Monday, February 25, 2013

The Re-Education of a Book Lover - Part Four - The Count of Monte Cristo

I have loved to read for as long as I can remember. Recently, however, it has come to my attention that there are some G A P I N G holes in my literary education. For example: I have read every Austen and Bronte you can get your hands on, but somehow had never managed to read a Charles Dickens novel in its entirety. So, with a little help from my mom, the English Teacher, and a couple of good friend, the English Majors, I am setting a course to re-educate myself by filling in some of those gaps.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
first published 1844

Synopsis -

One of the most exciting and best-loved novels of all time, The Count of Monte Cristo is a timeless tale of endurance, courage, and revenge. Falsely accused of treason, the young sailor Edmond Dantïs is arrested on his wedding day and imprisoned on an island fortress. After years of solitary confinement in a cramped, dank dungeon, he befriends an Italian prisoner who, with his dying breath, reveals the location of a vast treasure on the island of Monte Cristo. Dantïs stages a daring and dramatic escape, retrieves this fabulous fortune, and returns to France to exact revenge on his enemies, posing as the Count of Monte Cristo. Dantïs pursues his vengeance to the bitter end, only then realizing that he himself is a victim of fate.

My thoughts -

First of all, I am in love with reading classics via audiobook. If you are interested in starting to read more classics, I strongly encourage you to give the audiobook  format a try. It has made some of these challenging novels so much more accessible for me - I am honestly looking forward to reading them for the first time. 

Now, on to the novel - holy cow, don't mess with Edmond Dantis! I don't know if this would be considered the grandfather of all revenge tales, but it is certainly one of the great ones. I was, once again, surprised at the ease of the language - I have a preconception that all "classics" will be hard to read, but this flowed along very easily. I think much of that ease is due to choosing the audiobook format, but I am also learning that classics are not nearly as intimidating as I'd thought they would be. I was especially happy to be listening to this story that takes place in France and Italy, so that I didn't have to try to figure out in my own head how to pronounce all the names!

It was fascinating to watch all the pieces of this complicated puzzle fall into place, as each of the Count's enemies was brought to his own specific type of justice. There was also interesting political and cultural machinations going on, and just enough love story to satisfy the romantic in me. There were a few places that I didn't quite understand what was going on, but nothing that ruined my enjoyment of this extremely entertaining novel.

I checked this audiobook out from my local library, and unfortunately didn't pay enough attention to which copy I selected, so I don't know the name of the wonderful narrator, but he was just right for this novel. It was an interesting recording - I suspect it was old, and it certainly would not be up to the high standards of most of today's recordings - there were several times that background noise, including traffic, were clearly audible as the narrator was reading. I would love to see a better quality recording made with this same excellent narrator.

Once again, my journey with the classics is delightful. This novel was fun and entertaining, with lots of interesting history and politics thrown in as well. I highly recommend this one if you like a good thriller - and if you like to see people get what's coming to them!

Finished - 2/20/13
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - PG-13 for revenge-y-ness
My rating - 8/10

Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Thoughts - Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen

Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen
published 1998
320 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

For eighteen years, Fran Benedetto kept her secret. And hid her bruises. And stayed with Bobby because she wanted her son to have a father. And because, in spite of everything, she loved him. Then one night, when she saw the look on her ten-year-old son's face, Fran finally made a choice — and ran for both their lives. Now she is starting over in a city far from home, far from Bobby. And in this place she uses a name that isn't hers, and cradles her son in her arms, and tries to forget. For the woman who now calls herself Beth, every day is a chance to heal, to put together the pieces of her shattered self. And every day she waits for Bobby to catch up to her. Because Bobby always said he would never let her go. And despite the flawlessness of her escape, Fran Benedetto is certain of one thing: It is only a matter of time....

My thoughts -

I have to admit to feeling rather disappointed in this novel. I think Anna Quindlen is a fantastic writer, and I felt like this novel was a very superficial depiction of an extremely serious issue. I think Quindlen had the opportunity to really delve into something that could have been quite powerful, and instead chose to write a novel that was perfectly average. I'm not sure I would have stuck with it except I was reading it for a book group and wanted to be able to discuss. I think perhaps if I didn't KNOW about Quindlen's skill, I wouldn't have had such high expectations, but knowing what she is capable of, this wasn't up to par.

Finished - 2/19/13
Source - my shelves
MPAA rating - R for violence and adult situations
My rating - 6/10

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Book Thoughts - The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
336 pages
published 1/10/12

Synopsis from publisher -

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

My thoughts -

I think my high expectations hindered my enjoyment of this nearly universally well-loved novel. I am aware that there is a strong John Green Lovers Anonymous (or perhaps not so anonymous) club out there in the blogging world, and I've read a LOT of raves about this novel. I was fully prepared for it to be The.Best.YA.Novel.I've.Ever.Read.

And it was good. Hazel and Augustus were charming and heartbreaking in equal parts, and rooting for their doomed love affair (at the Anne Frank house, no less!) was easy. Hazel's parents were not, as seems to be the latest trend in YA novels, absent or bumbling, but smart and appropriately involved in their daughter's life. Serious topics were introduced and handled with grace, and grief was faced in an incredibly realistic way.

And yet, something just didn't quite ring true. I'm not even sure I can put my finger on it, but there was never a moment where I truly LOST myself - I was always very aware that I was reading a book - a very good book, but a book nonetheless. (And then there was the whole weird side plot with the author from Amsterdam - was that just a ploy to get them to the Anne Frank house? Because otherwise....)

I didn't NOT like it - I just didn't feel enraptured by it. I will certainly read more by this author, but I think I will go in with more realistic expectations in the future.

Finished - 2/15/13
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - PG-13 for language and some "adult" situations
My rating - 7/10

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book Thoughts - Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton
published 4/31/12
386 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

The school is on fire. Her children are inside.
Grace runs toward the burning building, desperate to reach them.

In the aftermath of the devastating fire which tears her family apart, Grace embarks on a mission to find the person responsible and protect her children from further harm. This fire was not an accident, and her daughter Jenny may still be in grave danger. Grace is the only one who can discover the culprit, and she will do whatever it takes to save her family and find out who committed the crime that rocked their lives. While unearthing truths about her life that may help her find answers, Grace learns more about everyone around her — and finds she has courage she never knew she possessed.

My thoughts -

This novel almost became my first DNF of the year. I thought the idea behind the book was quite good, and initially was very intrigued by the mystery. Lupton's use of second person narration was also an interesting choice, and I found it heightened the sense of intimacy I felt with Grace. 

Unfortunately, about halfway through the novel I really started to struggle. For me, Lupton was not able to keep the momentum of the novel moving forward  - everything just felt like it was stalling out. I started to feel irritated with Grace, with the inept police force, with the inability of every character in the novel to DO anything or FIGURE ANYTHING OUT.

I was, however, invested enough with the characters - mostly Jenny and Adam - that I decided not to quit. And for the most part, I think the ending was satisfying. 

So, would I recommend it? That's a tough question. I think I would recommend the author more than the novel - I can see the talent that Lupton brings to the table, and though this novel fell short for me, I would definitely read more of her work.

Finished - 2/11/13
Source - South Side library
MPAA  rating - R for violence, adult situations, and language
My rating - 6/10

Friday, February 8, 2013

Book Thoughts - The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin

The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin
published 5/31/12
440 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

The city burned beneath the Dreaming Moon. In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers - the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe . . . and kill those judged corrupt. But when a conspiracy blooms within Gujaareh's great temple, Ehiru - the most famous of the city's Gatherers - must question everything he knows. Someone, or something, is murdering dreamers in the goddess' name, stalking its prey both in Gujaareh's alleys and the realm of dreams. Ehiru must now protect the woman he was sent to kill - or watch the city be devoured by war and forbidden magic.

My thoughts -

Boy, this novel just made me happy from start to finish. There is not much I love more than a fantasy novel with an interesting, complex world and strong characters, and this had both in spades.

Jemisin's world is like nothing I've ever read before. She says it has influences from ancient Egypt, but there is so much more than that going on. The psychology and theology of this world are brilliantly executed, and so much more complex than one novel can encompass. I'm happy that there is another novel set in the same world, but I have a feeling even after reading that one I still won't be able to completely understand everything Jemisin has conceived for Gujaareh.

"The shadows of Ina-Karekh are the place where nightmares dwell, but not their source. Never forget: the shadowlands are not elsewhere. We create them. They are within." (p. 256)

Jemisin's characters are flawed and honest, and the relationships between them one of the strengths of her novel. Allowing the reader to see things from multiple perspectives gives a much more rounded view of the events that take place, and make the typical "good guys" and "bad guys" difficult to delineate. 

One of my favorite parts of this novel was the ending  - as in, it has one. Fantasy novels that are part of a series are notorious for leaving the reading hanging at the end of a particularly awful cliffhanger. Jemisin gives her book a conclusion - it's one that leaves the reader wanting more, but it is also satisfying and allows the book to feel like an entity in itself.

If you are looking for a new fantasy author to get lost in, I'd encourage you to give Jemisin a try. She would be a great choice for Aarti's More Diverse Universe reading tour (which I certainly hope we will get to participate in again in 2013!). Also, she was born in Iowa City, so I have to give the local girl some love! I enjoyed this novel from start to finish, and I highly recommend it to fans of the genre.

Finished - 2/1/13
Source - South Side library
MPAA rating - PG-13 for violence and adult situations
My rating - 9/10

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Book Thoughts - Prairie Nocturne by Ivan Doig

Prairie Nocturne by Ivan Doig
published 2003
audiobook - read by Scott Sowers

Synopsis from publisher -

Susan Duff — the bossy, indomitable schoolgirl with a silver voice from the pages of Doig's most popular work, Dancing at the Rascal Fair — has reached middle age alone, teaching voice lessons to the progeny of Helena's high society. Wesley Williamson — business scion of a cattle-empire family — has fallen from the heights of gubernatorial aspirations, forced out of a public career by political foes who uncovered his love affair with Susan. Years later, Susan is taken off guard when Wes arrives at her door with an unusual request: to train his chauffeur, Monty, in the ways of voice and performance.

Prairie Nocturne is the saga of these three people and their interlocked destinies. Monty is distantly known to Susan from their childhoods in the Two Medicine country, yet an enforced stranger because of the racial divide. When she realizes he possesses a singing voice of rare splendor, Susan joins Wes's Pygmalion-like project to launch Monty on a performing career — only to find the full force of the Ku Klux Klan in their way. As Monty and Susan overcome treacherous obstacles, Wes's mysterious motives unsettle everyone, including himself, and the trio's crossed fates form a deeply longitudinal novel that raises everlasting questions of allegiance, the grip of the past, and the costs of career and passion.

My thoughts -

This was a completely random selection - I think it was offered free at or something, and so I decided, "Why not?" I didn't know anything about the author, and I'm certainly not an expert in Montana history. Now that I am finished, I have fallen a little bit in love with the sweeping Montana landscape, and with an author whose work I truly did not expect.

I understand that this is not Doig's first novel about this location, or some of these characters, and I would have to assume that helps give the feeling that he is, in fact, intimately acquainted with this world. He writes his characters as if they are his neighbors and friends, and it allows the reader to feel that sense of kinship with the almost immediately. They are frustrating, and insensitive, and funny, and compelling, and interesting, and heartbreaking. Doig left me desperately wanting to know more.

I think the biggest obstacle this novel will have for many readers is that it's pacing can be, at times, S L O W. I would imagine that, had I been reading a print copy, I would have considered setting it aside at least once, but listening always seems to allow me to have more patience. Doig's novel is much like the nocturne of it's title, that he has Susan explain early in the novel -

"A nocturne, she wouldn't be surprised: ruminative, tending toward melancholy - after all, the poor things are no longer the freshest notes in the musical arrangement, are they - yet with a serenade melody that would not leave the mind."

Doig's writing was simply beautiful, and it will not leave my mind. His love for Montana is clear and clean, and it won me over. Listening to his words was a pleasure. I don't have a lot to say about the narrator - he didn't leave a great impression on me. Perhaps that shows his quality, that he was able to let the novel shine without making a mark on it.

My only true issue with this novel is that it ends in such a bad spot - how could Doig take us that far with Susan, Monty, and Wes, and then just stop writing?? Argh. I know there are novels that preceed this in the story of these characters - I sure hope there are novels after it, because I NEED to know what happens next. 

I truly enjoyed this novel. It won't be for everyone, as the pacing can be a bit slow, but I was completely captivated and can't wait to read more by this author. Highly recommended.

Finished - 1/31/13
Source - audiobook from
MPAA rating - R for violence, adult situations
My rating - 8/10