Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Confession of Brother Haluin - Ellis Peters

the confessions of brother haluin
ellis peters
c. 1988
196 pages
completed 12/22/2009

read for: brother cadfael chronicles

*may contain spoilers*

After a forty foot fall off the roof of the abbey guest hall, Brother Haluin makes a deathbed confession to both Abbot Radolfus and Brother Cadfael concerning a deadly sin against a girl in his past that he has kept hidden for eighteen years. Only Brother Haluin does not die. Slowly he begins to mend, and when he is recovered enough he takes it upon himself to embark on a pilgrimage to ask forgiveness from the people involved in his past sin. Because he will never regain the full use of his feet, which were mangled in the fall, and is forced to go on crutches, Brother Cadfael is ordered to accompany Brother Haluin on his pilgrimage. The two set off on what should be a pretty straight forward errand, but instead get mixed up in deceit, betrayals, thwarted lovers, and murder. And so it is left to Cadfael to untangle the mystery.

Once again, I think I was just so excited to read something that wasn't assigned to me! I couldn't put this down. Yesterday I was supposed to be wrapping presents, but I was in the middle of the third chapter and I thought to myself "I'll just finish this chapter and then I'll wrap my presents." Yeah, eleven chapters later I was done with the book and my presents were still unwrapped.

I had a few quibbles with this edition. First of all, there was just not enough Hugh! He is my favorite and for me, the more Hugh the more enjoyment. But obviously, this takes place outside his jurisdiction. And we got some Hugh at the beginning, so that was good.

Second, there wasn't a lot of mystery. Well, that's not exactly true. There was some weird stuff going on and I as the reader was certainly confused and intrigued, but it wasn't like Cadfael was really out solving a mystery. He was just sort of there. And because of this, Cadfael never really formed a relationship with either of the lovers. Normally he becomes one of their confidantes and advocates, but in this instance he just sort of knew them both. I'm sure as soon as he was gone, he was forgotten. I don't think that is normally the case.

And lastly, I was not satisfied with the ending of Haluin and Bertrande. Perhaps I am too young to find something I had lost so long ago and be able to just keep it as a beautiful memory. I would want it for real. All this being said, I still couldn't put it down. And I didn't really think of these quibbles until after I had finished reading, so they didn't detract from the reading at all. I am going to be very sad when I am finally finished with this series.


It's Tuesday, where are you?

Shrewsbury Abbey Shropshire, England

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Other Queen - Philippa Gregory

the other queen 
philippa gregory
c. 2008
433 pages
completed 12/20/2009

read for: TBR list

*may contain spoilers*

Chased out of Scotland by rebellious lords, Mary Queen of Scots turns to her cousin, Queen Elizabeth of England for safety and support. Instead she finds herself imprisoned and under suspicion and surveillance by the queen she took to be a friend. George Talbot and his wife Bess are ordered to act as Mary's jailer. Though at first imagining this to be a great honor, the Talbots will soon see their fortunes, their friends, their reputations, and even their marriage falling apart all due to their never ending duties as royal jailers.

It has been a WHILE since I've read anything solely for pleasure, so it was so nice to dive into this book I've been wanting to read for some time now. And I was so glad I ended up enjoying it as much as I did. I had read some lukewarm reviews on other blogs, mostly people saying it was a little slow, so I was a little apprehensive going in. History can get a little boring if nothing's going on. You can only get so much pleasure out of descriptions of castles and historical lifestyles. Luckily for me, I was not one of those people who found this installment of Gregory's Tudor series too slow.

For me, it is a remarkable historical author who can make me pull my hair and think for a split second 'OH MY GOD, MARY'S REBELLION WILL COMPLETELY CRUSH THE ENGLISH ARMY AND SHE IS SO TOTALLY GOING TO TAKE ELIZABETH'S CROWN!' I mean, let's be for real...I obviously know there is no way that could happen. But I swear, more than once I forgot what I was really reading about and found myself completely believing that Queen Mary was going to win. And then I got super bummed out when reality came back to me.

For the most part, I think I enjoy Gregory's three-person narratives. Seeing the same story from three different perspectives adds a lot of layers to what is going on and lets the reader understand certain secrets and betrayals and things like that a lot better. It also makes it hard for me to form a consistent opinion on any of the three narrators. When I read from George's perspective I think highly of him. I feel him to be extremely tormented by his loyalty to one queen and his love for another. However, when I read from Bess's point of view I am so frustrated by George. And the same goes for the other narrators. My opinion on each one depends on who is narrating.

I just have to mention that George's nightmare/vision at the end kind of broke my heart. Thinking of him, who had spent about eighteen years as companion/guardian/jailer to Queen Mary, presiding over her execution with tears streaming down his face was too sad for me. And the end of sweet eight-year-old Anthony Babington (okay, he was not eight at the end anymore, but he was about eight for most of the book)... But I guess there's no real way for the end of a book about Mary Queen of Scots to not be a downer.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Merry Christmas to all...

This is the first year I'm participating in the Virtual Advent Tour and I'm so excited! Click the picture link to take you to the tour's blog and check out all the other Christmas awesome-ness!

There is a lot of tradition that goes into Christmas in my family, so today I wanted to talk about two of my favorites.

My family has always been extremely musical, and we all enjoy musical theater. So several years ago we decided to check out the Puget Sound Revels, which are an affiliate of the Revels which began in Cambridge in the 70s. What is the Revels? It's a little hard to explain, but I'll try because it is just so awesome. Basically, the Revels is a musical celebration of Christmas (though some of the groups in different areas put on other seasonal shows). Each year there is a different influence (like Italian Renaissance, Medieval England, or French Canadian) and the Revelers put on a show of traditional Christmas song, dance, and pantomime. I say Christmas, but actually a lot of it is even pre-Christian and so is really a celebration of Yule and the changing seasons rather than Christmas. So when I say traditional music, I mean REALLY traditional. It's a lot of fun. The music is great, the performers are great, and there's even lots of audience participation. Every year I hope they pull my dad up onstage. It hasn't happened yet, but there's always next year. There are carols that are printed in the program so that the audience can sing along when the time comes, and every year at the end of Act One, they do a Morris dance to the song "Lord of the Dance" which ends with everyone in the audience grabbing hands and dancing through the aisles and eventually up on stage with the Revelers. I've only managed to get onstage once, but like I said I can always try again next year. Watch the video below to see "The Lord of the Dance" complete with audience dancing by the end, and to get an idea of the show.

This year (this past Sunday) was my fifth time seeing the Christmas Revels. Past themes were Medieval England, Elizabethan England, French Canadian, and Eastern Europe. This year was Moorish and Sephardic songs from the Ottoman Empire, taking place when the Jews were expelled from those lands and fled to places like England. Going to see the Revels is one of the highlights of my Christmas season, and I would HIGHLY recommend the show to anyone. If you click the link here you can find out more and see if there is a Christmas Revels near you (there aren't too many off the coasts unfortunately).

My other Christmas tradition I wanted to mention is much more bookish. Seeing as this is my book blog I felt there should be something bookish in my post. We have had this one Christmas book in my family since I can remember, The Family Read-Aloud Christmas Treasury. And since I've been little we've done just that. Every Christmas Eve, my family sits around the tree and we pass this book around and read aloud the stories and poems and songs. I think originally we read different things each year, but over time we became attached to certain stories so now we always repeat the same ones. My dad always reads the story of Babushka, and I always read the story of the little blue dishes and read the thank you note poem. My sisters and I are all in our 20s now, but still, Christmas can't start until we've read our stories. Well, these are my Christmas traditions and I hope you enjoyed them!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

anna karenina
leo tolstoy
c. 1877
817 pages
completed 12/10/2009

read for: comp lit 211, 100 greatest novels, 1001 books, penguin classics

*may contain spoilers*

Anna Karenina is a story of a woman, unhappy in her marriage, who seeks love elsewhere with disastrous results. As a counterpoint, this is also telling the love stories, whether tragic or joyful, of other people in Anna's life.

I have been planning on reading this for some time, but just couldn't get around to it. Thankfully school, albeit a really terrible Lit class taught by someone I have nicknamed "Dr. Butthead," has forced me to read it. It's a little daunting, at 817 pages, but is actually a pretty steady read. As Rory Gilmore said, Tolstoy wrote for the masses. So it's not filled with prose that's attempting to be overly poetic and fancy. It's plain and simple which makes for an easy and compelling read.

I will be totally honest and say that I actually did NOT like Anna. I felt bad for her, obviously. She's in a loveless marriage with a man 20 years her senior in a time where that was not uncommon and there was not a whole lot you could do about it. But even so, I feel like she made a LOT of bad choices. Letting Vronsky come to her house, not divorcing Karenin when she had the chance. And it was hard to watch her throw her child away and cling so hard to Vronsky which in turn caused Vronsky to pull away from her. I always got a little bummed when the book switched back to her story line.

On the flip side, I enjoyed every page involving Levin and Kitty. Even when Levin was just chillin in his fields working with the muzhiks I was entertained. I enjoyed the ups and downs of their relationship, the little squabbles they had to work through and the personal quirks they had to get used to. It wasn't as loudly passionate as Anna and Vronsky; instead it was quiet and sweet. And I liked that.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Music Mix Friday...Amy Grant "Christmas Hymn"...The Pogues "Fairytale of New York"

One of my favorite Christmas songs. And, oh man, is that a great outfit.
And just to prove my complexities and contradictions, here is a bonus Music Mix Friday and another favorite Christmas song...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A rose by any other name...

In an attempt to make myself go completely bananas, I am signing up for another challenge for next year: the What's in a Name Challenge! Read six books in 2010, each with a different specific criteria in the title. My books will be...

1. The Whiskey Rebels - David Liss (food)
2. Like Mayflies in a Stream - Shauna Roberts (body of water)
3. The Last Queen - CW Gortner (title)
4. Peony in Love - Lisa See (plant)
5. Looking for Alaksa - John Green (place name)
6. Sir Percy Leads the Band - Baroness Emmuska Orczy (musical term)

I started this challenge last year, but didn't finish (since I quit all my challenges) so I'm excited to try again this year.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Making the goal...

I am currently reading Anna Karenina. I've always wanted to read it and just haven't, but now I have to read it for school so yea! I'm really enjoying it so far, though really I could have read ANYTHING right now and raved about it just because it meant I no longer have to think about The Scarlet Letter. Unfortunately, we're kind of a week behind, so we're kind of having to rush through it. I am trying, but this is a LOT of book to get through. So I'm making little goals for myself. As of this moment, I am just beginning Part Four, so I'm on about page 360. My goal is that by midnight Friday I will be at page 500. Which is somewhere in the middle of Part Five. So wish me luck and here I go!

To be read...

I meant to post this yesterday...

The Lady Queen - Nancy Goldstone
The Nebuly Coat - John Meade Falkner
The Praise Singer - Mary Renault
The Queen's Mistake - Diane Haeger
The Day the Falls Stood Still - Cathy Marie Buchanan
The Last Will of Moira Leahy - Therese Walsh
The Garden of Persephone - Cesar Rotondi
Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle - Manda Scott
The Mulberry Empire - Philip Hensher
Cassandra, Lost - Joanna Catherine Scott
The Harlot's Progress: Yorkshire Molly - Peter Motley
Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates
Invisible - Paul Austen
When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish - Martin Gardener
Last Night in Twisted River - John Irving
The Museum of Innocence - Orhan Pamuk
New York - Edward Rutherford
The Guinea Pig Diaries - AJ Jacobs
The Bronze Horseman - Pauline Simons
Miss Buncle's Book - DE Stevenson
Bad Mother - Ayelet Waldman
Hypocrite in a Poufy White Dress - Susan Jane Gilmore
The Dust of a Thousand Places - Lucille Turner
Ash - Malinda Lo
The Madness of Queen Maria - Jenifer Roberts
The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England - Ian Mortimer
Emotional Geology - Linda Gillard
First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival - Ken Wheaton
The Adventure of English - Melvyn Bragg
Away - Amy Bloom
The Glass Room - Simon Mawer

30 new books and 1 new series. Seeing my TBR list get longer and longer kind of makes me sad. Because I know there's just no way I'll ever be able to read everything I want to. :(

Friday, November 27, 2009

Music Mix Friday...Elvis Presley "Blue Christmas"

As it is the day after Thanksgiving, it is now TIME FOR CHRISTMAS! In my house, Christmas starts the day after Thanksgiving with our annual unveiling of pop up Graceland and the Elvis "Blue Christmas" CD. And so, in the spirit of Christmas, here's Elvis singing "Blue Christmas."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Music Mix Friday...Mary Chapin Carpenter "I Am a Town"

I know it's Saturday. Was listening to this song yesterday. I love this song. It always makes me think of my childhood. We listened to this album a lot.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

the scarlet letter
nathaniel hawthorne
c. 1850
166 pages
completed 11/15/2009

read for: comp lit 211, 100 greatest novels, 1001 books, penguin classics

*may contain spoilers*

Hester Prynne, a woman living in Puritan Boston, is sentenced to live out her life with a scarlet "A" emblazoned on her dress after she bears a child out of wedlock. For the next seven years, she tries to devote her life to her child, Pearl, but her life is inevitable intertwined with the lives of two men from her past, Roger Chillingsworth and Arthur Dimmesdale. One man is destroyed by guilt and the other consumed by a relentless pursuit of revenge until finally all their secrets are revealed.

I had to read this for the first time in eleventh grade English (back in 2002) and now have to read it again for my Comparative Literature class. Now, normally I don't review books I've read before. I don't really see the point. However, if I'm being honest (and Dad, this is about where you should stop reading this sentence), I didn't actually read this in eleventh grade. I maybe made it through four chapters. Sorry, Mrs. Davies, I kind of faked my essay. But I have turned over a new leaf what with going back to school this year, so I am actually finishing all the books I'm assigned. Which is impressive for me. But onto the Scarlet Letter...

I have to say, I am not a fan. Apparently Nathaniel Hawthorne originally meant for this to be a short story and then someone else suggested he make it into a full novel. I feel this someone else gave Hawthorne some bad advice. This story could have been told in probably half the amount of pages Hawthorne took to tell it, and possibly then it would have been more entertaining for me. As it is, I kind had to slog through it. There's too much back and forth between action and reflection for me. I felt like every other chapter progressed the story and then the chapters in between were reflections on what just happened or what was about to happen. And sometimes Hawthorne would skip an action chapter, which by themselves weren't bad, and there would be chapter after chapter of reflection and character study. So for me, this was kind of a dull read.

I will say, they last two chapters picked up a little bit. I really enjoyed the final interactions between Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale; I felt there was finally some emotion expressed other than oppressive guilt. And I enjoyed the slightly ambiguous wrap up of Pearl and Hester's stories. But overall I will definitely be glad to be done with this book in class and moving on to the next book.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

It just can't come fast enough...

I think the fact that I am currently not reading ANYTHING that isn't school related is getting to me. So much so that I'm overly obsessed with finding and planning my reading and challenges for 2010. I'm going to end up, just like this year, with far too much on my plate. That being said, I'm signing up for Miz B's TBR Challenge. Read 12 books in 2010 that have been on your TBR list for at least six months. Maybe this time I'll actually finish it. My books will be...

1. The Virgin of Small Plains - Nancy Pickard
2. The Crusader - Michael Alexander Eisner
3. The Gathering - Anne Enwrite
4. Broken Paradise - Celia Samartin
5. Innocent Traitor - Alison Weir
6. Into the Wild - Sarah Beth Durst
7. The Romanov Bride - Robert Alexander
8. Jim the Boy - Tony Early
9. The Known World - Edward P Jones
10. Dragonwyck - Anya Seton
11. The Well and the Mine - Gin Phillips
12. Mudbound - Hillary Jordan

I'm getting so excited!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Music Mix Friday...The Highway Men "Highwayman"

I have had this song stuck in my head all day. Which my sister the literature scholar will confirm is much better than having "Male Prima Donna" stuck in your head for days.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

To be read...

Look at me getting back on track with my blog. I'm so timely with this post...

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel
Dr. Haggard's Disease - Patrick McGrath
The Kingmaker - Helen Hollick
The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters
The Virgin and the Crab - Robert Parry
In the Company of the Courtesan - Sarah Dunant
Sarah - Marek Halter
Lord John and the Private Matter - Diana Gabaldon
Like Mayflies in a Stream - Shauna Roberts
The Diamond - Julie Baumgold
Lady of the Roses - Sandra Worth
Lady's Maid - Margaret Forster
Too Great a Lady - Amanda Elyot
Everything is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer
Fragile Eternity - Melissa Marr (3rd in a series)
Princess of the Midnight Ball - Jessica Day George
Fingersmith - Sarah Waters
The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Trades of the Flesh - Faye L Booth

18 new books and 1 new series

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Two more...

My sister the literature scholar has suggested that maybe I'm getting ahead of myself with challenges since I just announced that I'm signing up for two more. But I just can't help myself. I'm not doing any challenges now which makes me sad. :( First the Reading Western Europe Challenge (which sadly doesn't have a picture). Read one book set in each of the twelve countries of Western Europe (the UK has been split up a bit). I tend to read lots of books set in England, and I always feel I need to branch out, but I find it hard to do so sometimes. So this is good. My books will be...

1. Belgium: Niccolo Rising - Dorothy Dunnett
2. France: Mistress of the Revolution - Catherine Delors
3. Ireland: Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt
4. Luxembourg: Luxembourg and the Jenisch Connection - David Robinson
5. Monaco: Monaco - Eric Robert Morse
6. The Netherlands: The Company - Arabella Edge
7. Switzerland: The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera
8. Northern Ireland: Eureka Street - Robert McLiam Wilson
9. England: Innocent Traitor - Allison Weir
10. Wales: Border Country - Raymond Williams
11. Scotland: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark
12. Channel Islands: Island Madness - Tim Binding

And second, the Year of the Historical Challenge. Read at least one historical fiction book per month. I love history! Which is good, seeing as that's what I'm studying in school. I 'm trying to spread it around and read about different places and different time. My books will be...

1. Innocent Traitor - Alison Weir
2. The Romanov Bride - Robert Alexander
3. The Crusader - Michael Alexander Eisner
4. The Last Queen - CW Gortner
5. Mistress of the Revolution - Catherine Delors
6. When Christ and His Saints Slept - Sharon Kay Penman
7. The Queen's Lady - Barbara Kyle
8. Cleopatra's Daughter - Michelle Moran
9. The Whiskey Rebels - David Liss
10. The Heretic's Daughter - Kathleen Kent
11. Dragonwyck - Anya Seton
12. Peony in Love - Lisa See

Woo woo! Come on 2010!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Haste makes waste...

Maybe I'm being a bit hasty (seeing as how things did NOT go so well this year), but I'm signing up for two more 2010 challenge. In my defense...they're both mini challenges. Just two books each. So not too outrageous yet. First off, the French Revolution Mini Challenge. Read two books set during the French Revolution. Mine will be...

1. Sir Percy Leads the Band - Baroness Emmuska Orczy
2. Scaramouche - Rafael Sabatini

And second... The Wilkie Collins Mini Challenge, which is as self explanatory as they come. Read two books written by Wilkie Collins. I loved The Woman in White which I read about a year ago so I'm really excited for this one! My books will be...

1. The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins
2. No Name - Wilkie Collins

2010 is looking good!

The Hermit of Eyton Forest - Ellis Peters

the hermit of eyton forest
ellis peters
c. 1987
224 pages
completed 10/22/2009

read for: brother cadfael chronicles

*may contain spoilers*

It is the autumn of 1142 and Richard Ludel has died, leaving his ten year old son Richard, currently a pupil at Shrewsbury Abbey, lord of Eaton Manor. Richard's grandmother, Dame Dionisia, wants Richard to return home immediately and marry the daughter of the lord of the adjacent manor (a girl twelve years Richard's senior), thus extending their land and power. Richard wants none of this, and with the support of Abbot Radulfus opts to stay at the abbey to complete his schooling, leaving his manor in the able hands of his steward, a choice the infuriates Dionisia. Meanwhile, a hermit and his servant boy comes to live on Richard's manor, and a man hunting his runaway villein takes up lodging at the abbey. Soon, this man is found dead in the forest, the hermit's servant boy runs off, and Richard goes missing. Cadfael and Hugh must untangle these seemingly unrelated threads to discover the murderer.

I think during the last couple reviews of these Cadfael books, I had begun to complain about the shift from the initial structure of the mysteries, but this one is right back to what I like. A murder occurs that is directly related to the abbey in some way (in this instance the victim was their guest), and both Hugh and Radulfus look the Cadfael for the answers. Cadfael befriends someone who's identity no one else can know, and helps two people fall in love. Classic.

There was a lot going on in this book. There were several mysteries that seemed to be completely unrelated to each other, but by the end we saw how everything was connected. I always love young mischievous boys, so Richard was great fun. My only complaint was the hermit's servant boy. How can you take a boy seriously who's name is Hyacinth?

Glad these books seem to be back on track. I wish there were hundreds of them.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Big Over Easy - Jasper Fforde

the big over easy
jasper fforde
c. 2005
416 pages
completed 10/20/2009

read for: TBR list

*may contain spoilers*

Humpty Dumpty has been killed and it's up to Detective Inspector Jack Spratt of the Nursery Crimes Division and his new partner Detective Sergeant Mary Mary to solve the mystery without getting bogged down by office politics, bad press, a relentless ex-boyfriend, and the security detail of his Eminence the Jellyman.

I really enjoyed this book. I've been hearing LOTS of good stuff about this author, though mainly about his Thursday Next series, and have been meaning to look into him for a while, so I'm glad I finally did. It took me a little while to get into the book, probably because of the start of the school year, but I picked it up this weekend determined to get a good chunk read and haven't been able to put it down.

I'm a big fan of puns, especially literary puns, so this was great. And I have always liked characterizations like this, fractured fairy tales and all. I'm a little wary of starting the Thursday Next series because I am under the impression that it deals with more literary characters, something I wholly against (I can't stand books that are written as sequels to great fiction, especially all those supposed Jane Austen sequels), but maybe since I liked this book so much I will give them a try. MAYBE. I'm not sure why I'm so anti the fracturing of literary characters, but I'm all for it when it's fairy tales and myths and all, but there you go.

This review has gotten a bit off track...The long and short of it is, I think this series is fun and I look forward to what's next.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Read the best books first...

Like I said, I've decided to quit all my challenges for the rest of 2009 and put all my focus on television school. However, I am having fun gearing up for the challenges of 2010, so much so that I have decided to sign up for my first one. So. FIRST CHALLENGE OF 2010 IS...(drum roll please)... BIBLIOPHILE BY THE SEA'S BOOKS TO READ BEFORE I DIE CHALLENGE! WOO WOO!! During 2010, choose between 10-20 books you have just always wanted to read but haven't gotten around to it yet. And then read them! For more rules, click the link above. I am choosing 12 books. One for each month of the year. I don't know why I like to do that. My 12 books are...

1. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting - Milan Kundera
2. Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
3. The Road - Cormac McCarthy
4. The Adventures of David Simple - Sarah Fielding
5. Belong to Me - Marisa de los Santos
6. Possession - AS Byatt
7. Oscar and Lucinda - Peter Carey
8. On Beauty - Zadie Smith
9. Beloved - Toni Morrison
10. Against Nature - Jori-Karl Huysmans
11. Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp - Stephanie Klein
12. When Christ and His Saints Slept - Sharon Kay Penman

Let's hope 2010 goes better than 2009.

To be read...

Still trying to get back on track here. This post is usually done on the first of the month, but since I was MIA at the time, I'm only getting to it now. So here goes.

Past Imperfect - Julian Fellows
A Plague on Both Your Houses - Susanna Gregory
The Promised World - Lisa Tucker
The Painted Kiss - Elizabeth Hickey
Blood and Roses - Helen Castor
The Marriage Bureau for Rich People - Farahad Zama
The Air Between Us - Deborah Johnson
Cleopatra's Daughter - Michelle Moran
Dragon House - John Shors
The Conquest - Elizabeth Chadwick
The Coral Thief - Rebecca Stott
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much - Allison Hoover Bartlett
The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters
Leigh Ann's Civil War - Ann Rinaldi
The Children's Book - AS Byatt
The Tudor Rose - Margaret Campbell Barnes
A Disobedient Girl - Ru Freeman
In the Sanctuary of Outcasts - Neil White
God is an Englishman - RF Delderfield
The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova
Kit's Wilderness - David Almond
The Street Philosopher - Matthew Plampin

22 books added to the list.

The Meaning of Night - Michael Cox

the meaning of night
michael cox
c. 2006
672 pages
completed 9/28/2009

read for: TBR list

*may contain spoilers*

Set in Victorian England, after being betrayed by a school friend, Edward Glyver discovers a destiny he was never allowed to fulfill. Consumed by his desire for what is rightfully his, Edward spends years waiting for the moment when he can exact his revenge and take up his rightful name.

Okay, my description is possibly a little melodramatic. But maybe so is this book. I finished reading this some time ago, and I'm bummed that I couldn't bring myself to review it until now. I feel lazy when that happens, plus I forget a lot of my thoughts and insights about the book. So this will be short and simple.

Revenge stories always bum me out because they never work out quite the way the people in the story expect them to. That being said, I loved reading this book. It was BIG so it took me a good chunk of time, but I feel it was time well spent. Some interesting twists and turns, engaging characters...all in all very engrossing.

My one complaint is that it's written as if this "confession" was written in Victorian England and is now (in 2005) being studied and published by a University. So there are lots of footnotes as if to help other scholars fully understand the text. I found this a little distracting. Especially since some of the footnotes ARE probably to do with actual fact, like historical events and published works, and others were definitely NOT, such as notes about the genealogy of certain characters. Things like this can really make me frustrated when I can't tell what's real and what's not. I'm glad to know that Michael Cox's follow up to this book is just written as a novel, not a (faux) scholarly work.


Don't worry, I'm not dead...

Okay, it's been over a month since I've posted. I know. In my defense, I started school! And it's been A WHILE since I've been in school. So I've been neglecting some things. Like my blog. Since starting school, I've been a little busy (getting used to the commute and the amount of reading and writing I have do...) so I've decided to just forget about all the reading challenges I'm signed up for. I love reading challenges, but I feel I need to get myself settled into the routine of school and just focus on that, and then I can start again with my challenges is 2010. And I promise to start posting again!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan

on chesil beach
ian mcewan
c. 2007
203 pages
completed 9/8/2009

read for: tbr challenge

*may contain spoilers*

A newly married couple in 1960's England, Edward and Florence are both excited and terrified at the though of the duty they must perform on their wedding night. As they sit over their wedding dinner looking out their hotel window onto the beach below, both contemplate the events that led to this night and it's aftermath.

I'm pretty sure Ian McEwan is one of my favorite authors. I've read four of his books now, and I've LOVED them (with one exception). His books are often so simple, about almost mundane events (in this case, the wedding night and consummation of Edward and Florence), yet there is so much to them...to the journeys that each character makes.

As for this book in particular, I was glad we got both Florence and Edward's point of view of that night. We saw both of their fears and insecurities, we saw how each of them made mistakes during their argument on the beach. The end of this book broke my heart, but after seeing how they got through their relationship and wedding, not knowing how to communicate their true feelings, I can see their was no other way for them.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It's Tuesday, where are you?

Chesil Beach West Dorset, England

Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf

mrs. dalloway
virginia woolf
c. 1925
194 pages
completed 9/3/2009

read for: decades challenge, 100 greatest novels, 1001 books

*may contain spoilers*

Mrs. Dalloway spends her day getting ready for a great party she is throwing in the evening. She and others she encounters during the day reminisce about their pasts and what happens now that they're older.

Oh WOW did this take me a long time to read...about a month, for a book that was less than 200 pages. Sad. Very sad. In the beginning, I could only read this in very small increments. If more than ten pages went by, chances are I would have no idea what was going on. There were several occasions where I would even lose whose point of view I was reading. This drove me crazy. There were some clear spots, when Clarissa or Peter started thinking about their past together, that I could follow and enjoy quite well. But there were other bits, especially those involving Septimus and Lucrezia, that were just a blur. I realize that Virginia Woolf was supposed to have pioneered "stream of consciousness" literature (believe me, my sister the English scholar, who loved this book, told me this several times) which is supposed to be so great, but as my own stream of consciousness is so often incoherent to myself, how am I supposed to follow someone else's?

Last of all, I have to say, someone should have taken the time to introduce Virginia Woolf to the notion that run-on sentences are bad. There is no prize for having the highest count of semi-colons per page. I'm sure this is just another example of the greatness of her writing and I just can't see it, but I think in complete, concise sentences. So should Virginia Woolf.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Aleph - Jorge Luis Borges

the aleph
jorge luis borges
c. 1949
134 pages
completed 9/2/2009

read for: classics challenge, penguin classics

*may contain spoilers*

A collection of short stories.

First off, I don't yet know how I should review short stories. I don't read short stories very often. I don't tend to like short stories. I just feel like there's not enough time for anything to happen, for characters to become involved, and so the story is supposed to be more about the writing, the beauty of the prose, than the story itself. Which I don't enjoy.

As for this set of short stories...this was just not for me. I can appreciate why this is known as great literature, but I don't do well with surrealism and metaphysics and philosophy. I don't always understand what the author is trying to say. And I think that happened a LOT while I was reading this. So I got frustrated and in turn just kind of powered through the book not really caring whether I understood what I was reading or not.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

It's Tuesday, where are you?

London, England

The impossible dream...

I actually thought I'd have gotten through a lot more last month. Apparently not. So here we go, looking at my ridiculous monthly goal of books.

To Be Read by the End of September
Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
The Aleph - Jorge Luis Borges
On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Meaning of Night - Michael Cox
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
The Big Over Easy - Jasper Fforde
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemmingway
The Virgin of Small Plains - Nancy Pickford
To Siberia - Per Petterson
American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld
Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury
The Crusade - Michael Alexander Eisner
An Artist of the Floating World - Kazua Ishiguro
Lady Audley's Secret - Elizabeth Mary Braddon
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Road - Cormac McCarthy

This is my last month before school starts so I better get going!

To be read...

Death Comes as Epiphany - Sharon Newman
The Counterfeit Guest - Rose Melikan
The Nuns' Tale - Candace Robb (3rd in a series)
The Last days of the Lacuna Cabal - Sean Dixon
The Seamstress - Frances de Pontes Peebles
The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett
Bitter Sweets - Roopa Farooki
Into the Beautiful North - Luis Alberto Urrea
The White Queen - Philippa Gregory
The Traitor's Wife - Susan Higginbotham
Shadows and Strongholds - Elizabeth Chadwick
No Teachers Left Behind - HBF Teacher
In a Dark Wood Wondering - Hella Hassee
Shields of Pride - Elizabeth Chadwick
The Last Duel - Eric Jager
The Weight of Silence - Heather Gudenkauf
The True Story of Hansel and Gretel - Louise Murphy
The Polysyllabic Spree - Nick Hornby
Sacred Hearts - Sarah Dunant
The Red Tent - Anita Diament
The Queen of Shadows - Edith Felber
Flint - Margaret Redfern
Favorites - Mary Yukari Waters
The Luxe - Anna Godbersen
The Day the Falls Stood Still - Cathy Marie Buchanan
The Calligrapher's Daughter - Eugenia Kim
The Lace Reader - Brunonia Barry
Crossed - Nicole Galland
The Earth Hums in B Flat - Mari Strachan
Rooftops of Tehran - Mahbod Seraji
Tattoo Machine - Jeff Johnson
Slammerkin - Emma Donoghue
Every Man Dies Alone - Hans Fallada

33 new books including one new series. Too many good books to read!!

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Year of Living Biblically - AJ Jacobs

the year of living biblically
aj jacobs
c. 2007
400 pages
completed 8/23/2009

read for: tbr challenge

*may contain spoilers*

I think the subtitle really sums this books up the best way possible: "One man's humble quest to follow the bible as literally as possible."

I had heard of this book and been interested in it for a while. But I was a little skeptical about reading it. I was worried the author would come across as an extreme, that he would either spend the whole book force feeding the reader the word of God or, on the other hand, he would spend the whole book mocking religion and those who are religious. As it turns out, he did neither of these things. He stayed pleasantly in the middle, trying to follow the bible and really discover the meanings behind each commandment in the bible. And not just the main ten, but every command. He met with leaders and followers of as many different denominations of Abrahamic religion as possible to see different ways of worshiping and interpreting the bible. This was not just an interesting book to read, it was also extremely funny which I think is important in a book like this. You always need a little humor.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Girls in Trucks - Katie Crouch

girls in trucks
katie crouch
c. 2008
256 pages
completed 8/15/2009

read for: southern reading challenge

*may contain spoilers*

Sarah and her three friends, Charlotte, Bitsy, and Annie have known each other since their days of Cotillion training during grade school. Even as they grow into different people and move away to different lives, they stay connected through the bonds of the Camellias, a social club they were born into back in Charleston.

I had mixed feelings about this book. Of the things I did enjoy, what stands out is the writing style. The book was kind of written episodically, where each chapter had it's own mini story line that had a beginning, middle, and end. And then the next chapter didn't necessarily pick up where the last one left off. For example, the first chapter introduces us to Sarah and her friends and the importance of the Camellias. We're also introduced to Sarah's cousin and we see the relationship between Sarah and her cousin (I wanna say his name was Ted...I don't have the book in front of me so I'm not 100% positive) evolve until it ends with his untimely death during Sarah's first year of college. Chapter two, which introduces us to Sarah's sister Eloise begins when she and Sarah are still in high school together. So there were some time jumps that I found interesting.

I also really enjoyed the humor infused in the prose of the books. Not necessarily the humor of the story (I think there were several events I was supposed to find funny, but really they just caused me to decide I didn't think I would be friends with this girl), but the humor of the writing. My favorite line describes Sarah and her friends' move to New York for college, "It took us a while to shed our Southern ways, but after a few months we figured out that one's natural height should not be enhanced by one's bangs." I just wish I enjoyed the story as much as I enjoyed the author's voice.

I had high expectations for some reason, and they were never really met. Things started off well. I enjoyed the description of Cotillion training, and Sarah and her sister Eloise's relationship in high school, but once Sarah got to college things started deteriorating. For one thing, these four "friends" didn't really like each other. They only stayed connected because of the power of the Camellias, but they never managed to really make any other real friends. Sarah turned into the epitome of our stereotypically apathetic generation, seemingly caring about nothing except finding a man to make her feel worthwhile. I know this is a common complaint of mine, lack of likable characters. And I know that likable people aren't the only ones who deserve to have their stories told, but I feel that a protagonist needs to have at least something about them that causes me to root for them. And on this front, Sarah was severely lacking.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy

the black dahlia
james ellroy
c. 1987
325 pages
completed 8/9/2009

read for: read your own books challenge, 1001 books

*may contain spoilers*

In a vacant lot in LA, 1947, Elizabeth Short is found murdered and mutilated. The LAPD is turned upside down looking for her murderer. Two cops, Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert and his partner Lee Blanchard, find themselves pulled from their normal beat and thrust into the heart of the investigation. The two cops become obsessed with Betty Short, known in the media as 'the Black Dahlia,' and their lives begin to unravel as they dig deeper and deeper into the mystery surrounding her death.

Okay, that synopsis didn't come out quite intelligently but hopefully you get the idea. This book is complicated! There is a LOT going on. I had some trouble keeping track of everybody and everything that was going on, but that just kept me more and more intrigued. There were so many false turns and faulty leads that just came to nothing, but everything came together in the end.


Pretty in Plaid - Jen Lancaster

pretty in plaid
jen lancaster 
c. 2009
384 pages
completed 8/3/2009

*may contain spoilers*

Memoirs of Jen Lancaster.

I will be the first to admit that this is so not a book I would ever have picked out for myself to read. I don't normally enjoy too much chick-lit, especially when the heroine's (it's hard for me to use that word in this context) most noted characteristic is her love of SHOPPING. I don't mean to offend (seeing as I'm basically cutting out an entire genre), but I prefer reading about people with slightly more substance. However I was given this book as a gift from a friend at my office's going away party for me. She knew I liked to read and she knew I liked outrageously colorful/tacky/ugly things and so these socks looked right up my alley (for the record I would totally wear them). I had packed pretty much all my other books so this got to be read during the drive from Mexico to Canada.

I will also be the first to admit that I thought this book was hilarious. Some of the scrapes Jen found herself in reminded me of myself. I most enjoyed her stories from her childhood, brownie days and lobster birthdays. As she got older, the stories were still funny, but it was that child perspective I liked the best.


The Woman in Black - Susan Hill

the woman in black
susan hill
c. 1989
144 pages
completed 7/28/2009

read for: themed reading challenge

*may contain spoilers*

As a young attorney, Arthur Kipps travels to the north of England following the death of a Mrs. Drablaw. As a representative of his firm, he attends Mrs. Drablaw's funeral and moves into her old house for a few days to go through her papers and attend to any outstanding legal affairs. The other inhabitants of Mrs. Drablaw's town refuse to go near her house and even to speak much of her. And Arthur soon discovers why.

I saw the play that was based on the novella when my family took a Christmas trip to London in 2002. We managed to squeeze in five shows during our week long trip. In case anyone cares, the other four were Les Miserables, HMS Pinafore, 125th Street, and The Lion King. So this was the only non musical. And I have to say, the play was much scarier than the book. I had nightmares for months which, at 17 years old, was somewhat embarrassing.

This is not to say the book was bad, far from it in fact. Even though I'd seen the play, it was years ago and I remembered next to nothing about the actual mystery. So I was just as intrigued as poor Arthur. Just the emotion the book was able to elicit was more one of sadness than of terror. The book was definitely creepy, old house and rising mists and ghosts in the graveyard and all that, but I never felt the terror I think I was supposed to feel.


Laughter is just a smile that burst...

Before I type this list I want to make it very clear that I'm well aware that these monthly goals are growing more and more ridiculous. WELL AWARE. And with that in mind...

To Be Read by the End of August
Girls in Trucks - Katie Crouch
The Year of Living Biblically - AJ Jacobs
The Aleph and Other Stories - Jorge Borges
Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Meaning of Night - Michael Cox
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
The Big Over Easy - Jasper Fforde
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemmingway
The Virgin of Small Plains - Nancy Pickford
To Siberia - Per Petterson
American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld
The Good German - Joesph Kanon
Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury
The Crusade - Michael Alexander Eisner
An Artist of the Floating World - Kazua Ishiguro

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

To be read...

The Tricking of Freya - Christina Sunley
Lucky Jim - Kingsley Amis
The Time of Singing - Elizabeth Chadwick
The Devil's Company - David Liss (book 4 of a series)
The Great Stink - Clare Clark
Water Ghosts - Shawna Yang Ryan
Sacred Hearts - Sarah Dunant
Little Bee - Chris Cleave
Broken Hero - Anne Whitfield
City of Thieves - David Benioff
Benny and Shrimp - Katarina Mazetti
The Jewel Box - Anna Davis
The Anatomy of Deception - Lawrence Goldstone
The Quiet Gentleman - Georgette Heyer
Bound South - Susan Rebecca White
The Thing Around Your Neck - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns - Elizabeth Leiknes
Four Queens: the Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe - Nancy Goldstone
The Devil's Queen - Jeanne Kalogridis
The Vanishing of Katarina Linden - Helen Grant
Lady of Quality - Georgette Heyer
I'm the King of the Castle - Susan Hill
All Other Nights - Dara Horn
The Yellow Lighted Bookshop - Lewis Buzbee
Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout
And Only to Deceive - Tasha Alexander
The Angel's Game - Carloz Ruiz Zafon
The Cellist of Sarajevo - Steven Galloway
1939 into the Dark - Paula Phelan (2nd in a series)
Godmother: the Secret Cinderella Story - Carolyn Turgeon
Hugh and Bess - Susan Higginbotham
The Spies of Warsaw - Alan Furst
Pope Joan - Donna Wolfolk Cross
Liar - Justine Larbalestier
The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears - Dinaw Mengestu
No One You Know - Michelle Richmond
In the Company of the Courtesan - Sarah Dunant
Unless - Carol Shields

38 new books, including two that are both part of a series. My TBR list is going to be the death of me.

An honorable defeat...

It's highly possible I've bit off more than I can chew. The Themed Reading Challenge will be the second challenge this year that I didn't complete in time. How sad for me. I blame my move (from Mexico to Canada basically, except I never left the US). Though I suppose there's not point in blame. I will just put it behind and move onto what's next...I have a LOT of catching up to do.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Music Mix Friday...Neko Case "Thirce All American"

Like I said, today was my last day of work. I'll be out of here in just a minute or two. And tomorrow I'll finish my packing and by Sunday I'll be on the road back home. So this place isn't really home, but it's close by and there aren't any songs about my home. So enjoy. :)

Work harder on yourself than you do on your job...

Today is my last day of work. I'm a little bummed. I mean, it was totally my idea to quit my job. I am moving back home to be closer to my family and go back to school, but...I love my job. I do. I love the people I work with, and all our crazy clients, and I love paperwork (no joke). It's been really weird this last week and a half because I've been training someone else to do my job. She's over there right now, doing all my data entry. I'm sad to leave. Good news is my going away party included tacos and margaritas.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Miscarriage of Justice - Kip Gayden

miscarriage of justice
kip gayden
336 pages
c. 2009
completed 7/18/2009

read for: southern reading challenge and what's in a name challenge

*may contain spoilers*

Anna Dotson, a married woman living in Tennessee in 1911 with her husband Walter and their children, finds herself growing bored in her marriage. Her husband doesn't show he loves her the way he did when they were first married, choosing to spend more time at his clinic and involved in his community than with his wife. During this time, Anna meets and falls for Charlie Cobb, a local barber, who is dashing and exciting and sees her as she wishes to be seen, as a person as opposed to an accessory. Their affair is discovered and the fall-out leads to a murder trial.

Leading up to the discovery of Anna and Charlie's affair, this was not a great book. It was decent, but a little dry. I didn't really like the relationship Anna and Charlie shared, especially once we got a little deeper into Charlie's character. I wish he had been a bit better of a guy. Then I maybe could have gotten behind their affair a little more, as opposed to just thinking Anna was stupid.

Once their affair had been exposed, things got better. Walter's reaction, Anna's reaction, the murder and trial was where I thought things got interesting. The verdict was a BIG surprise and I'm so glad they explained how the jurors got to their decision. Whether or not it was the right decision...I'm somewhat torn. I don't necessarily think the punishment fit the crime, however after reading the explanation I suppose I think it's fair.

I did think it was interesting the way this story was supposed to draw a parallel to the suffragette movement. Women weren't necessarily just fighting for legal rights like voting rights and the right to sit on juries, etc. They were also fighting for the little things, to be looked at as a person by their husbands, as someone with needs and ideas and thoughts of their own. This book is a true story, and this trial was a bit of a breakthrough for the suffragettes.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Music Mix Friday...the Beach Boys "Surfin USA"

Today is BEACH DAY! My office is taking a bunch of our clients to the beach for the afternoon. And so in the spirit of the California sun I give you THE BEACH BOYS!!!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Welcome to the World, Baby Girl - Fannie Flagg

welcome to the world, baby girl
fannie flagg
c. 1998
478 pages
completed 7/8/2009

read for: southern reading challenge

*may contain spoilers*

Set in both Missouri and New York, with a few stops in Atlanta, Chicago, and Vienna, Welcome to the World, Baby Girl follows Dena Nordstrom, a famous TV personality and news reporter, as she relives her past to discover who she is.

I've discovered my problem with Fannie Flagg novels. I want to like them so much, but I continually come up short. I'm sure I'll keep trying because, like I said, I've discovered the problem. Her novels, her characters really, all seem a little cartoonish to me. Like caricatures of people. And that makes it hard to really be invested in anything that happens. I can't see these characters as real people. This is the passage that made me realize it. "Dena was surprised. Dr. Elizabeth Diggers was a large black woman in a wheelchair. 'Hello Mrs. Nordstrom. I'm Dr. Diggers.' She smiled. 'Didn't Gerry tell you I was a big black woman in a wheelchair?'" (p.134) I mean who talks like that? And why the need to use the same phrase twice?

I also want to know how Dena can have lived in New York and Chicago and places like that all her life and never meet a single black person, like she mentioned on page 149. That doesn't seem plausible for big cities like that.

The book definitely got better for me as I got further in. Once we started trying to reconnect with Dena's past, I was able to get more invested. It took me a while to warm up to Dr. Gerry O'Malley. He was one of the more cartoonish in the beginning, the way his love for Dena was described, but by the end I could get behind him. Possible because in my mind he looked just like Dr. George O'Malley from Gray's Anatomy who I like quite a lot.