband be alive? And if he is, why hasn't he looked her up? – Shelley desperately wants to know the truth. She and Paolo jet across the globe to track Max down–if it is really Max– and along the way, Shelley recounts the European package tour where they had met. As she relives Max's stories of bloody Parisian barricades, medieval Austrian kitchens, and buried Roman boathouses, Shelley begins to piece together the story of who her husband was and what these new revelations mean for her "happily ever after." And as she and Paolo get closer to the truth, Shelley discovers that not all stories end where they are supposed to.
My thoughts:

Sept: 5 - Just opened the book and read the brief prologue - I'm hooked! Hope the rest of the book is this entertaining.

Sept. 19 - The amount of time it is taking me to read this novel is in no way proportional to how much I am enjoying it - because my reading time has been nearly zero, and I am enjoying it quite a bit.  The author is divulging bits and pieces of the mystery as she tells the story in historical flashbacks - some recent history, some much longer-ago history - and I'm still quite intrigued about where we are going to end up. I was worried at first that she was going the route of Forest Gump, where the main character conveniently arrives at the scene of world-changing events just in time to participate, but she's taken a slightly different tactic, which makes the narrative more believable for me.

Really, my biggest issue is that I haven't quite fallen for Max yet, and spend a good deal of my time wondering why Shelly chooses to put up with his shenanigans - of course, my other issue is that Shelly seems to jump headfirst into things with absolutely no foresight or common sense, so that would probably explain the first issue. I'm not yet in love with the love story, which makes those portions of the novel just a little less interesting for me, but overall it's a lot of fun.

Sept. 23 - Well, that was a fun read. While I never quite on on board with the love story, I did find myself rooting for Shelley enough to hope that she finds a happy ending. I think my biggest problem with Max is that he just seems bossy - in the present day, he spends a lot of time telling Shelley what they are going to do. In the stories about his past, I can sympathize with him much more than I could in the present narrative.

I enjoyed the humor the author injected into the narrative throughout the story. Just when things seemed to be getting very serious, or hard to believe, she would give us something funny to remind her readers that she isn't taking herself completely seriously. Shelley's ability to laugh at herself and her situation was refreshing.

I don't think this will probably be in my top 10 favorites of the year, but it was definitely an entertaining story. The author left the ending rather ambiguous - possibly to allow room for a sequel? If that is in the works, I would be happy to read it. This novel jumps through time, and genres, and love stories, and it's a fun ride through it all.

Finished: 9/23/11
Source: review copy from publisher - thank you!
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexuality, language, and intense situations
My rating: 7/10

Monday, September 26, 2011

Now we are ONE!

Happy First Birthday to my book-loving babies!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

BBAW Interview Swap - Meet Misty from Hawaii Book Blog

Welcome to day 2 of Book Blogger Appreciation week, and the always fun Interview Swap.

This year I am happy to be paired with Misty, from Hawaii Book Blog.   Hawaii Book Blog is somewhat different from a "traditional" book reviewing site - they feature books, articles, and literary events specific to Hawaii. You can read their Mission Statement, but here is the short version:

"The main purpose of this blog is to provide people with a comprehensive platform to learn and discuss books about Hawaiʻi and the Pacific, books by local authors, or books published by local companies."

Cool, right? I wonder if anyone has a blog like this for the Midwest - it's a great idea.

 Anyway, meet Misty - she's a cool girl, and also the older sibling in a set of boy/girl fraternal twins. This is especially interesting to ME, because that's what I have at home, and I feel like I should also be interviewing her mom to get tips on how to keep two babies alive into adulthood! =) 

(Edit - I've since learned that I misunderstood - she is the older sister TO a set of boy/girl fraternal twins. I suppose that would be slightly different....*grin*)

On to the interview ---

1 - What do you enjoy most about blogging?

I really enjoy the sense of community in book blogging--meeting new people and discovering new authors. It's exciting to find a new book or series to obsess about or lose sleep over. The best way to do that is to follow and support book bloggers! I'll spend hours going from blog to blog, reading reviews and comments - and of course my "to-read" list gets longer and longer!

2 - If you could put any two fictional characters in a room together, who would they be?
I may have said this before, but I would love to put Mr. Darcy in a room with Draco Malfoy. Then I could watch them bicker over whose family was more aristocratic. It would be interesting to see if one could out patrician the other (yes, I used "patrician" as a verb). Oh the blue blooded battle of wills! And both of them with such sharp tongues! Obviously, I would also ogle them and perhaps flash them my stockings. I don't know if that much hotness can be contained in one room, fan-girls everywhere might just combust (this one included)! Luckily, their combined snobbery would suffice in keeping it under control.

3 - What are some of the challenges you face as a book blogger?

Hawaii Book Blog is in a unique sort of niche. We're more regional than other book blogs and because of that it's hard for us to participate in some of the fantastic book blog events and memes that are out there. Mostly, I wish I had more time to read and post. Creating new and exciting content is sometimes daunting and I'd love it if we would be able to get more comments, but overall being a book blogger is a blast!

4 - What one book can you remember reading as a child that helped you to fall in love with reading?

"Charlotte's Web" was one of the first books I ever picked out for myself. My mom was always very supportive of me choosing my own books, even if they were a bit advanced for me at the time. I must have been only 5 or 6 and the idea of a spider and a pig being friends enchanted me. So even if I couldn't read the whole book myself, with a little help from Mom, I fell in love with "Charlotte's Web" and all its wonderful characters - including grumpy, smelly old Templeton.

5 - What book or books have you read that everyone else just LOVED, but you couldn't stand?
For me it would be the Twilight series. I can honestly say that I tried. I wanted to like it, I read all the way through the third book and just couldn't put myself through the torture anymore. :)

Thanks for hanging out with Misty and I today - be sure to visit Hawaii Book Blog to see my end of the interview.  And then visit the BBAW main page to read LOTS more fun interviews!

Monday, September 12, 2011

BBAW Day 1 - Community

Welcome to Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2011! It's time to take a little break and celebrate the smart, funny, friendly, remarkable community we have built together as book bloggers. Every day this week will see a new topic to discuss - today, we talk about each other!

"While the awards are a fun part of BBAW, they can never accurately represent the depth and breadth of diversity in the book blogging community. Today you are encouraged to highlight a couple of bloggers that have made book blogging a unique experience for you. They can be your mentors, a blogger that encouraged you to try a different kind of book, opened your eyes to a new issue, made you laugh when you needed it, or left the first comment you ever got on your blog. Stay positive and give back to the people who make the community work for you!"

I'm tempted to just post my entire blog roll here, because everyone in it has been an inspiration to me in one way or another. But I'm going to quickly highlight just a few of the bloggers who were influential in making me feel welcome and at home back when I first started blogging.

Andi from Estella's Revenge - Andi was, literally, the first book blogger I ever knew.  I had no idea book blogging was even a THING until I started reading her blog. Her recommendations are nearly always spot on for me, and I always love finding out what she's reading next. Her encouragement when I was just starting out helped me believe I could really do this.

Amy from My Friend Amy - Amy was one of the first blogs I started reading on a regular basis, and was immediately welcoming and kind to this newbie. We bonded over a shared love of Supernatural, and I grew to respect her immensely when I had the chance to work with her on BBAW two years ago. I've never met anyone as kind or gracious.

Heather from Raging Bibliomania - Heather was one of the first people who actually started reading MY blog - reading and commenting, no less! She always makes me feel like she truly values my opinion, and that my reviews are something of substance. She is incredibly encouraging, and I appreciate that she has stuck with me, even though things have been a bit hit-or-miss around here lately!

I could go on and on, but these three ladies are great examples of the kinds of people you can meet in the book blogging community - three of the best! Thanks for making this so much fun for me - if you are reading this, thanks to you, too!

Make sure you stop by the BBAW main page to see more of the bloggers we want to brag about!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Book Thoughts: That Day in September by Artie Van Why

That Day in September: A Personal Remembrance of 9/11 by Artie Van Why
published 2006
84 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

We all have our stories to tell of where we were the morning of September 11, 2001. This is one of them. In That Day In September Artie Van Why gives an eyewitness account of that fateful morning. From the moment he heard "a loud boom" in his office across from the World Trade Center, to stepping out onto the street, Artie vividly transports the reader back to the day that changed our lives and our country forever. That Day In September takes you beyond the events of that morning. By sharing his thoughts, fears and hopes, Artie expresses what it was like to be in New York City in the weeks and months following. The reader comes away from That Day In September with not only a more intimate understanding of the events of that day but also with a personal glimpse of how one person's life was dramatically changed forever.

My thoughts:

I haven't spent a lot of time reading books about 9/11. I remember it. I watched it unfold from my living room. The few books and movies I have spent time with felt lacking in some very integral way, and I chose to keep this piece of history as a memory I would revisit without the aid of another's words.

But something about this book felt different, and I decided to give it a try. I was right - it was different from the beginning. For the first time, I felt like I was starting to understand what it would have been like to be at Ground Zero watching this tragedy firsthand. The emotions of the day, and the weeks and months that followed, were expressed in a way that made me feel connected, as though this was my story too. The author's straightforward telling of his remembrance of that day was respectful and understated, and I feel it honors the memory of the goodness and hope that was seen even through the tragedy.

"You know, I don't believe I had witnessed the wrath of anyone's God that morning. What I had been a witness to when I looked up at those burning towers was the ultimate evil that man is capable of. The evidence of just how deep hatred could run, how far it could go.

But I had also been a witness to something else that day - down on the ground. I witnessed the ultimate goodness of man, the evidence of how strong courage could be, to what lengths it would go." (p. 62)

I don't really think a "review" is appropriate for this type of work - one man's personal experience of tragedy. So I'll just say it resonated deeply with me, and if you think you might need to read it, for whatever reason, I don't think you will be disappointed.

Finished: 8/17/11
Source: the author - thank you!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book Thoughts: This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park

This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park
published 2011
310 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Chamara is difficult to translate from Korean to English: To stand it, to bear it, to grit your teeth and not cry out? To hold on, to wait until the worst is over? Such is the burden Samuel Park’s audacious, beautiful, and strong heroine, Soo-Ja Choi, faces in This Burns My Heart, an epic love story set in the intriguing landscape of postwar South Korea. On the eve of marriage to her weak, timid fiancé, Soo-Ja falls in love with a young medical student. But out of duty to her family and her culture she turns him away, choosing instead a world that leaves her trapped by suffocating customs.

In a country torn between past and present, Soo-Ja struggles to find happiness in a loveless marriage and to carve out a successful future for her only daughter. Forced by tradition to move in with her in-laws, she must navigate the dangers of a cruel household and pay the price of choosing the wrong husband. Meanwhile, the man she truly loves remains a lurking shadow in her life, reminding her constantly of the love she could have had.

Will Soo-Ja find a way to reunite with her one true love or be forced to live out her days wondering “what if ” and begin to fully understand the meaning of chamara?

My thoughts:

I had high expectations for this novel. The description made it sound like a fascinating read, full of historical insight and emotional longing. The praise on the book's jacket - from such authors as Audrey Niffenegger and Sarah Waters - promised a powerful, captivating tale. Unfortunately for me, the story itself did not live up to its promise.

The idea was interesting, and yet as I turned the pages I felt like I'd read this story before. Soo-Ja was, indeed, a complex and intriguing heroine, and yet somehow I felt like I never quite got to know HER - the author told me a lot about how she felt and what she did, but I never truly felt like I understood why she made some of the decisions she made. I think that was the biggest flaw for me - the author told us a lot about the story, but I felt like he didn't SHOW us with his words. Soo-Ja's parents were strict and demanding, but we never really saw how. Soo-Ja worked like a slave for her in-laws, but we never saw what she actually had to do. Soo-Ja fell madly, immediately in love, but we never really knew why.

Despite the flaws in the story, the writing was excellent. The author clearly knows his craft, and his careful choice of words was apparent. I marked several passages in the novel that I thought were especially lovely -

"Soo-Ja's mother watched as the men bowed on the floor, lowering their knees, followed by their hands, and then their heads - all in one continuous, seamless motion. They folded themselves small like human paper dolls, going from adult, to child, to newborn, and then upright again." (p. 22-23)

Unfortunately, the writing couldn't make up for the frustration I felt with the story itself. I think I could SEE the beautiful novel in there, but it just wasn't quite on the page yet, and I think that was my biggest frustration. I know some readers loved the book - check out the review at Devourer of Books for a different opinion - so even though it didn't work for me, it might be the best read of the year for you.

Finished: 9/3/11
Source: review copy from publisher - thank you!
MPAA rating: PG for some scenes of adult situations and violence
My rating: 6/10

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Book Thoughts: Unfinished Desires by Gail Godwin

Unfinished Desires by Gail Godwin
published 2009
393 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

It is the fall of 1951 at Mount St. Gabriels, an all-girls school tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina. Tildy Stratton, the undisputed queen bee of her class, befriends Chloe Starnes, a new student recently orphaned by the untimely and mysterious death of her mother. Their friendship fills a void for both girls but also sets in motion a chain of events that will profoundly affect the course of many lives, including the girls young teacher and the schools matriarch, Mother Suzanne Ravenel.

Fifty years on, the headmistress relives one pivotal night, trying to reconcile past and present, reaching back even further to her own senior year at the school, where the roots of a tragedy are buried.

My thoughts:

This is the first novel I've read by Godwin, after hearing many good things, and I don't think it will be my last. I was originally captured by the combination of private school + religious order, which usually result in good things for me. Then I noticed the author, and remembered I'd wanted to try something of hers out, so then couldn't resist.

I can't say that the plot itself was what kept me reading - I could sense the general direction by about 1/4 of the way through, and wasn't much surprised by how everything wrapped up. It seemed that there was a LOT going on, which was perhaps part of the problem - lots of events seemed promising, but were never quite fleshed out as much as I would have liked. I think subtracting just a couple of the storylines might have improved the pacing and kept me guessing a bit more.

But the characters - wow, this lady can write some interesting women. They all just felt juicy, and even though she used many traditional stereotypes, she invested them with an energy and strength that made then continually exceed my expectations. I've been thinking for two days now which was my favorite, and each time I think I've chosen, another pushes herself into my mind and makes me rethink my decision. I feel like I wish I could have known these women - they feel like real people I am sorry I have to leave.

If this novel didn't have such strong characters, I would probably forget I read it by next Wednesday. But Tildy, and Madeline, and Chloe, and Mother Ravenal, and the other women of this novel are going to be with me for a good long time. If this is the kind of book you enjoy, don't miss this one!

Finished: 8/26/11

Source: South Side library

MPAA rating: PG-13 for domestic violence and sexual situations

My rating: 7/10

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Book Thoughts: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
published 1996
835 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

My thoughts:

I was not going to start this series until the author was done writing it. I'd heard how fantastic it was, but I'd also heard that there were still (at the time) 2 books left, and the author tends to take 3-4 years between books. Given that I really hate cliffhangers, I didn't especially want to get sucked into something that I would have to wait 6+ years before I got to finish. And then that dratted HBO series started, and I accidentally got involved in it, and then it was too late - I had to start reading.

Having watched the series, I already knew the story for this first novel in the series - I was already familiar with the characters, and I was prepared for the book to seem just a bit stale. Boy, was I wrong.

This is easily the best novel I've read so far this year. The characters are so rich, and so completely realized - Martin gives them each such incredible depth and scope. Each chapter is told from an alternating point of view, giving the reader a chance to experience the story from all sides. And there are no "good guys" and "bad guys" in this novel - even the heroes and heroines make hard, sometimes brutal decisions, and even the villians are given a human side. (Except Joffrey. What a little twit.)

A Game of Thrones is 800+ pages, and at no point did I feel like Martin was writing to fill up space. There is nothing in this book that shouldn't be there - every single scene is necessary to the greater story, and the pacing of the novel is perfect. Martin manages to introduce an extremely complex, vast, and wholly unique world within the confines of the story, while still keeping the reader anxious to turn the next page. This world has fascinating religious, moral, political, and military maneuverings around every corner, and Martin handles them all perfectly.

There is literally no way to cram all my thoughts about this novel into one blog post - for the next book I will definitely have to write as I go. I was truly blown away by this novel, and I can't wait to start reading the next one. And it is going to KILL me to have to wait for the series to be finished, but I know it will be worth the wait. If you are a fantasy fan, I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Finished: 8/5/11
Source: my shelves
MPAA rating: R for violence, sexuality, and brutality
My rating: 10/10

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Month in Movies

Here's what I've been watching this month:

The Tourist (2010) - Really, this wasn't a bad movie if you didn't expect it to be anything AT ALL like the promos they showed, and just let it be Johnny and Angelina looking pretty in Venice.

Hereafter (2010) - Now this movie, on the other hand, kinda felt like it was missing something. Like an ending. This really should have been better than it was.

127 Hours (2010) - Unlike The Social Network, I completely understand why this was nominated for Best Actor and Best Picture - James Franco was riveting, and even though I know how the story ended, I couldn't stop watching.

Blue Valentine (2010) - This was so hard to watch. Both of these actors were incredible, but the movie itself was painful. I felt like I was intruding on something I shouldn't be witnessing.

Despicable Me (2010) - Oh, I loved this movie. The humor was right up my alley, and being a mom myself made the "parenting" moments even more touching. And I want Minions!!

The Town
(2010) - I have to admit I haven't been a big fan of Ben Affleck's acting until now, but in this movie he was perfect. He and Jeremy Renner just WERE their characters - I believed every second. And Blake Lively as Krista gave me flashbacks to Adriana from The Sopranos - when she would up hurt in the hospital, and started talking to the agent, I suddenly knew exactly how her story was going to end. This movie was paced just a t e e n y bit to slowly for me, but otherwise I thought it was excellent.

Next up in my Netflix queue:

The Fighter
True Grit
Rabbit Hole

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Review - Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossypants by Tina Fey
275 pages
published April, 2011

Synopsis from publisher:

On her way to becoming an award-winning superstar, Tina Fey struggled through some questionable haircuts, some after-school jobs, the rise of nachos as a cultural phenomenon, a normal childhood, a happy marriage and joyful motherhood. Her story must be told! Fey’s pursuit of the perfect beauty routine may actually give you laugh lines, and her depiction of her whirlwind tour of duty as the Other Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live takes you behind the scenes of a comedy event that transfixed the nation. Now, Fey can reflect on what she’s learned: You’re no one until someone calls you bossy.

My thoughts:

I should preface this by saying that I do believe Tina Fey is one of the funniest people working in show business today.

I think her social commentary is spot on, and her political satire second to none. Also, I know that nobody watches 30 Rock – really, I don’t watch it during its actual season, so I’m looking at myself here, too – but it is a pretty darn funny show. So when I saw this book at the library, I didn’t even hesitate.

This is not a memoir, so readers looking for a gossipy, tell-all about the shenanigans of the SNL cast are going to be disappointed. Instead, it’s a collection of essays, with topics ranging from summer jobs at a theater company, to body image, to marriage and family, to gender and sexism in Hollywood. Tina gives her painfully honest opinion about all, and doesn’t hesitate to point out her own shortcomings when called for.

The book reads much like I would imagine listening to Fey tell these stories would be like – in fact, I’ve seen a few reviews of the audiobook, and I am sure it would be a fantastic experience. Her style is conversational and loose, as if she was sitting across the kitchen table relating her nearly tragic honeymoon tale over a glass of red wine. She doesn’t hold back from calling people on their bad behavior, but she also doesn’t try to foist bad behavior on people – she gives them the benefit of the doubt until they prove themselves a d-bag, and even then she doesn’t necessarily always name names.

I really enjoyed her perspectives on parenthood, sexism and feminism, and body image, and found myself marking many passages to save. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“No one was ever turned gay by being at Summer Showtime, because that’s not possible. If you could turn gay from being around gay people, wouldn’t Kathy Griffin be Rosie O’Donnell by now?” (p. 32)

“I only hope that one day I can frighten my daughter this much….How can I give her what Don Fey gave me? The gift of anxiety. The fear of getting in trouble. The knowledge that while you are loved, you are not above the law. The World-wide Parental Anxiety System is failing if this many of us have made sex tapes.” (p. 53)

“We should leave people alone about their weight. Being skinny for a while (provided you actually eat food and don’t take pills or smoke to get there) is a perfectly fine pastime. Everyone should try it once, like a super-short haircut or dating a white guy.” (p. 116)

“Politics and prostitution have to be the only jobs where inexperience is considered a virtue. In what other profession would you brag about not knowing stuff?” (p. 220)

I had a great time with this book. I found it to be smart, funny, and enlightening – a rare combination these days. I highly recommend it.

Finished: 7/24/11

Source: South Side library

MPAA Rating: R for language and adult situations

My rating: 8/10

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Shorts

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
published 2011
395 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Teen beauty queens. A "Lost"-like island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to email. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count.

My thoughts:

This book definitely suffered from being read directly after a novel that blew me away. I did enjoy Beauty Queens, and I love that Libba Bray continually reinvents herself as an author - you can't put her in a box, and even though her ideas seem over-the-top, she's always able to deliver a strong read.

That said, it took me a L O O O N G time to feel connected to this one - I think the characters were just hard for me to feel sympathetic toward. (It might have been all the irritating teen-speak she used, which was certainly appropriate, but honestly one of my pet peeves.) Behind the fluff, however, is a smart, funny story with a great message.

" 'Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one's watching them so they can be who they really are'....There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shalt nots. They were no longer waiting for some arbitrary grade. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping. They were becoming." (p. 177)

I would recommend this novel for older teens, with the caveat that even for older readers there will probably be much that some parents would find objectionable.

Finished 7/17/11
Source: South Side library
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, violence, language
My rating: 7/10

Hula Done It? (A Passport to Peril Mystery) by Maddy Hunter
published 2005
310 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

In the 4th book of the bestselling Passport to Peril series by Maddy Hunter, Emily cruises to Hawaii and a hunt for a long-lost treasure turns deadly.

My thoughts:

This series is complete fluff, but continues to be entertaining. They are a LOT like the Stephanie Plum books, which I burnt out on around #10, so I imagine I will do the same with this series eventually, but right now I'm still enjoying them. This particular mystery was not really even that mysterious - I figured out the "whodunnit" by about the halfway point - but I find Emily and her Nana to be endearing, so I don't mind. I don't think I will probably remember much about it next week, but it was fun while it lasted.

Finished: 7/21/11
Source: South Side library
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence and hints of sexuality
My rating: 7/10

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Relative Reads: The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter (part 3)

I was given the great fortune of growing up in a family of readers. Both of my parents read, and so do the majority of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. In fact, my Great-Grandma had cataract surgery in her 90's, because she couldn't bear to not be able to read. I thought it would be interesting to read some of the books THEY have discovered and enjoyed over the years, so I asked them to send me some recommendations, and the fun began! I
have a list of the titles various family members have suggested on the side of the blog, so if you want to see what will be coming up you can take a peek.

The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter
published May 2003
657 pages

Talcott Garland is a successful law professor, devoted father, and husband of a beautiful and ambitious woman, whose future desires may threaten the family he holds so dear. When Talcott's father, Judge Oliver Garland, a disgraced former Supreme Court nominee, is found dead under suspicioius circumstances, Talcott wonders if he may have been murdered. Guided by the elements of a mysterious puzzle that his father left, Talcott must risk his marriage, his career and even his life in his quest for justice.

(see part 1 of my thoughts on this novel here and part 2 here)

My final thoughts:

It's interesting how much faster I was able to read the last part of this novel. The first section took me almost a month, the second section a couple of weeks, and this third section just a few days. It might have been that I just had more reading time than usual, but I think it also has to do with the pacing of the novel - the author started out slowly, introducing the reader to his wide and varied cast of characters, allowing time to begin to understand the politics of the legal profession, and really taking his time in the early parts of the novel. It wasn't until 2/3 of the way through that I felt like I was reading a true legal thriller, and then once the story gained momentum it was impossible to stop.

This is not a mystery that you will be able to figure out halfway through the novel, so if that is your favorite part about thrillers you will be disappointed here. Carter doles out his clues sparingly, never giving his readers all the information they need until the very end - and even then, he leaves a bit of ambiguity - Misha says, "I have long been comfortable living without perfect knowledge..." (p. 653), and I think Carter purposefully leaves a few loose ends, choosing not to wrap up his package with a neat little bow.

He also doesn't give anyone a happily ever after ending - as in real life, when relationships are damaged, they take time to repair, and Misha has done a lot of damage in his life. Watching him take the first steps toward fixing his mistakes - and choosing to forgive mistakes done to him - is an integral part of the resolution of his story.

This is a really good book. It's not easy, and if you choose to tackle it you will have to be willing to be patient, and read carefully. But I know it will be one that stays with me long after I have turned the last page, and I also think it will be a novel that will stand up to re-reading, maybe even becoming richer the second time around. I do recommend it - this novel won't be for everyone, but the skillful reader will find it to be a very rewarding experience.

Finished: 7/12/11
Source: loaned from my mom
MPAA rating: R for violence and sexuality
My rating: 9/10

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Relative Reads: The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter (part 2)

I was given the great fortune of growing up in a family of readers. Both of my parents read, and so do the majority of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. In fact, my Great-Grandma had cataract surgery in her 90's, because she couldn't bear to not be able to read. I thought it would be interesting to read some of the books THEY have discovered and enjoyed over the years, so I asked them to send me some recommendations, and the fun began! I have a list of the titles various family members have suggested on the side of the blog, so if you want to see what will be coming up you can take a peek.

The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter
published May 2003
657 pages

Talcott Garland is a successful law professor, devoted father, and husband of a beautiful and ambitious woman, whose future desires may threaten the family he holds so dear. When Talcott's father, Judge Oliver Garland, a disgraced former Supreme Court nominee, is found dead under suspicioius circumstances, Talcott wonders if he may have been murdered. Guided by the elements of a mysterious puzzle that his father left, Talcott must risk his marriage, his career and even his life in his quest for justice.

(see part 1 of my thoughts on this novel here)

My thoughts:

July 5, 2011

I’m about halfway through the second section of the novel, and I am still impressed with its depth and intelligence. I am enjoying the story, but I also feel like I am getting mini-classes on a whole range of topics, from the judicial system to chess to inter-racial politics. I haven’t read a work of fiction that I feel like is teaching me so much in a really long time.

The characters’ relationships continue to be intense and challenging, but I have found one character I truly admire – finally! – which always makes me feel a bit more comfortable in a novel. Reverend Morris Young has the potential to play a pivotal role in Misha’s life, and I hope we get more of him than just that one chapter. I also feel a bit like I went through a crash marital counseling course reading his wise advice:

“…treat Kimberly as you would want to be treated. You do remember the Golden Rule? Good. You think your wife should give you the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps you should do her the same courtesy. Kimberly is your wife, Talcott, not a suspect in some crime. Your job is not to catch her in lies. Your job is not to prove you are better than she is. Your job is to love her as best you can.” (pp. 303-304.)

The mystery is also ramping up – a bit more danger, a bit more excitement, a few more important pieces of information. I still for the life of me cannot figure out where this particular mystery is headed, or how these pieces of information will ever join together to make sense, but it’s interesting to see where the author is headed.

July 9, 2011

I’ve just finished the second section of the novel, and I can officially now say it has become a page-turner. I feel like I have blown through the past 100 pages – we are learning more and more about the Judge’s life, and while we still don’t know what the “arrangements” are, the hints are getting bigger and bigger, and more and more dangerous.

I think, too, as we reach the final section of the book, that it has become more a traditional mystery – we are focusing less on the relationships, and more on the actual question of what the Judge was up to, and that makes the novel easier to read. It’s still technically an incredibly well-written novel – now we just have more action to balance out the narrative.

I’m excited to start the final section – I am completely hooked, and can’t wait to finally discover the secrets that have been hinted at throughout the novel.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Month in Movies

Here's what I've been watching this month:

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) - This is one of my favorite books from the series, and I found the movie to be just as delightful. Reepicheep always makes me cry!

Love and Other Drugs (2010) - The love story part of this movie really didn't intrigue me that much, probably because it was fairly predictable, and also because I am physically unable to think of Jake Gyllenhaal as a romantic lead. The storyline about him as a drug rep, however, I found very entertaining.

The Social Network (2010) - So the story of a guy who was basically a complete jerk to everyone around him, most especially his one and only friend, and managed to take this jerkiness and stumble upon a billion-dollar idea is the best story of the year according to the Oscar voters? Mostly I just felt irritated.

Never Let Me Go (2010) - This is an excellent adaptation of an excellent novel. Not 100% true to the original material, but the spirit is definitely the same, and I found it to be just as heartbreaking. Be a little bit patient- it's worth it in the end.

I've also been watching:

Game of Thrones - okay, fine, I'll read the books.

Glee - I realize this might make me a pariah, but I am SOO over the Rachel/Finn thing.

Camelot - Oh, Morgan, you just can't help yourself, can you?

The Voice - This is the talent American Idol wishes it would have been getting for it's past few seasons. Also, I want Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert to be my neighbors.

Next up in my Netflix queue:

127 Hours
The Town

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunday Shorts

It's been a long time since I've done one of these - just a couple of shorter reviews to whet your appetite...

The Last Colony by John Scalzi
published 2007
320 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Retired from his fighting days, John Perry is now village ombudsman for a human colony on distant Huckleberry. With his wife, former Special Forces warrior Jane Sagan, he farms several acres, adjudicates local disputes, and enjoys watching his adopted daughter grow up.

That is, until his and Jane's past reaches out to bring them back into the game — as leaders of a new human colony, to be peopled by settlers from all the major human worlds, for a deep political purpose that will put Perry and Sagan back in the thick of interstellar politics, betrayal, and war.

My thoughts:

This was a very good conclusion to the Old Man's War Trilogy. I enjoyed returning to John's point of view, and felt like the novel gave a fitting end to John and Jane's relationship. I think The Ghost Brigades was my least favorite novel in the trilogy, and after reading this story I know why - it seemed like it's sole purpose was to bring about the events of this novel. That's not to say it didn't have it's own plot and story arc, but it really feels very much like a bridge novel, which are often the weakest of a series.

Overall, though, I do highly recommend this series. It's extremely entertaining, and gives the reader a great deal to ponder. I will definitely be looking for more by this author!

Finished: 6/12/11
Source: my shelves
MPAA rating: R for violence and language
My rating: 8/10

Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi
published 2008
335 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

How do you tell your part in the biggest tale in history?

I ask because it's what I have to do. I'm Zoe Boutin Perry: A colonist stranded on a deadly pioneer world. Holy icon to a race of aliens. A player (and a pawn) in a interstellar chess match to save humanity, or to see it fall. Witness to history. Friend. Daughter. Human. Seventeen years old.

Everyone on Earth knows the tale I am part of. But you don't know my tale: How I did what I did — how I did what I had to do — not just to stay alive but to keep you alive, too. All of you. I'm going to tell it to you now, the only way I know how: not straight but true, the whole thing, to try to make you feel what I felt: the joy and terror and uncertainty, panic and wonder, despair and hope. Everything that happened, bringing us to Earth, and Earth out of its captivity. All through my eyes.

It's a story you know. But you don't know it all.

My thoughts:

I really didn't have any intention of going back and re-reading this novel - it was one of the first books I reviewed for this blog back in the olden days, and I loved it then, but didn't have plans to revisit it. However, once I finished The Last Colony, I couldn't help myself - I had to spend some time with Zoe again.

I noticed a few flaws that I (apparently) didn't the first time around, and I did find Zoe's voice to be just a little TOO perfect in a few cases, but mostly I just fell in love all over again. I love the story, I love the character, the tears came in exactly the same place. (Hint: it's on page 322, and it starts with, "I am Dickory.")

This is my favorite novel in a series I enjoy very much. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. I'm very happy I decided to go back and read Zoe's story again - it's a great one.

Finished: 6/29/11
Source: my shelves
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violent situations and some young love
My rating: 9/10

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Relative Reads: The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter (part 1)

I was given the great fortune of growing up in a family of readers. Both of my parents read, and so do the majority of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. In fact, my Great-Grandma had cataract surgery in her 90's, because she couldn't bear to not be able to read. I thought it would be interesting to read some of the books THEY have discovered and enjoyed over the years, so I asked them to send me some recommendations, and the fun began! I have a list of the titles various family members have suggested on the side of the blog, so if you want to see what will be coming up you can take a peek.

The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter
published May 2003
657 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Talcott Garland is a successful law professor, devoted father, and husband of a beautiful and ambitious woman, whose future desires may threaten the family he holds so dear. When Talcott's father, Judge Oliver Garland, a disgraced former Supreme Court nominee, is found dead under suspicioius circumstances, Talcott wonders if he may have been murdered. Guided by the elements of a mysterious puzzle that his father left, Talcott must risk his marriage, his career and even his life in his quest for justice.

My thoughts:

My mom read this on her 3-month sabbatical in Arizona over the winter, and when she came home told me I MUST read it next. Guess it's time to get started, huh.....*grin*

June 6 - Wow. Now this is a book that has substance. When my mom originally told me about it, she said that she initially didn't know if she would enjoy it, because she didn't know if she would be able to CARE about any of these characters, and I understand what she meant - so far, the cast is large, and not especially warm and cuddly. They are, however, extremely intriguing. I find myself curious about each relationship, each interaction, how the disparate personalities will attempt to find middle ground. And the mystery has hooked me - I want to KNOW what arrangements creepy Uncle Jack is talking about.

And the writing is excellent. I said it before - it feels like it has substance. I believe that the author chose each word of the narrative specifically - each has a purpose. I've already marked a number of excerpts - here are just a couple:

"I stare at the instrument, thinking - not for the first time - what a nasty, intrusive, uncivil thing the telephone really is, demanding, irritating, interrupting, invading the mind's space. I wonder why Alexander Graham Bell is such a hero. His invention destroyed the private realm. The device has no conscience. It rings when we are sleeping, showering, praying, arguing, reading, making love. Or when we just want desperately to be left alone. " (p. 16)

"I have always loved cemeteries, especially old ones: their satisfied sense of the past and its connection to the present, their almost supernatural quietude, their stark reassurance that the wheel of history turns indeed. " (p. 57)

June 25 - I've decided to create multiple posts for this book - because:

A. It is taking me a L O O N G time to read (not the fault of the book - work exploded into disaster 2 weeks ago, and I had the wedding of my friend Allison to play the piano for this weekend, so my reading time has been limited)

B. I think I might have quite a bit to say, and I don't want one post to just wind up being interminably long.

I've now finished with the first section, and while I don't think this would be a book that every reader would embrace, I am finding that I am enjoying it very much. This is the kind of novel that the reader has to commit to - nothing about this first section could be classified as a "beach read". There is some action, but the author spreads it out. There is a lot of character exposition - I feel like I really KNOW these people, and am starting to be able to understand their motivations and actions. The author also gives Misha, his main character, the opportunity to wax philosophical around nearly every corner, and this, I think, it what might really strain the patience of a lot of readers. However, I find that for me it rings true to the understanding I have of this character - I believe his arrogance and sense of self-rightness would lead him to talk in just exactly this way.

The relationships are difficult in just about every instance. It seems that no one really likes anyone, in this family, and it is not something I can relate to at all, so it's another aspect of the novel that is challenging for me. Misha and Kimmer's marriage, as well, is in almost every way different from my own. His feelings about his son, however, do resonate with me, and finding that one small piece of the character I understand has made him open up to me in a way that makes me feel sympathy for him, even while I honestly still don't really like him that much.

And, once again, I am savoring the writing. I think from a technical perspective, this is probably the best written novel I have read in recent memory. I have marked so many passages - here a just a couple more:

"As the Cape falls farther and farther behind, I can feel my fears and confusions fading with it, receding in importance as the Vineyard looms ever larger off the starboard bow, first a distant gray-green shimmer, next a dreamlike vision of trees and beaches, now near enough to make out the individual houses, all gray-brown and weathered and beautiful. I gulp down its image like an alcoholic tumbling gratefully off the wagon as the ferry thrums steadily across the waves..." (page 191)

"Love is an activity, not a feeling - didn't one of the great theologians say that? Or maybe it was the Judge, who never ceased to stress duty rather than choice as the foundation of a civilized morality. I do not remember who coined the phrase, but I am beginning to understand what it means. True love is not the helpless desire to possess the cherished object of one's fervent affection; true love is the disciplined generosity we require of ourselves for the sake of another when we would rather be selfish; that, at least, is how I have taught myself to love my wife." (page 215)

See - still long, and this is only part 1! I have no idea how long it will take me to read this novel, but I am very much looking forward to what it has in store next. Stay tuned for part 2!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dance, Dance, Dance

My husband and I have played music for the babies since before they were born, and since they've been here we have made a point to incorporate music into their lives on an almost daily basis. They both love to dance - in fact, when they are in a particularly bad mood, throwing on some music and dancing around the living room is an almost sure way to get them smiling again. So I'm going to start sharing some of our dancing music, and hope it brings a smile to your face, too.

Sophia is a big fan of pop music - I have a feeling we'll have posters of 16-year-old "musicians" on bedroom walls at some point in our future. =) We all enjoy "Price Tag" by Jessie Jay, but I think I like this cover version better - how can you not smile watching this little girl singing such a fun song? Tap your feet along with us....=)

Friday, June 3, 2011

My Month in Movies

Here's what I was watching this month:

The Road (2009) - Wow. Is the book as heartbreaking as this movie? I literally couldn't take my eyes off the screen. Viggo Mortensen was excellent. Watch with caution as a parent, though - it's probably your worst nightmare.

Tangled (2010) - Oh, I'm just a sucker for a good Disney princess. I think Rapunzel will join the ranks of Ariel and Belle as one of the classics. I can't wait to watch this with my kids when they are a little older!

Salt (2010) - Okay, so here is my problem with this movie. I don't care how incredible Angelina Jolie is - flying down the highway at 60+ miles per hour, jumping from cartop to cartop, there is no way her wrist would not have shattered. It was just a little bit too unbelievable for me.

Inception (2010) - Wow. There was a LOT going on in this movie. It's definitely one that could stand up to repeated viewing. The visuals were amazing. I know I didn't "get" everything that was going on, so I'd like to watch this again.

The King's Speech
(2010) - Ohhh, Colin Firth. You are just so GOOD in everything. This was a truly enjoyable movie from start to finish - I definitely agree that it deserves all the awards it garnered.

Black Swan
(2010) - I don't even know what to say about this one. It was mesmerizing, in a really strange way. Was is just me, or did it seem like there was very little dialogue? And the casting of Winona Ryder as the aging diva seemed perfect.

I am also watching:

Camelot - This series is still impressing me, and Eva Green as Morgan is mesmerizing.

The Pillars of the Earth
- well, trying to anyway. Did it get cancelled? I haven't seen a new episode for a while...

Game of Thrones
- Boy, there are a lot of nasty people in this world, huh? It's so complex and rich - I feel like we are barely scratching the surface, and it's halfway through the first season.

Glee - The babies love watching this one with me - we dance around the living room during all the songs.

Next up in my Netflix queue:

Never Let Me Go
The Tourist
The Social Network

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Thoughts: The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
published 2006
374 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF's toughest operations. They're young, they're fast and strong, and they're totally without normal human qualms.

The universe is a dangerous place for humanity—and it's about to become far more dangerous. Three races that humans have clashed with before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat military scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF's biggest military secrets. To prevail, the CDF must find out why Boutin did what he did.

Jared Dirac is the only human who can provide answers—a superhuman hybrid, created from Boutin's DNA, Jared's brain should be able to access Boutin's electronic memories. But when the memory transplant appears to fail, Jared is given to the Ghost Brigades.

At first, Jared is a perfect soldier, but as Boutin's memories slowly surface, Jared begins to intuit the reasons for Boutin's betrayal. As Jared desperately hunts for his "father," he must also come to grips with his own choices. Time is running out: The alliance is preparing its offensive, and some of them plan worse things than humanity's mere military defeat.

My thoughts:

May 25 - I expected to enjoy this novel, and I have not been disappointed. Scalzi's humorous style works so well in these novels - the shows the horrors of war, but never leaves me feeling weighed down or overwhelmed. This novel is answering a lot of questions I had after reading the first - there is a lot of backstory as to why and how certain technologies and practices came to be, and I'm finding that the fleshing out of the world is working well for me. I haven't become quite as attached to Jared as I was to John Perry, but it's still early going, and I do find him and his situation to be fascinating. Once again, Scalzi's characters are tackling some sticky ethical questions, and it will be interesting to see how Jared's unique situation is eventually resolved. So far so good!

May 31 - Well, that was fun. This was the third novel I've read set in Scalzi's world, and while it was my least favorite, that is certainly not to say that I didn't enjoy it. What was lacking for me in this novel was the immediate connection I normally feel to his main character. Something about Jared Dirac always just felt like I was kept at a bit of a distance - perhaps because his story was written in third person, whereas the previous books I've read in the series were first person narratives. However, I loved spending more time with Jane Sagan, and the rest of the Special Forces soldiers, who have such a fascinating place in this series.

Old Man's War dealt with humanity - what makes a person human, and what comprises a person's identity. The Ghost Brigades is all about choice - what role does choice play in making a person really alive? Is a person really free if she doesn't know her choice has been taken away? Scalzi's musings on philosophy are well-integrated into the story, so they never feel forced or unnatural, and he leaves the reader free to form their own opinions on the questions he raises.

I have very much enjoyed this series. I'm a little bit sad I only have one book to go - I'd love to read more of this world in the future. Once again, I recommend this series to any readers who are unsure about science fiction - when it's written this well, it's awfully hard to resist!

Finished: 5/31/11
Source: my shelves
MPAA rating: R for violence and sexuality
My rating: 7/10

Up next: The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book Thoughts: Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
published 2010
368 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.

Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”

Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.

My thoughts:

May 17 - This is the 2011 Newbery Award winner, and since I want to read all the Newbery winners, I picked this one up when I saw it at the library. I have a feeling it will be a quick read, since it is geared toward mid-grade readers. So far, I am finding it to be a charming read, full of interesting characters and predicaments that would draw in a younger reader. I like Abilene, but find myself more interested in the chapters about Jinx - he just seems to be a more interesting, complex character. I have a suspicion about how this will all turn out, but I'm more than happy to go along for the ride and see where the story leads.

May 20 - What a lovely story. I grew to like Abilene more and more throughout the book - her curiosity and sense of adventure, as well as her willingness to try to make the best out of a bad situation. I thought the alternating sections telling the stories of Abilene and Jinx to be equally entertaining, and a good way to move the narrative forward. Both Jinx's story, set during the start of WWI, and Abiliene's story, set during the Great Depression, gave interesting insight into the lives of children during each period. There is a rather major plot point that involves making moonshine, so I can imagine some parents might not be comfortable with that particular story arc, but I found it to be appropriate to the characters and situation.

I enjoyed Vanderpool's writing style, and think young readers would have no trouble getting drawn into the story. I'm not sure they would quite comprehend all the emotional layers, but the simple themes of finding a place to belong and learning to forgive yourself would be clear.

"I thought I knew a thing or two about people. Even had my list of universals. But I wondered. Maybe the world wasn't made of universals that could be summed up in neat little packages. Maybe there were just people. People who were tired and hurt a lonely and kind in their own way and their own time." (page 144)

I enjoyed this one very much, and would recommend it for mid-grade readers. I think the story and historical setting make it a good choice, and the characters would keep them interested and engaged in the story. Very good!

Finished: 5/18/11
Source: South Side library
MPAA rating: PG for story arc involving making and distribution of moonshine
My rating: 8/10

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Book Thoughts: Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
published 2010

Synopsis from publisher:

The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer brings to life the most intriguing woman in the history of the world: Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt.

Her palace shimmered with onyx, garnets, and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Above all else, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator.

Famous long before she was notorious, Cleopatra has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. Shakespeare and Shaw put words in her mouth. Michelangelo, Tiepolo, and Elizabeth Taylor put a face to her name. Along the way, Cleopatra's supple personality and the drama of her circumstances have been lost. In a masterly return to the classical sources, Stacy Schiff here boldly separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose death ushered in a new world order. Rich in detail, epic in scope, Schiff 's is a luminous, deeply original reconstruction of a dazzling life.

My thoughts:

One of my favorite memories of college was taking a class with my sister - Humanities II, basically a survey of ancient history, philosophy, and writing. We had one of those professors that you either love or hate, and we both loved him. He was quirky, and completely passionate about his material, and a wonderful storyteller. He made the ancient world come alive, and I would go on to take another class from him - The History of Ancient Rome. He ignited in me an interest in the period that hasn't yet been quenched. So when my sister gave me this book as a birthday gift, I was pretty darn excited.

April 19: It's hard to tell exactly where in the book you are when reading on Kindle, because there are no pages to look at and judge - it tells me I'm 12% of the way through, for whatever that's worth. But already I feel like I'm learning so much! For example:

~ Cleopatra's family was not Egyptian at all, but Macedonian, and claimed ancestry to Alexander the Great.

~ The Egypt of her time was one of the few inclusive societies - women had virtually equal rights as men, including the right to divorce. And Cleopatra's family had it's share of strong women - she came by her assertiveness and bravery naturally.

~ Even in a remarkable family, Cleopatra stood out. She was the only one of her ancestors to actually learn the language of the people she ruled, so when she was dealing with them she could speak directly to them, instead of through an interpreter.

~ History is written by the winners. Cleopatra's story comes to us from the Roman historians, who hated her because she was a woman, and a powerful foe. So their descriptions of her as a wanton seductress have to be taken with a whole shaker full of salt.

In addition to being a fascinating story, Schiff's writing style is great. She has the knack for making history come alive - I am already making plans to read her previous work.

May 10 - Had to take a break for Dune, but now I'm back and still enjoying this biography very much. I am roughly 40% through the book, Cleopatra is still less than 30 years old, and the list of her accomplishments is remarkable. Just reading all the things she does in a day is tiring. I have a very romanticized view of what kings and queen should do - sit around, eat grapes, get fanned by their minions. I'm not sure Cleopatra ever had time to sit and do anything - she could never rest in the precarious world she lived in.

May 14 - Well, apparently I was much further than 40% done with the text - I just finished, and it still says I am only 73% done. Whew, this book must have a LOT of notes! (I will admit that I am not going to read through all of them.) I am a bit disappointed that I can't see the illustrations - apparently my technology is already antiquated. =)

It is a shame that the histories of Cleopatra's remarkable life are written by men so clearly focused on making her seem the enemy. In this biography, Schiff does an excellent job of sifting through the exaggerations, false claims, and nuggets of truth, to paint a picture of a complex and multifaceted woman. She was not always likable - often she behaved with cruelty, or arrogance, or selfishness. But she was indeed a woman like no other, who ruled independently for over 20 years in a time when women were hidden at best, and imprisoned at worst.

Shiff's narrative is entertaining and well-researched - I enjoyed her attempts to impart humanity into this woman who was often likened to a goddess. One of my favorite lines -

"She sounds no seductive notes, which indeed appear to have been added later, when all kinds of chroniclers had Cleopatra throwing herself vigorously at all kinds of feet. Certainly she flings herself around more in literature than she did in life."

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I think it might feel like a bit of a challenge to readers who don't already enjoy biographies in general - it has a more scholarly feel than some might desire, with quite a bit of historical detail included throughout the narrative. If you are interested in the story of a powerful, fascinating woman who lived life on her own terms, you can't go wrong.

Finished: 5/14/11
Source: Kindle - gift from my sister
MPAA Rating: PG-13 - lots of adult situations hinted at, but solely through a historical lens, so much like watching a History Channel documentary
My rating: 8/10