Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Road - Cormac McCarthy

the road
cormac mccarthy
c. 2006
256 pages (15 read)
stopped reading 3/29/2010

read for: before i die challenge, ew new classics

*may contain spoilers*

So normally my book policy is that I have to read 100 pages before I abandon a book. I feel that that gives me quite a bit of time to decide I really do hate something. Also, if it's a short book that I hate it's easy to convince myself to finish if I've already read 100 pages. I can't do that with this book. I just can't. It's amazing I got to page fifteen. Even with the fact that it took five days to read fifteen pages, normally I would push myself to keep going, but I can not tell you with any certainty a single thing that happened in those fifteen pages. I think there's a father and son and they have a shopping cart and maybe a tarp...but those details could have come from seeing the movie trailer not from reading the book. And surprise, surprise...I don't think it's the story's fault for me abandoning this so early. Even though I know that this is a post-apocalyptic story (which is something I normally avoid) I haven't gotten to enough story for that to possibly be the cause. Instead, I can't get past the author's writing choices. I'm sorry, but the English language has writing grammar and punctuation rules for a reason. I don't find it stylistic or in any way appealing when those things are so blatantly abandoned. I suppose there are exceptions (such as dialogue), but for an entire novel to be written without quotation marks for instance is too much for me to deal with. And so I choose not to put myself through the irritation of trying to read this book. Maybe I'll watch the movie in order to get to experience the story. Or maybe not.


Monday, March 29, 2010

The Crusader - Michael Alexander Eisner

the crusader
michael alexander eisner
c. 2001
315 pages
completed 3/24/2010

read for: tbr challenge, year of the historical challenge

*may contain spoilers*

The rain had let up.

Brother Lucas, prior of the monastery of Santes Crues in Catalonia, is concerned for the fate of an old friend recently returned from the Holy Land, having fought in the Crusades. Fransisco is said to be possessed by demons and Brother Lucas is called to perform an exorcism. After months spent together trying to exorcise the demons, Fransisco begins to tell of his time on crusade, beginning with the death of his older brother Sergio. Fransisco's story is one of horror, a story of cruelty and treachery and guilt. It is up to Brother Lucas to hear Fransisco's confession and save his soul.

I've always been interested in the Crusades, so I really enjoyed reading about some particulars in this book. And it was an interesting vehicle in which to tell the story, hearing about it as Fransisco's confession and exorcism. I think this allowed the reader to see more of how events affected Fransisco so terribly. Events didn't just happen, there was a lasting impression and consequence.

There were some pretty uncommon characters I thought. Especially Brother Lucas. At first I had a much more favorable impression of him, a concerned and kindly monk who wanted to help his friend. However, as the book progressed more of his personality emerged and I began to lose a lot of affection for him as he proved to be more and more ambitious and self serving and sanctimonious.

As much as I enjoyed Fransisco's revelation of his time in the Holy Land and Lucas' description of his efforts to exorcise Fransisco's demons, I felt that it didn't connect with the first chapter or two. In those chapters we were introduced to Lucas and Fransisco and Fransisco's cousin Andres, but as I read on they seemed out of place. The story they told, of Fransisco and Andres' dealings with the Abbot, didn't have much bearing on the rest of the story, and their actions felt uncharacteristic as I continued reading. I agree that there needed to be some introductory chapters to see these three as boyhood friends, but I don't think the episode that was told worked with the rest of the book.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What They Fought For - James McPherson

what they fought for
james mcpherson
c. 1994
69 pages
completed 3/16/2010

read for: hstaa (american history: first century of freedom)

*may contain spoilers*

Invoking his state's Revolutionary motto, Sic Semper Tyrranis, a young Virginia officer filled letters to his mother with comparison's to the North's "war of subjugation against the South" to England's "war against the colonies."

This is a really quick little read, so this is going to be a really quick little review. There's not a whole lot to say about a book like this. I had to read it for one of my classes and surprise surprise I finished the whole thing. Granted, it was only 69 pages so it's not like that was too hard. Anyway. I thought this book was very informative without being too dry. It digs a little deeper into what people were actually fighting for during the Civil War. It's actually not nearly as cut and dry as you might believe. In fact, by reading hundreds of personal letters and diaries from soldiers of the Civil War, McPherson points out that very few of them mentioned slavery as a primary motive for fighting the war on either side. So if you're interested in the Civil War at all, this is a great little book that looks at the ideals of the soldiers and why they stayed on the battlefield for so long.

The Whiskey Rebels - David Liss

the whiskey rebels
david liss
c. 2008
522 pages
completed 3/15/2010

read for: what's in a name challenge, year of the historical challenge

*may contain spoilers*

It was rainy and cold outside, miserable weather, and though I had not left my boardinghouse determined to die, things were now different.

Ethan Saunders is a veteran of the American Revolution who was shamefully and unceremoniously ejected from the army as a traitor. Joan Maycott is a young bride who risks everything with her husband to try for a new life on the frontier. The country is new and under the leadership of George Washington, but with Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State, and Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of Treasury, bitter rivals. As Hamilton attempts to launch his new pet project, the National Bank, Ethan and Joan find themselves on opposite sides of a plot to take down the government.

This book was a lot of fun, especially coming off a quarter of school where I studied the National Bank and the rivalry of the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians. Yea school! I've read a good deal set during the Revolution or leading up to the Revolution, but I don't think I've ever read anything set directly after it when the government was in such a precarious position and was already making some major changes from what the authors of the constitution had in mind (political parties anyone?). So I was very intrigued with the setting and glad I already had some knowledge of the contemporary issues. I don't think it would take anything away from the novel if you went into without knowing anything about the conflict between Hamilton and Jefferson, but I enjoyed knowing. All the reader would really need to know is Hamilton=pro bank and Jefferson=anti bank.

The way the story is told is very interesting. Chapters alternate following Ethan and Joan, with each speaking in first person. Joan's story starts several years before Ethan's and about halfway trough her story begins to align with the beginning of Ethan's. So questions about the beginning of Ethan's story get answered once the reader is privy to Joan's side. Eventually the two stories meet up and we see the end play out. I felt this way of telling the story was very effectual. At first, I was slightly put off because the two stories seemed so distant from each other that it felt a little abrupt going from one to the other, but I quickly began to enjoy the back and forth.

I had very few complaints with the story. For the most part I was constantly entertained, I thought the history was extremely accurate, and the characters were well fleshed out. I did not, however, find the relationship between Ethan and his slave Leonidas to be believable. Whether or not Ethan was against slavery, very rarely at this time would an anti-slavery stance equal a stance of racial equality, so I found it hard to believe that Ethan, Lavien, Joan, and all the others in their respective groups would treat Leonidas as companionably as they did. I also found the end to be a little abrupt. I felt like we got a good wrap up on Joan's side. She explained what happened to her and the rest of her friends. But I didn't get the same sense of closure from Ethan's side. What happened to him and Lavien? Why exactly was Pearson out to get him? I could have used a few more answers. I will have to look into more by David Liss.

Once again, I have added a new author to my ever growing list of authors to continue reading.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Niccolo Rising - Dorothy Dunnett

niccolo rising
dorothy dunnet
c. 1986
470 pages
completed 3/10/2010

read for: reading western europe challenge

*may contain spoilers*

From Venice to Cathay, from Seville to the Gold Coast of Africa, men anchored their ships and opened their ledgers and weighed one thing against another as if nothing would ever change.

Claes vander Poele, a lowly dyers apprentice and bastard, has a knack for getting into and out of the most outrageous mischief, whether that be in the form of seducing serving wenches or causing avalanches in the Alps. With a reputation as a lovable, good natured trouble maker, Claes hides his ambition and his cunning, and bides his time while laying the groundwork for a magnificent rise in society in fifteenth century Bruges. Claes makes some influential friends and alliances during his rise, but also manages to make some extremely powerful enemies. Ending while Claes is still barely twenty, Niccolo Rising marks the beginning of the House of Niccolo Saga.

First off, I am using this book to count as my Belgium book for the Reading Western Europe challenge. I realize Belgium was not really a country at this time. BUT, Bruges was there and is still there (same name and everything) so I say it should count.

I am going to be honest and say there were several elements to this book that I did not understand, mostly involving politics. There is a LOT going on politically: the war between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians in England, major conflict between the King of France and the Dauphin who is living in exile, war between England and Scotland. Plus I don't totally know what other places belong to what country. Was Flanders a part of France or its own country? And what about all the areas of Italy? Italy wasn't unified yet, so were all these areas separate countries? So I didn't always know who I was for and who I was against. And that was before we added in the big merchant companies who were backing different leaders as well as dealing with their own internal politics. Plus there were seriously hundreds of characters: Flemings, Venetians, Scotsmen, Greeks, etc. There were literally five pages of listed characters at the start of the book. So needless to say, there was a lot to keep track of. I was often a little confused. Which made for extreme slow going. I know it sounds like I'm complaining, but really I'm not. Just giving anyone else who plans on tackling this book fair warning. Not for the faint of heart!

But despite its complexities, I never felt bogged down. Almost every other page Occasionally I had to refer back to the character list to make sure I knew who was connected to who, but the action never dragged. Claes constantly kept moving and kept getting into trouble. There was a lot of humor in Claes' relationships with his friends Felix and Julius and in the trouble they would find so the action was never too dry. And there were a lot of surprises, especially as more and more of Claes' character emerged. In keeping with my theme of complexity, the characters were equal to the plot. Claes especially, as the hero of the series, grows considerably from a good-natured rogue to a shrewd, calculating prodigy of business and diplomacy. Even by the end of the book it's impossible to understand all of his motives and methods. Probably why there are several more installments to the series.

To sum up, I am super excited that I stumbled upon this series and am eagerly awaiting the time when I can read the rest. This novel has also made me realize how woefully lacking is my knowledge of the history and geography of this period.


Monday, March 1, 2010

By the end of March...

So the official party line is that I only read three books in February because I was so focused on school work. However, if we're being honest...the truth is I don't understand how I was expected to get anything done while the Olympics were on. I just don't. I feel like the world should shut down for those two weeks so I could watch every broadcast minute of it. As it was, I probably watched a good 75 percent if not more. Anyway...
To Be Read by the End of March Niccolo Rising - Dorothy Dunnett The Whiskey Rebels - David Liss The Crusader - Michael Alexander Eisner The Road - Cormac McCarthy Mistress of the Revolution - Catherine Delors Woo woo!

To be read...

When Will There Be Good News - Kate Atkinson
The Red Necklace - Sally Gardner
Lost - Jacqueline Davies
The Kitchen House - Kathleen Grissom
The Lieutenant - Kate Grenville
This is Where I Leave You - Jonathan Tropper
Disgrace - JM Coetzee
Vanishing America - James Conaway
Island of the Swans - Ciji Ware
Picnic at Hanging Rock - Joan Lindsay
The Scent of Rain and Lightening - Nancy Pickard
Deloume Road - Matthew Hooten
Secrets of the Tudor Court - Kate Emerson
Dear American Airlines - Jonathan Miles
After the Fire, a Still Small Voice - Evie Wyld
Uncle Silas - Sheridan le Fanu
Unfinished Desires - Gail Godwin
King Abdullah's Tomb - Linda and Gary Cargill
I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith
Apologize, Apologize - Elizabeth Kelly
Alas, Poor Lady - Rachel Ferguson
Breath, Eyes, Memory - Edwidge Dandicat
American Rust - Phillipp Meyer
All Unquiet Things - Anna Jarzab
Heresy - SJ Parris
The Solitude of Prime Numbers - Paolo Giordano
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven - Susan Jane Gilman
Fault Lines - Nancy Huston
Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith
The Stolen Crown - Susan Higgenbotham
The Sugar Queen - Sarah Addison Allen
Between, Georgia - Joshilyn Jackson
The Wives of Henry Oades - Johanna Moran
I'm Not Scared - Niccolo Ammanito
The Boy Next Door - Irene Sabatini
Requiem in Vienna - J Syndey Jones (2nd in a series)

35 new books and 1 new series. Okay, officially this is too many books!