Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sir Percy Leads the Band - Baroness Emmuska Orczy

sir percy leads the band
baroness emmuska orczy
c. 1937
316 pages
completed 1/27/2010

read for: french revolution mini challenge, what's in a name challenge, scarlet pimpernel series

*may contain spoilers*

The Hall of the Pas Perdus, the precincts of the House of Justice, the corridors, the bureaux of the various officials, judges, and advocates were all thronged that day as they had been during all the week, ever since Tuesday when the first question was put to the vote: "Is Louis Capet guilty of conspiring against liberty?"

Unfortunately, we already know the answer to that question, at least in the minds of those presiding over Louis Capet's trial, is "yes." And so the King is sentenced to death by guillotine, and there is nothing anyone can do, not even someone as daring and elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel. That being said, the Abbé called to administer to the King before his death is now in danger of being renounced as a traitor to the republic, and the Pimpernel and his League must spring to action in order to save him, no easy task as the Abbé is being hunted all over France. The Pimpernel seems to have enough on his plate as it is, but the League is about to discover they may have their own traitor in their midst...

Okay! Book two of the Scarlet Pimpernel series. In all actuality this was written almost thirty years later than the original. The series was written out of chronological order. Some people, I'm sure, read them in the order in which they were written, but I have always been a slave to chronological order and so have to read them that way or not at all.

While not quite as good as the original, this installment was a lot of fun. Percy's many disguises, each more over the top and ridiculous than the last, are always exciting to discover. The action was pretty consistent so there were no sections that dragged along. Percy's one confrontation with Chauvelin was pretty funny. I could just imagine Chauvelin's blind rage at being flung over Percy's shoulder and being hauled down to the cellar like a sack of potatoes, and that ridiculous image alone almost made me laugh out loud.

I really like the character of Percy. He's witty and ridiculous (how many times can I use that word in this review?), the most quintessential fop imaginable, even when holed up in a shack wearing rags and sharing a stale loaf of bread with his comrades. That being said, he still cares a great deal for honor, something shown very much in his dealings with St. John Devinne. While I like the comedy his foppishness brings, it's nice to see his serious side poke through every once in a while.

I did very much notice the absence of Marguerite. One thing I loved so much about the original was the love and tension between Percy and Marguerite, but she was completely absent from this episode and I definitely missed the dynamic of their relationship. I am looking forward to more of her as I continue with the series. I believe at one point she becomes a member of the League herself (at least according to Wikipedia) so I know I will get to see her again. The lack of Marguerite was my only real complaint with the book. Other than that, it was exactly what I wanted from a Scarlet Pimpernel novel.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Confessions - St. Augustine

st. augustine
c. 398
205 pages
completed 1/24/2010

read for: hist209 (history of christianity)

*may contain spoilers*

Can any praise be worth of the Lord's majesty?

The autobiographical account of St. Augustine's conversion to Christianity.

So this is a really odd thing to review and I don't really know what I should say about it. Also, I thought it was funny putting a spoiler alert on this post, but I like continuity and as all my other reviews have one this needed one too. But still, it's funny: spoiler alert! St. Augustine becomes a Christian! What a surprise!!

I was surprised at how easy this was to read. Some of the theological and philosophical puzzles Augustine was grappling with I might not have totally understood, but as far as the events and what they meant to Augustine go, I'm pretty sure I got a solid grasp. And...yeah. That's about all I have to say. Anyone interested in early Christianity, this is a pretty compelling read.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting - Milan Kundera

the book of laughter and forgetting
milan kundera
c. 1979
228 pages
completed 1/21/2010

read for: before i die challenge, 100 greatest novels, 1001 books

*may contain spoilers*

In February 1948, Communist leader Klement Gottwald stepped out on the balcony of a Baroque palace in Prague to address the hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens packed into Old Town Square.

A series of short narratives, mostly set in and around Prague during the 1970s, united by the common themes of laughter and forgetting.

I have to be honest and say that I was a little bored with this book. There were some compelling elements, such as the authors conversation-like writing style. Oftentimes, the author explained some of his thought process, why he wrote a scene a certain way, and sometimes he would stop the fictional narrative completely and tell a personal anecdote to more fully complete a thought. Unfortunately, while I found this writing style extremely unique and engaging, the stories themselves were somewhat bland for me. The narratives were both extremely politically and sexually charged, but instead of being engaged in any of the stories I think I just found most of it odd. I will be the first to admit that I probably did not get everything out of this book that I was supposed to. I'm sure (partly from reading the review quotes on the back of the book) that a lot of this was supposed to be a commentary on the nature of forgetting, both politically and in our own lives, how we rewrite the past as how we want to see it. But I think some of that went over my head.

That being said, there were a few things that stood out to me and made me think a bit. There were a lot of discrepancies between how one person remembered events and how another person did. Each person had there own perspective of the past. In one story there was a woman who was desperate to get some old diaries back because she realized she was beginning to forget her life with her dead husband. There was a particular line I liked, about how she wanted to remember everything, both the good and the bad, "She has no desire to turn the past into poetry, she wants to give the past back its lost body. She is not compelled by a desire for beauty, she is compelled by a desire for life." I think maybe too often when things are gone we remember them in a different light than how we thought of them at the time. We turn memories from reality to "poetry" if you will.

I mostly get frustrated with books like this. I feel like I should have some profound opinions when I'm finished, but more often than not I don't. Instead I'm left thinking that the story (stories, in this case) weren't compelling enough to keep me entertained and that I'm not intellectually inclined enough to be stimulated by the true meanings of the book. But I keep trying.


Monday, January 11, 2010

The Virgin of Small Plains - Nancy Pickard

the virgin of small plains
nancy pickard
c. 2007
336 pages
completed 1/11/2010

read for: tbr challenge

*may contain spoilers*

Abby Reynolds braked her truck on the icy highway, startled by what she imagined she saw off to the side of the road.

In January of 1987, a young woman is found frozen to death on a cattle ranch in Small Plains, Kansas. She goes unidentified into her grave, the whole town pitching in to pay for her funeral and tombstone. Over the years, the girl becomes simply known as "the Virgin" and local legend speaks of her almost as someone with saint-like qualities. Now it is 17 years later, and three teenagers, whose lives were forever altered on the night of the Virgin's death, have come back together as adults to answer the unanswerable questions and reveal the hidden secrets of their pasts and the life of the Virgin.

This book has been on my To Be Read list for over a year (though if I'm honest, so have a lot of books). When I got it from the library and read the back cover I had serious trouble remembering why I had put it there in the first place. I don't tend to read a whole lot set in modern times. So I kind of went in to this without huge expectations. I COULD NOT PUT THIS DOWN. I know, I was so surprised by how completely hooked I was. I'm sure I had other things I should have been doing this weekend but nope! I was reading my book and that was good enough for me.

I think one of the major draws for me were the characters. I was so interested and invested in them. I felt like they were very real. They had genuine confused emotions and they made stupid decisions sometimes, but those decisions were very reflective of their characters. I was also very happy and impressed with the connection the characters had between their teenage selves and their adult selves. Sometimes when books jump back and forth in time like this I can't envision both versions being the same person. But in this case you could easily see how these kids grew up to be these people.

Throughout the whole novel I was continually coming up with one wild theory after another to explain all the secrets and mystery, and there were definitely some instances where my predictions turned out true. I know when that happens sometimes you feel like the book is too predictable, but I don't think I ever felt that way even when my theories were coming true. Instead I just felt vindicated in a sort of "see, I told you so!" kind of way. And maybe that's because my theories weren't so much predictions as they were hopes to justify my love for certain characters.

2010 is definitely starting out well in the reading department!


Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Heretic's Apprentice - Ellis Peters

the heretic's apprentice
ellis peters
c. 1990
250 pages
completed 1/9/2010

read for: brother cadfael chronicles

*may contain spoilers*

On the nineteenth day of June, when the eminent visitor arrived, Brother Cadfael was in the abbot's garden, trimming off dead roses.

So begins the sixteenth chronicle of Brother Cadfael. In this latest installment, Elave is newly returned from a pilgrimage with his master to the Holy Land. Upon his return, he is accused of heresy and called before Abbot Radolfus to answer the charges. After the hearing, Radolfus decides the case must be put before Bishop Roger de Clinton, however it will be several days before the Bishop is able to visit Shrewsbury. As they wait for his arrival, Elave's accuser turns up dead and naturally all fingers point to Elave. Who else had such a grudge against the man? Cadfael, who has taken a special liking to Elave, must team up with Sheriff Hugh Beringar to discover if Elave will be facing a murder trial as well as one for heresy.

It took me a little while to read this installment, but I think most of that is due to school starting up again this week so I've been a little busy. Had I not been busy, I probably would have zipped through it.

This was a great episode in the series. I like how even though there are always the same sort of stock figures in each book (most especially in the characters of the lovers), there are enough difference in characterization to not make the reader feel like you're reading the same story over and over. There are enough differences between Elave and say Torold Blund from One Corpse Too Many or Liliwin from The Sanctuary Sparrow to make the reader look at each character as an individual.

I especially enjoyed the theological discussion that made its way into this installment. While these books have Catholic monks at their center, there is often very little discussion of religion. It's very much just a background or setting, not a player in the story. Instead, this time we dove into the issue of heresy and what it meant to question the absolute truth of the Church during this time. There was some discussion of specific Catholic doctrines and specific Catholic writings and figures and I found myself extremely interested in that. It's funny that there is such mention of the writings of St. Augustine because I'm actually taking the History of Christianity as one of m classes this quarter and we're reading his Confessions.

If I haven't said it before, I think everyone should read this series and fall in love with Brother Cadfael. I like to think Cadfael and I could have been BFF.


Friday, January 1, 2010

Music Mix Friday...Paolo Nutini "Coming Up Easy"

I'll admit, I don't totally understand the video. That being said, this is a great song!

By the end of January...

I'm starting the year fresh with new reading challenges, and hopefully things will end up better than last year. Like maybe I'll actually finish one. So with that in mind...

To Be Read by the End of January
The Virgin of Small Plains - Nancy Pickard
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting - Milan Kundera
Innocent Traitor - Alison Weir

And that's it! So nice compared to all those monthly lists last year. :)

To be read...

The Scapegoat - Daphne du Maurier
The Water's Lovely - Ruth Rendell
Into the Wilderness - Sara Donati
Charlatan - Pope Brock
Angel Time - Anne Rice
Bad Girls Don't Die - Katie Alender
Duchess - Susan Holloway Scott
Fingersmith - Sarah Waters
The Corinthian - Georgette Heyer
Waiter Rant - Steve Dublanica
Sacred Hearts - Sarah Dunant
The Girl Who Stopped Swimming - Joshilyn Jackson
Prima Dona - Megan Chance
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt - Beth Hoffman
The Return - Victoria Hislop
Wolfskin - Juliet Marillier
Bride of Pendorric - Victoria Holt

17 new books added to the list...

As of 2010...

100 Greatest Novels: 21 out of 100 (21%)
1001 Books to Read Before You Die: 37 out of 1001 (3.5%)
Entertainment Weekly's New Classics: 10 out of 100 (10%)
Penguin Classics: 46 out of 695 (6.5%)

Books Read in 2009

1. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver 1/5
2. Emma - Jane Austen 4/3
3. An Excellent Mystery - Ellis Peters 4/5
4. The Virgin Suicides - Jeffery Eugenides 4/5
5. The Teahouse on Mulberry Street - Sharon Owens 3/5
6. Casino Royale - Ian Flemming 3/5
7. The Importance of Being Ernest - Oscar Wilde (reread)
8. Spring Awakening - Steven Satar 5/5
9. Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 3/4
10. The Art of Racing in the Rain - Garth Stein 2.5/5
11. Royal Escape - Georgette Heyer 3/5
12. Away Laughing on a Fast Camel - Louise Rennison (reread)
13. Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers - Louise Rennison (reread)
14. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame 4/5
15. The Raven in the Foregate - Ellis Peters 4/5
16. Haroun and the Sea of Stories - Salman Rushdie 4/5
17. The Shape of Mercy - Susan Meissner 4/5
18. Gods Behaving Badly - Marie Phillips 3/5
19. Plantagenet Prelude - Jean Plaidy 3/5
20. Phantom of the Opera - Gaston Leroux 4/5
21. The Rose Rent - Ellis Peters 4/5
22. The Tsarina's Daughter - Carolly Erikson 5/5
23. Agnes Grey - Anne Bronte 5/5
24. The Crimson Petal and the White - Michel Faber 1/5
25. Welcome to the World, Baby Girl - Fannie Flagg 4/5
26. Miscarriage of Justice - Kip Gayden 3/5
27. The Woman in Black - Susan Hill 3/5
28. Pretty in Plaid - Jen Lancaster 5/5
29. The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy 4/5
30. Girls in Trucks - Katie Crouch 3/5
31. The Year of Living Biblically - AJ Jacobs 5/5
32. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - JK Rowling (reread)
33. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - JK Rowling (reread)
34. The Aleph - Jorge Louis Borges 2/5
35. Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf 2/5
36. On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan 5/5
37. The Meaning of Night - Michael Cox 4/5
38. King Lear - William Shakespeare (reread)
39. The Big Over Easy - Jasper Fforde 4/5
40. The Hermit of Eyton Forest - Ellis Peters 5/5
41. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (reread)
42. The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne 3/5
43. Facing East From Indian Country - Dr. Daniel K. Richter
44. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy 4/5
45. Movie Made America - Robert Sklar
46. The Other Queen - Philippa Gregory 4/5
47. The Confession of Brother Haluin - Ellis Peters 5/5

Favorite Fiction: Spring Awakening - Steven Satar (Is drama fiction? I never remember.)
Least Favorite Fiction: The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
Favorite Nonfiction: The Year of Living Biblically - AJ Jacobs
Favorite Reread: Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen