Archive for book reviews

The reason why it always takes me forever to finish Jane Eyre.

His name is St. John Rivers.  Every. Darn. Time.

I admit, after having read this book four or five times, this shouldn’t surprise me.  The book is in stages.  The childhood stage.  The long and dreary Lowood School years.  Thornfield, Thornfield, wonderful Thornfield, and then…. St. John Rivers.  Sigh.

I understand that he’s a very important foil for Rochester.  He is everything good, and straight, and narrow, but also everything cold, hard and passionateless.  Actually, worse, he has passion, but denies it thoroughly.  St. John Rivers is exactly as unappealing as Charlotte Brontë ever could have wanted, and that’s a fact.  What’s also a fact is that it makes for slow reading.  Trudging, more like.

Don’t get me wrong, this is my favorite book in the history of books (or at least in the history of books I’ve read, which is a decent number for my four-and-score years) but St. John Rivers is a drag.  He just is.  He’s more cringe-worthy than Mr. Collins of Pride and Prejudice, because at least Eliza isn’t listening carefully to every word Mr. Collins says.

I suppose I could always skip over St. John… but I never do.  I just don’t roll that way.  And if I did I might miss his sisters who I do adore.  I honestly want to pluck him from the book sometimes, though.  He’s just so unenjoyable to read.  Though I suppose if he were gone, there’d be no one to save Jane from starving to death, would there?  And we can’t have that, so St. John will have to stay, no matter how much I whine and resist him.  Poor Rosamond Oliver.  He really must have been pretty for her to fall for him like that.

~Lisa, who has six more books to finish (this one included) before hitting her goal of 52 books in 52 weeks.  It may just happen this year!

Advertisements

Leave a comment »

Some bookish thoughts.

bookimage

I can hardly believe it thanks to the way my year started, but I almost think I have a shot at this 52 Books in 52 Weeks goal.  I’ve gotten behind on reviews here, since a lot of books I’ve been reviewing for Tales From the Hollow Tree anyhow, and my life has gotten sadly chaotic lately—not that that’s much of an excuse, life has a tendency to do that every time we turn around, doesn’t it?

I’ve worked myself up to having read 4o books this year, though, just a dozen books shy of my ultimate goal—with that exact number of weeks left, as a matter of fact, so you see, I really do have a chance here, especially since I’m well on my way through a few books at this very moment.  I’ll let you wander over to the Hollow Tree if you want to read about YA Fantasy books, but these are a few of the other things I’ve been finishing off lately:

c-windy1aAnne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery

Still really enjoying browsing slowly through the Anne books.  This was about the point where my attention would wander when I was younger—Gilbert wasn’t in it at all, and in my first, single-track-mind reading of this series, that was all I wanted to pay attention to.  It amazes me how many kinds and types of people L.M. Montgomery was able to write, though.  The latter part of this book, especially, feels like little more than a sampling of every-day humanity, though, and I think that’s why Montgomery’s books are as lasting as they are, because people don’t really change all that much, and Anne’s view of the sweet to the absurd is such a clear, kind way.  It’s like what I heard the actor who played Kirk (the town oddity) on Gilmore Girls say once about the creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, that she loved each one of the characters, even the odd ones, and that’s what made the characters so great.  I think the same is true for Montgomery.  She and Anne both love the range of humanity they’re presented with, and it shows.

A Book of Luminous Things edited by Czeslaw Milosz luminous

I’ve been trying my best to get back into reading poetry this year. In fact, the only New Year’s Resolution that I can actually remember, was to read a poem a day.  I failed pretty miserably in this, considering  Milosz’ book is the same one I cracked open on January 1st and it took me until mid-September to finish reading through it.  I’m glad I finally did, though.  This book was given to me in high school as a Christmas present from a good friend of mine, and every once in a while I’d open it up and read a poem or two, but I’d never have the forethought to actually read the thing through, which is a shame, because it is organized beautifully.  This was, quite honestly, the first collection of poems I’ve read straight through that wasn’t from a single author, but Milosz has it divided into segments, or “chapters” with introductions, that make it a truly enjoyable read.  I admit, too, that part of my love for it has to do with the fact that so many of the poets included are California poets, and there’s a certain flavor to Californian poetry that simply doesn’t  come from anywhere else, just like there’s a flavor to Russian novels or Italian opera.  It just is.  And that little taste of California is something that I always have, and always will love.


The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I had to give in to this one, once I saw the commercials for the movie start to show. The idea was to read it in time to see the film, and while I did that, I haven’t seen the movie yet.  That’s okay with me, though, I’m sure I will in time.  This book… hm.  I can understand completely why so many people recommended it so highly to me, because it’s a beautiful read.  I enjoyed just about every moment of it, because it swallows you up and keeps you in Clare and Henry’s world pretty fully, and Niffenegger’s handle of language and even more so of the timelines involved in the story—an impressive feat in and of itself.  I have to confess myself a little disappointed by the ending, though—I can’t tell you exactly what disappointed me, as it’s a big-time spoiler, but let’s just say I would have hoped more for Clare.  Really a gorgeous book, though, all in all, and definitely worth the read.

Austenland by Shannon Hale

This was one of those books that I was dying to read when I first heard about it… but then I kept passing it up at the bookstore for other things.  Or maybe I’m the only one who ever does that.  I admit, being broke and book-loving does not always mix supremely well together, so sometimes I run into conundrums like this.  The minute I saw this at the library, though, I snapped it up as quickly as I could.  I was due for some Austen-spin-offy fiction, having just read through the gamut of the master herself, and this fit the job nicely.  It was a bit odd that the focus was so much on Colin Firth as Darcy, rather on Darcy as Darcy, (like the outtake from Bridget Jones’ Diary where Bridget interviews Colin Firth as Colin Firth—if you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend) but maybe I only feel that way because I think Mr. Firth is much more like Darcy in the book in… well, almost every P&P-ish adaptation movie I’ve seen him in, than he is in the actual BBC production.  But that’s just my own personal thing. I can’t get too excited about Dracy jumping into a lake—I thought that scene was actually pretty silly.

Really, though, this was a fun book, all about a girl who treats every relationship (even the passing, childhood ones) as if they’re going to end up at the alter, and the Darcy-esque fellow she snags by the end is a perfect combination of stuffy and sweet.

Now I’m going to duck and hide as all the BBC Pride and Prejudice fans throw old vegetation at me.  Ah well, I stand by my words.  Colin Firth continues to get better and better, that’s all I’m saying. 😛

Leave a comment »

Fun Book Meme!

girl_reading_book.small15

1) What author do you own the most books by?

Easily (if not slightly embarrassingly) Melinda Metz, someone I’m sure very few of you have even heard of. I have all ten Roswell High books (that would be the series the WB show was based off of), plus doubles of at least four of them, and all seven of the Fingerprints novels, her second and vastly better YA book series.  If it were coming out now it’d probably be a hit, but it was sadly before it’s time.

2) What book do you own the most copies of?

I really only have doubles of anything… Little Women, Little Men, and Jane Eyre, definitely. At one point I had something like four copies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I’m pretty sure I gave at least two of those away.

3) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?

Secretly? That strikes out quite a few, doesn’t it? Um… Anthony Fascinelli, from the aforementioned Fingerprints series. Expressively so. And then Dicken, from The Secret Garden, and probably Finn from The Books of Bayern, by Shannon Hale.  Not so secretly – Mr. Rochester, Darcy, Gilbert Blythe, Captain Wentworth, Rhett Butler, and Ron Weasley.  What?

4) What book have you read more than any other?

Jane Eyre. That book is like breathing clean air for me. I reread books a lot, but Jane Eyre takes the cake there.  As you can see on my sidebar, I’m rereading it now. 🙂

5) What was your favorite book when you were 10-years-old?

The Secret Garden and The Little Princess. Frances Hodgson Burnett pretty much owned me at that age!

6) What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?

Probably I’d have to say The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum. But most of the books I’ve been reading this past year have been rereads of favorites or ones I’d been waiting some time for, so it didn’t have much of a chance.

7) What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

Like I said, almost half of the books I’ve read this past year have been rereads. But of new books? Fablehaven: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary by Brandon Mull. I really cannot speak highly enough of this series. It’s the best high fantasy series of the “talking dragons and fairies” that I’ve ever read. Really. Not that I read a lot of them, because I have trouble taking them seriously. This has never been a problem with Fablehaven.

8 ) If you could tell everyone you know to read one book, what would it be?

I’m going to be predictable here and say I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg. It is just so much about triumph, and basically a true story. Fictionalized autobiography. One of the few books that I’ve ever read that literally makes me feel like a better person for having read it.

9) What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?

Most difficult… possible Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.  I simply don’t care for books that are more about ideas than people.  There have been a few others of similar cases in my college career, but the others are all fairly obscure, so I don’t actually remember their titles.

10) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?

The Russians. I love reading Russian literature. Dostoevsky, Lermontov, Pushkin? Yes, please. I should read more French, though.  I’m not half as familiar with them.

11) Shakespeare, Milton or Chaucer?

That is not an effective question. It’s like asking whether you prefer water or oxygen—not in the life-or-death view of it, but in the fact that they’re three things that are essentially huge in the English language, and you can’t just pick between them, because they’re really not that similar. Milton is like… reading genius. You just know that he was one of the smartest men to have ever lived. Chaucer is similar, but I get bored with the bawdiness of it. I do not get bored of reading Middle English, though. The best thing to do with any of these authors is to just read them aloud, until you understand them. But on a day-to-day basis? Shakespeare, of course. There’s so much variety in his works, and just so many amazing characters.

12) Austen or Eliot?

Oh Austen, easily. But then I did read every single word of Middlemarch (which is almost the length of all six Austen novels combined) and was surprised at how much I loved it. Consequently, I’m surprised this question isn’t Austen or Brontë! That’s what you see most often, and it’s pretty unfair, considering how different the works are. Eliot is much closer to Austen’s feel, definitely.

13) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?

Oh almost anything contemporary that isn’t YA. I’m pretty awful in that I’m either stuck in the past or stuck in high school. Nonfiction, too. I almost never read nonfiction, though I think maybe I’m almost to the point where I’ll start seeking it out.

14) What is your favorite novel?

Jane Eyre, or Persuasion. Or possibly Little Women. But I haven’t read that last in ages, (it’s next in line to read after Jane Eyre!) so I’m interested in seeing how my view of it might have changed?

15) Play?

Oh… I’m going to cheat here and say The Oresteia. Which is actually three plays. But almost any Greek tragedy. I love Antigone, and Prometheus Bound, and just all of it. The Oresteia is just overwhelming, though.  Clytemnestra is just terrifying and awesome and somehow still sympathetic, and Orestes is just trying so hard to be good! I have a flair for the dramatic, what?

16) Poem?

Oh impossible to pick just one. Emily Dickinson—oh just pick one, they’re all brilliant, and I really don’t want to point you to an overly-familiar one just because it’s the one I can remember off the top of my head. That woman was just so smart. And if you think she’s depressing you’ve probably only read the four poems they assign in high school lit, and you should really read more. She is just impeccably smart. I love Sharon Olds, too, though, and one that comes to mind is from Billy Collins—”Marginalia” is sweet, and just a perfect poem.

I didn’t really mean for both of those links to refer back to Emily Dickinson, but it’s just as well that they do. Don’t get distracted by the seemingly random capitalization and punctuation… focus on the words. She knew her words better than anyone else I have ever seen. There are so many gorgeous poets, though. Whitman, Elizabeth Barret Browning. Longfellow, my old favorite. Poetry is kind of a secret passion with me, one I forget about and then it flares up in sudden, unstoppable waves.

Comments (2) »

Book catch-up!

I’m way behind in chonicling my books, and I’m not going to be giving a full review for all twelve that I’ve missed thus far, but I’ll certainly tell you about a couple of them.

Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor

I really wanted to like this—I loved The Looking Glass Wars, and Beddor’s spin on the hows and whys Charles Dodgson was “wrong” about what Wonderland is really like.  The sequel though… I just didn’t enjoy it.  Beddor seems all-too taken with his own villains, and he enjoyed writing their scenes much more than I enjoyed reading them.  I found them to be a fairly sickening bunch, not even the type that are particularly enjoyable to hate, just plain vile.  They also seemed to occupy more than half of the novel, so the glimpses of the heroes that I really did enjoy… well they were still wonderful, but just not enough to counteract the bad taste the baddies were constantly leaving in my mouth.

Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale by Holly Black

Another disappointment.  I really didn’t know what to expect going into this novel—I came by the series at a big discount sale and decided to try it, and while it was a fairly quick read… I just didn’t enjoy it much.  The faerie world was evocative and somewhat seducing, but the human world the main character was a part of… well that seemed almost as much fantasy as the other.  Her human friends came off as bad caricatures of 90s punks, and while I know that kids can be pretty hard-boiled about some things, I just didn’t buy it.  Also there are just some things played into here that do not appeal to me.  One of the main characters is obviously on a path towards… well, something that I don’t particularly care to see.  I may finish the series, since I already bought it, but it doesn’t come highly recommended from me.

Emma by Jane Austen

I’ve already mentioned that this one was a struggle for me this go around.  I don’t think it’s the book’s fault, I’m just not in a place in my life at the moment to have much patience with Miss Woodhouse.  Which is odd, because before reading this, I would have told you that it was (because it really is) one of my favorite Austen novels.  I’m starting to wonder, though, if I could enjoy it again.  The first time you read Emma is fabulous, because you follow along with her thoughts and (if you haven’t seen the film adaptations or paid too much attention to them) you more or less think like she does, expect her to be right about things, and then you’re taken by surprise by how things turn out, just as she is.  The second time is always fun, too, because then you can pinpoint all the things she’s missing as she misses them.  The third time, though… it just didn’t seem quite as fun.  I knew all the steps a bit too well.  I did love Jane Fairfax more than I have previously.  I wish, though, that I hadn’t watched both the films (Gwyneth and Kate) right before starting this.  Maybe that was a factor.

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

Just delicious.  I really can’t remember half of these books, so reading them again, a little older and able to appreciate more than just Gilbert Blythe (though I do still appreciate him quite a bit) is really a lovely experience.  I wound up copying down half the things Miss Lavender said to write them up in my quote book.  People don’t talk like this anymore… they can’t even really get away with it in fiction, which is a little unfortunate.

Lexi James and the Council of Girlfriends by Melissa Jacobs

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this.  The first third of it seemed mind-numbing chick-lit, with far too much detail about what every single character was wearing every single time they showed up on the scene… but it had a sweet, heartwarming, and nicely empowering ending.  Good stuff.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (audio, read by Jim Dale)

I had never listened to Harry Potter on audio—I very much like hearing the actors’ voices in my head when I read voices—but my brother and I were setting off on a long roadtrip, and he wanted to freshen up his memory of the fifth book before seeing the sixth movie, and it was a lot of fun to listen to in the car.  I still prefer reading the books on my own, but as a group activity, the books on tape are lots of fun.

The Hourglass Door by Lisa Magnum

Sadly another disappointment.  This is being hailed all over as being “better than Twilight,” but I’m afraid that is just ridiculous.  I really wish I could say it was better than Twilight, because it’d be nice to see a college-bound multi-tasking, smart, responsible girl knock down Bella Swan and all her willingness to basically give up her life before she hits the age of twenty.  But while we keep being told that the main character is this fantastic, special, smart, strong girl… we really don’t see it at all.  I have some more nit-picky opinions about this novel concerning understudies and legendary artists and whatnot… but they’re a bit spoilery, so I’ll just leave it at that.

So yes, my reading of late has sadly not been of the most inspiring type, but I’m very much enjoying what I’m reading at the moment.  I’m continuing with Anne, of course, in Anne of the Island, and I’ve moved from Jane Austen to Jane Eyre, a revisitation to what really probably is my favorite book of all time… though Persuasion likes to vie for position.  I’ve also started (finally, finally) to read Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, which all my friends rave about, because I’d really like to finish it before I see the film.  And while I’m only a couple of chapters in, it really is delicious.  Every line.

Leave a comment »

Fablehaven: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary by Brandon Mull

Fablehaven_Secrets_of_the_Dragon_Sanctuary-123154666333484

Finally had a chance to sit down and finish this fantastic book this morning.  The fourth in Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series, Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary follows route in being bigger and better than its predecessors.  I really cannot rave about this series enough.  Once again, Seth and Kendra Sorens0n have serious challenges and adventures and manage to prove themselves in the process.

I really can’t say all that I want to about this book because it would spoil the pants off of anyone who hasn’t read the series!  But I can say that these books are ridiculously inventive, completely understanding of kids’ intelligence—and completely appealing to the kid inside each one of us.  There’s really nothing I can compare this series to.  It’s not a Harry-Potteresque allegory, it deals with real-life ch0ices and consequences, and real-life challenges… it just does it with a cast that includes dragons and satyrs and giants and trolls.  That said, it is also something completely fantastical.  It’s something akin to mythology, where the heroes are just normal people, standing up against enormous (sometimes literally!) odds.  And through it all there is a sense of humor, danger, intrigue… even the smallest shades of romance.

As always, there’s also masterfully subtle lessons built in to the stories about teamwork, taking chances, being honest, and accepting responsibility for your actions.  Meanwhile, Mull has gotten better and better at conveying emotion and (admittedly) whopping the reader over the head with unexpected twists and turns.

I’m already ready for the next one – or maybe I’m not, since it’s the last one planned for the series.  The last one!  What am I supposed to do to get my fantasy kick after this?  Why must I be so series-prone, and love characters so much?  While I’m the first to admit that a story that last forever is a story that lasts too long, I hate to say goodbye to them, too.  Then again, I could certainly do with a re-read… once I get the books back from my brother, that is!

Fablehaven is also published by Shadow Mountain, the very publisher I’m eyeing myself.  I would love to see my books up alongside the likes of the Fablehaven series.  Someday, they just might be.

Anyhow, go grab these books!  The first three are already in paperback, and so, so very worthy of being added to your personal library, and once you pick the first one up, you’ll just want to keep on reading.

Comments (3) »

Surfacing by Isabelle Santiago

“I pad toward the bookshelf against the wall. There are countless science books: Biology, Chemistry, Micro-Biology, Physics, Environmental Science, Astronomy and a random copy of Road and Track, one of the car magazines Ryan is so crazy about. I frown at the overcrowded bookcase. Don’t I own any personal reading books? Romance novels? Mysteries?”

I cannot tell you how much I love that this is one of the first indications in Paige Jacob’s life that makes her realize that her life has gone out of balance.  Surfacing by Isabelle Santiago is about a woman who has everything—perfect house, gorgeous cop fiancé, great job in a gorgeous location…

But sometimes everything… isn’t everything.  Even the perfect life can’t always measure up to the fantasy.  Especially when you’ve lived the fantasy.  When Paige was seventeen, she lived in a tiny hole-in-the-wall town in New Mexico, and her life was anything but glamorous, but then she met a silver-eyed boy who was, quite simply, out of this world.  They have a whirlwind romance over a matter of months, before he disappeared from her life, leaving her with nothing but an unfulfilled promise to return.

Fast forward ten years, Paige is living in Los Angeles and her life has moved on, and yet she can’t put this ghost of her past to rest.  In an attempt to finally exorcise her past love, she’s writing a “fictional” novel about the experience—much to the dismay of her sister Aimee, the only one who knows her true story.

But is writing this story too much for her?  Can she even believe her memories herself?  Where exactly is the line between memory and fantasy?  And how can she think she’s not losing her mind when she runs into a man in a coffee shop who has silver eyes—but no memory of her?

I can’t explain how much I love this story.  Paige Jacob’s journey is inspiring.  This is more than your average romance novel, it’s very much a story of self-discovery, or re-discovery, rather.  This isn’t a choice between good and bad, but between good and better, which is so much harder to make.    This is a story of a woman who wakes up in her sedate, adult life and realizes she doesn’t even recognize the woman she’s become.  And then, in the ultimate of brave acts, goes in search of what’s been missing in her life.  She breaks some hearts along the way, but at the end, the reader can’t help but be satisfied with the way things turn out.  And along the way we have a fascinating character, not to mention some truly great side-characters.

Currently only available online at Freya’s Bower.  It’s a quick, fantastic read, which is about all I can handle during this busy move.  Highly, highly recommended.

Comments (2) »

Emily Windsnap and the Monster from the Deep

Book #7.  Yes, I realize I’m going slowly.  Emma is really boring me this time around for some reason, but more on that later.

This is the second of Liz Kessler’s Emily Windsnap trilogy, about a girl who learns at twelve years old that she’s half-mermaid.  The first book was all about her discovering her mermaid heritage and the reason she hadn’t known about it beforehand, which turns out being a bit more nefarious than expected.  She and her mother are then reunited with her mermaid father and sent to a secret island to live a happily ever after.

Which is where Monster from the Deep picks up.  I was fairly excited for this book, mainly because the idea of a secret, paradisical island where mermaids and humans live together in harmony reminded me a little of Peter Pan’s Neverland—well, that and the island at the end of the off-the-mark ’98 TV movie of Brave New World, with Peter Gallagher, but that’s probably just me.

My point is, I was looking forward to a lot of exploration of the island.  Despite the title of the book, I was basically assuming that it would be an end-of-the-book climactic thing, rather than what it was, pretty much the main focus all throughout.  I can’t complain, though.  It’s a middle-grade book, and while we don’t get to see as much of the island as I’d like, there’s some character development here that I didn’t expect.  Emily has looked forward to living on this island because here she would finally, finally fit in—except she’s so focused on fitting in that she works overly hard to try to prove herself, which is what ends up landing her in trouble in the first place.

That’s all good and well… but once she does get in trouble, the story goes a little bit off kilter.  Meanwhile, we’re flashing over to the point of view of Emily’s old school rival Mandy at the end of each chapter, which was an effect that I like, but I think could have been developed just a teensy bit more.  We get that Mandy’s parents are selfish and argue a lot, leaving Mandy feeling left out and not very important, but we don’t really understand a thing about her parents, except that they argue a lot.  Like in the last novel, the child-parent relationships just seem a little off.    The end of the novel felt very much like a repeat of the first one, also.  Both strongly imply that mermaids have been doing awful, awful things for hundreds and thousands of years, and then after Emily pleads her case, Neptune, despite being as megalomaniac-y as you could suppose, eventually sees her point and changes his ways.

I’m starting to wonder if the excuse “this is a middle grade book,” isn’t a little thin.  I don’t know that Emily learned anything from the mistakes she made in this book, except perhaps to not go trespassing on Neptune’s personal property—she abuses a friendship and instead of having to pay for it with anything more than her conscience, her friend turns around and praises her for being such a courageous person.  Instead of realizing that she would have fit in on the island just being herself, she just seems happy that she gets a party at the end of the book.  And on top of all that I’m having more and more trouble buying her as twelve years old.  The book is marked for ages six through eight, but personally I was reading stuff like The Secret Garden by then.  I can’t help but think that maybe Kessler is underestimating her readers…

That said, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the book.  I did, actually.  Despite her faults, Emily is an extremely likeable character, and any look we get at Mystic Millie is worth all the rest.  Though not how she’s described at all, I keep picturing Millie as an overdressed Zooey Deschanel, it just seems like the kooky kind of role she’d play, and if it ever gets made into a movie, she’d have my vote for the role in a heartbeat.

Comments (1) »