Posts tagged book review

Some bookish thoughts.

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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. 😛

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Book #10 – finally.

I did something today that I haven’t done in quite a while now—I finished a book.  Not even a book, book, really.  One of those little positivity self-help-like books.  But I’m going to count it, because I’m too far behind not to!

I’ve never read anything by Anna Quindlen before, and this is a scant fifty pages – not even that, because the type is big, the margins are big, and more than half the pictures are pages.  But I’m still counting it. 😛

Actually reading it was quite nice.  It reminded me of what my professor said reading an original copy of Pride and Prejudice felt like.  You know how Austen’s books are divided up into volumes?  Well when they were first published, those volumes were actually seperate books, and from his description, were a breeze to read through because of their big font and wide margins.   This was a quick flip through and a rather nice one, too.  While not all of this is immediately acknowledgeable today (this was published in 2000) as there is not really “an embarrassment of riches” at the moment for some of us—many of us—just the unfortunate consequence of such, there was a lot of good things to ponder in this little book, mainly enjoying the journey, rather than looking forward to the destination, etc.  Nothing you haven’t heard before… but we can all do to hear it once in a while, hm?

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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.

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Book # 5 – Persuasion by Jane Austen

emth_persuasion14_1617_57My favorite Austen.  I don’t think I can deny that now, after the third time reading the novel.  When I was assigned Austen novels in school, this is the only one I ever finished by the due date—and that I did twice.  Now reading it on my own, though, I enjoyed it more than ever.

If you’ve been paying attention, I’ve been slowly working my way through Jane Austen, along and around other novels in between, going in mostly chronological order.  My only deviation is that I’m reading this before Emma, rather than the other way around—though I don’t remember why now.

While I love all of Austen’s completed novels, I can’t deny that I find Persuasion to be the fullest reading experience of the six, and the most satisfying read overall.  We are more in the main character’s head than ever before, and further from Austen’s authorial commentary, and at the same time, I have to think that Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth are Austen’s best-matched pair, simply for each of them knowing so thoroughly that the other is so well-made for them.  I also really enjoy the happy portrayals of marriage that Austen includes in this—the Crofts and the elder Musgroves—which are so rare in her other novels.

It’s also much subtler in the social commentary, also.  Of course Anne’s father and sister are ridiculous characters, but the only character who we can assume to truly scorn them—Anne herself is too good and loyal—is Captain Wentworth, and if the reader weren’t as priveleged to Anne’s knowledge of his looks as we are, we might not even know it.  Elizabeth and Sir Walter are, so far as Austen canon goes, let off pretty easily for their pride and vain ways.  They aren’t glorified by any means, but at the same time they don’t end the novel in any worse shape than they begin it, and they may be considered to improve (very slightly) in their opinion of Captain Wentworth’s worth.

The love story is just unbeatable, though.  Something that I suppose anyone who’s ever “let one get away” is half hopeful is possible.  Thomas Hardy has a number of poems about two people who love each other but let their paths go different ways, and either Time (who is generally capitalized and personified in Hardy poems) has taught them to be different people, or they’ve traveled the same amount of time but end up out of step with each other, and that’s what probably happens in life nine out of ten times, people grow up and realize that what they think they wanted once isn’t really what they need, or what’s best for them.

Anne and Wentworth know have a perfect understanding of each other in the first place, though, and when they meet again, it is only meekness on Anne’s part and pride on the Captain’s that keep them from coming together sooner than they do.  I don’t want to spoil the story for those of you who haven’t read it (in which case, get thee to a library—or even Pemberly.com) but if you’re still not convinced, just check out last year’s Masterpiece Theater version with Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones (pictured above), you won’t be sorry.  Even die-hard Darcy fans just might find themselves falling for a new Austen man.

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Thursday Next: First Among Sequels

How do I love Mr. Fforde’s work?  Let me count the ways.  1) Bibliophilia geekery at it’s very, very best.  You know that this man loves books, and not only loves them, but knows them, inside and out!   2) A fantastic knowledge of his own canon – which repeats and doubles over on itself and is full of time-traveling characters, so that’s quite an accomplishment!  3) Equal aptitude at dealing with the fast-paced action sequences as he is at writing the sweet, quieter home moments.  4) Long and patient build-up to obvious and yet well-deserved jokes. 5) Long and patient build-up to brilliant and not-so-obvious plot twists!  6) The ability to believably mimic the voices of dozens and dozens of well-loved literature characters.  7)  An ever-expanding mythology explaining how books are made.  Not on this side of the page – but inside the books themselves!  8) A main character that never gets tiring or facetious.  9) The gumption to stretch the limits on what can be considered story just about any which way he likes – Jasper Fforde can do anything he wants to do in fiction – and he probably will.

This is maybe not my favorite in the Thursday Next series—I’d say Jasper will have trouble topping Hamlet walking around in England in Something Rotten, in my book, but I’m not about to limit him to anything.  Parts of this are slow so far as plot goes, but we continue to see how very in-depth Fforde’s layout of the Book World is in his mind.  He’s mechanically minded enough to make things like Imaginotransference devices sound like they really do work – and silly enough to admit that Textual Sieves are universally useful simply because they’re never fully explained, and thus can be used for anything.

What I really enjoyed about this one, though, was Thursday’s family environment, especially any interraction we got to see with her children—it’s one of my favorite aspects of Fforde’s Nursery Crime series, also, he simply has a fantastic knack for capturing family dynamics.

This ends with a fantastic cliffhanger, also, one that leads back to things that began even in the second novel.  Fforde has this way of looking back at his own stories and twisting the innuendos of small details to bring them into a new and current problem for Thursday, which I think is utterly brilliant.

While this may not be my very favorite of his canon, it continues to prove to me that anything Fforde writes is worth reading.  The reader always feels a bit like they’re part of an inside joke reading his novels, and a brilliantly convoluted one, at that.  Reading Fforde’s work is like reading a friend’s writing, it’s that much better because you know just how much they enjoyed writing it, too.

So highly recommend this one, and if you haven’t read the Thursday Next series yet, shame on you!  Go on and start at the beginning, with The Eyre Affair, where Thursday has to save Jane Eyre from being kidnapped right out of her own book.  Meanwhile, I’ll be sitting waiting impatiently for Fforde’s next novel – and the start of a brand new series, Shades of Grey.

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The City of Ember

Book #3 of 2009 was an odd little tale called The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau.  This was a Christmas gift from a friend of mine, and I admit, this was a book I judged entirely by its cover.  I thought it was pretty, and I wanted it.  Maybe not the best criteria for wanting a book, but it didn’t really stop me.

I can’t say this was the best book I’ve ever read.  There are a few things about it that I just frankly didn’t understand, but to tell them to you would spoil some things, so I won’t.  But maybe that’s only because I’ve only read this one?  There are at least, I believe, four novels in the series.  I didn’t even realize, really, that it was also made into a film just last year—somehow I missed that entirely.

That said… this book has some very interesting concepts in it, and a couple of fantastic characters, to boot.  I especially liked the main character’s baby sister, Poppy.  One of my literature professors once pointed out (in a William Carlos Williams class—see White Mule) that writing about babies and small animals is both very difficult and very rare to find well done, and I thought Poppy was just a wonderful portrayal of a toddler.  She was almost the most believable character in the whole novel.  Not that her sister Lina and Lina’s friend Doon weren’t believable, but occasionally there was a bit of a cartoonish feel to the novel.  As I read, I was actually constantly going back and forth between imagining these characters as real people and as some sort of animated movie, which I don’t think has ever happened to me before, as a reader.  It was actually very interesting, and I don’t know quite what caused it.  Some of the background characters—especially the not-so-nice ones—are a bit Roald Dahl-ish, though, so maybe that’s a good part of it.

I’m kind of interested in how this book has had so much buzz and non-buzz about it.  Everyone seems to have heard of it, or at least seen it, but almost no one really knows what it’s really about, or maybe that’s just my experience with it.  I really do think that this has a lot to do with it’s lovely cover.  The whole series has really lovely covers, actually.  Maybe you’re not supposed to judge a book by how it’s packaged… but it sure does have some draw over us, doesn’t it?

P.S.  Wren & Marnie updated – I know they blog late at night… but hey, they’re in college, that’s just how it works.

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The Westing Game

Book #2 of 2009 – The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I read this book first when I was in elementary school, and then again in middle school, both thanks to school libraries at their various times.  A couple years back I decided I really wanted a copy of my own, and another read through it, but it took me until late last year to actually get it into my hot little hands.

The basic set-up is that sixteen people are gathered together together and told that they are heirs of paper-product mogul Sam Westing.  But not only heirs, they’re also suspects!  One of them has taken Westing’s life, and the one who wins the game, wins the inheritance.

If you’ve never read this book, you really must.  It’s generally labeled as a mystery, but really the story is one big puzzle, reading like a fantastic game of chess complete with fascinating characters and a lot of humor and heart.  It’s a children’s novel, but every bit as entertaining to me now as it was when I first read it at the age of ten.

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