"The word is the making of the world." - Wallace Stevens

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cat Among the Pigeons - Agatha Christie

This was my last read for the Typically British challenge (ends on 12/31). I finished it on the 12th. Like every other Christie mystery I've read, you get thoroughly caught up in the characters and local community of the story. Most of the action takes place at a highly exclusive British girls' boarding school. A political coup, international intrigue, hidden jewels, multiple murders, mysterious characters, and Poirot stepping in towards the end, it's all here. Classic Christie. Very entertaining, enjoyable read.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Shadow of the Hegemon - Orson Scott Card

I swiped this copy from my brother when I was visiting in Ohio back in the middle of November. I enjoyed this read, but it wasn't without its flaws. The story stumbled a bit with keeping my attention; sometimes what kept me reading was the fact that I'd read the previous Ender books and was already caught up in some of the characters. I wouldn't recommend this being the first Ender book you read, it will be hard to understand or stick with. The story follows the events that take place after Ender's War, after the Battle School students return to earth and world war seems imminent. The character development is impressive, Bean and Petra especially. And the ending is satisfying. If you are a fan of Card and the Ender stories, you will enjoy this book.

The Stories of Eva Luna - Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende is another author I adore who is very good at putting together characters that catch your attention and hook you. I've read The House of the Spirits, but not Eva Luna yet. (This book was a present from my Aunt Judy and Uncle Gary.) I was excited to finally read this collection, started it last month on the plane to visit my family in Ohio and finished on the plane ride home. This is a collection of short stories that create and involve people from every kind of social background. There is an element of Fantasia to these "mystical realism" stories; the worlds and characters in them are full of magic and unusual possibilities. In the prologue, Eva is lying in bed with her lover Rolf Carle, a European refugee and journalist. He asks her to tell him a story "you have never told anyone before". Eva's answer is in the twenty-three stories that follow. They are romantic, rich, enchanting stories of different people and different places.

We are lead to believe that most of these stories are pure invention by Eva for Rolf. In fact, Allende slyly adds an excerpt about Scheherazade from A Thousand and One Nights before the prologue: "The King ordered the Grand Vizier to bring him a virgin every night, and when the night was over, he ordered her to be killed. And thus it happened for three years, and in all the city there was no damsel left to withstand the assaults of this rider. But the Vizier had a daughter of great beauty, named Scheherazade...and she was very eloquent, and pleased all who heard her."

But the last heartbreaking story of the book, "And of Clay Are We Created", is Eva writing about a natural disaster that strikes and that Rolf becomes directly involved in; an earthquake that looses an avalanche that buries a great deal of people, animals, and land. "Much later, after soldiers and volunteers had arrived to rescue the living and try to assess the magnitude of the cataclysm, it was calculated that beneath the mud lay more than twenty thousand human beings and an indefinite number of animals putrefying in a viscous soup. Forests and rivers had also been swept away, and there was nothing to be seen but an immense desert of mire", page 354.

During this last story, Rolf goes out in his television helicopter to follow the story, and befriends a young girl, Azucena (Lily), who is hopelessly trapped in a mire of mud with only her head above ground. Despite his struggles to help her, he fails and he is with her when she dies, watching her sink below the surface. What makes the story especially sad is that there was a very obvious way to help the girl; Rolf is trying to obtain a special kind of pump that will save her from being sucked into her tomb, but help came too late because all the officials and people making decisions had more important things to do. I cried while reading this story and cried again later, when the images and emotions were still in my mind. This is the last passage of that particular story, Eva is observing the changes in Rolf:

"You are back with me, but you are not the same man. I often accompany you to the station and we watch the videos of Azucena again; you study them intently, looking for something you could have done to save her, something you did not think of in time. Or maybe you study them to see yourself as if in a mirror, naked. Your cameras lie forgotten in a closet; you do not write or sing; you sit long hours before the window, staring at the mountains. Beside you, I wait for you to complete the voyage into yourself, for the old wounds to heal. I know that when you return from your nightmares, we shall again walk hand in hand, as before" page 367.

And the book comes to an end, with a small and final excerpt from A Thousand and One Nights:

"And at this moment in her story, Scheherazade saw the first light of dawn, and discreetly fell silent."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Children of the Mind - Orson Scott Card

This is the fourth and last book of the Ender series. Hurray, I've read them all! And although I enjoyed this story a lot, I would probably give it fourth place out of the four. Why?-It was as enjoyable as it was unsatisfying.

A quick premise of the plot: the Starways Congress has decided to destroy Lusitania and all the beings who live on it, human, pequinino, and bugger because the descolada virus could potentially get out and wreak havoc. Good old government. Only Jane, the evolved being who lives in the ansible Net, can save everyone but the Congress is also deliberately shutting down the Net and Jane is losing the ability to move ships outside the known universe and back. Soon she won't be able to help her friends in their mission to find the origins of the descolada virus OR save her life. And while being moved in this way by Jane, Ender's personality/soul/aiua is split into three different beings, himself and his "children of the mind".

Typical of Card's writing, there are multiple interconnected story lines going on, involving a diverse group of people from different species and cultures. While there was a lot of dialogue involving philosophical ideas that I found interesting, not all of it was necessary to get the point across which made it tedious. And there were other characters who interested me, but you don't really get a chance to get all that attached to them. I liked Wang-mu to start off with, but I thought her relationship with Peter was unrealistic and it ruined her for me. My least favorite character was probably Ender's wife, Novinha. Since she was introduced in the story, she's been in dire need of a sharp kick in the butt. Granted, her life was full of tragedies, but in Novinha's case, her personality makes a life long tragedy out of everything. She just seems like such a completely unlikable drama queen, the more so because she's so determined that what she decides is right, that's she's acting out of someone's best interest so the ends justify the means. I have zero patience for this thinking in real and fictional people! You have to wonder what someone like Ender sees in her. She does do the right thing at the end of the story, but she doesn't get there by herself. Valentine has to coach her not to be a selfish cow. Ugh, Novinha.

Card originally planned Xenocide and Children of the Mind to be one cohesive story. And I think he should have gone that route. But despite some lumps, this story is still enjoyable and brings up all kinds of thought provoking ideas, i.e. with the "birth" of the new Peter and Valentine added to the existence of Jane, Card asks the question, do we have to have a physical base to have a soul? And which came first?

Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Xenocide are well worth reading if you haven't already and I highly recommend them. And while I'm glad I read Children of the Mind, I can't say I wasn't disappointed overall. The ending was left open enough, you have to wonder if OSC is planning to do something else with these characters. After reading this novel though, I hope he just leaves them where he left them.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett

This was a reread for me. I actually finished it several months ago, I'm still way behind on blogging. I've really been wanting to check out the television series of this story that was made recently with Eddie Redmayne and Donald Sutherland, but first I thought I'd read the original story again so it was fresh in my mind. And I'm all set now to read the sequel, World Without End.

This story has a lot of layers. It spans about fifty years of time in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, in 12th century England. You follow the fictional characters as they live out real historial events. You get a detailed look at the main characters lives and life during the time period. There are social and religious power and political struggles, and the lives and fortunes of the main characters are centered around the building of the Kingsbride Cathedral. What is going on out in the wide world, the struggle for the throne between Maud and Stephen, directly affects small town life in Kingsbridge. I think the characters are well written. Their stories intertwine and affect each other, and the way the book is wrapped up is very satisfying.

Through his writing, you learn about the author's love of medieval architecture and how he projects it onto some of his characters. My favorite characters are Ellen, Jack, Aliena and Phillip. Here is a clip from the t.v. series they made. It looks well done, I can't wait to see it. And I luuuuv Eddie's voice. ^-^

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Solace of the Road - Siobhan Dowd

This was apparently Siobhan Dowd's last novel published, posthumously. I first heard about Bog Child over the summer through a friend, but when I went to buy a copy, I decided to purchase Solace of the Road first, after reading a review. It was on a whim, I really liked the sound of the title.
I loved this story. I immediately got caught up with Holly/Solace and her self discovery quest. She's likable, self reliant, sarcastic, creative, and restless, with a forward looking attitude. She has personality traits and runs into situations that just about anyone of any age can identify with. I loved it when she compared herself to Jane Eyre when she lost her luggage. And as the title suggests, when the open road beckons, there's comfort in moving along it. Sometimes you just need to be moving forward to be able to see things differently.
Holly's had a tough time with life so far and decides to take fate by the horns. She leaves her current foster parents' home to head for Ireland, where her imagination leads her to believe her alcoholic mother is waiting for her. She's armed with nothing but a tough cookie attitude and an ash blonde wig, calling herself 'Solace'. She's tough enough to hit the road with virtually no money, but she's still childishly naive enough to think she'll be happy at the end of her journey. For me, this was really where the "bittersweet" side of the story comes out; Holly is a fourteen year old girl, and doing her best to cope and do what she thinks is right in a world that just isn't always kind or fair. She meets all kinds of characters along the way that help shape the direction she's headed, as she ultimately learns to accept who she was and is. Like the Bonnie Raitt lyrics say, "We can't change the past, but we can leave it behind."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

In the Woods - Tana French

First of all, let me just say that I can't adequately express my feelings for this story without giving a lot away. But don't worry, I'm not in the mood to write spoilers so I'll just be vague.

There are two story lines you follow while reading this book, most of the book focuses on the police investigation of a murdered girl in Knocknaree, Ireland in the present. Detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox are the partners working the case. But the big complication is that Rob, actually Adam Ryan, is the sole survivor from an unsolved incident that took place in Knocknaree when he was a kid, in which his two best friends end up missing and he has no memory of what happened. He becomes as much drawn up in his past as he is in trying to focus on the Katy Devlin's murder in the present.

Now, I'm a fan of stories that make use of how the past touches the present. And I'm even okay with the fact that not all stories have a satisfying sense of closure. But when I finished the book, my general feeling was "that's it?". Not only because the investigations didn't satisfy me, neither did the way the main characters left things or who they ended up with. It made me sad, actually.

I began reading this book for the Ireland reading challenge armed with the knowledge that this was the author's first published work, so I tried not to be too judgmental. I enjoyed the read, but I also figured out the "whodunit" part maybe halfway through. It seemed kind of obvious. The characters themselves were more interesting to me than the plot. I enjoyed that the author made them human enough to make mistakes and did a good job of exposing what makes them fragile or predatory, but there were still some elements of the unrealistic to their relationships. I'd give you examples of what I mean, but it would give too much away.

In the words of Levar Burton, "You don't have to take my word for it." If you have the chance, give it a read and see what you think. I've been told her novel The Likeness has some of the same characters, so I will probably get to that at some point. But it's going to take a while, I'm going to have to get over feeling depressed about the previous story.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I Met Marc

Wow, time goes by way too fast. I've been doing a lot of reading and some random writing, but not a lot of blogging. Oh, and I got to hear Marc Bekoff speak at the Erie Library last week! (The lecture was called The Emotional Lives of Dogs and other Animals.) What a character. I was crazy happy to shake his hand and get my copy of The Ten Trusts signed, and I think he saw the hero worship in my eyes. He teased me, said now I just had to get Jane Goodall to sign it too. Spot on Marc, introduce us please!

Well, I was really looking forward to hearing Kate Solisti speak tonight at the Carbon Valley Regional Library. But fate had other plans. I had a hell of a time finding the place! AND I had the wrong time anyway! But fate wasn't in a totally bad mood. I did get to briefly meet Kate and shake her hand. And the librarian could tell I was super disappointed and gave me a copy of Garth Stein's novel, the focus of the lecture series. I can't wait to read it, I've heard nothing but good things. And the story is in the point of view of the family dog. Makes me think of Harold from Bunnicula...

Garth's a cutie, isn't he?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Forever King - Molly Cochran, Warren Murphy

I was in the mood to reread this last month. I guess you'd call it historical fantasy and a good book to pick up at the airport. The authors take the Arthurian legend and drop it in the twentieth century. Basic premise: Arthur and Galahad are reincarnated and the good guys are trying to keep the cup of eternal life out of the bad guy's hands. It's not great writing, but it's fun. Got kind of an Indiana Jones vibe from it. And Saladin is a pretty interesting, evil character. I bought a copy online for a buck (+ shipping), but if you live near a Half Price Books or the equivalent, swing in and look around for a copy of this. It's a good travel read.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Whose Body? - Dorothy L. Sayers

I finished this the middle of last month. The first Lord Peter mystery I read was Strong Poison ( I love the character Harriet Vane). I've also finished The Nine Tailors and Have His Carcase. It feels good to finally have finished the first one. As usual, Lord Peter's energy was contagious straight from the pages. And as always, Wimsey's faithful manservant Mervyn Bunter played assistant detective with his photographic skills and patience in suffering fools. But the story itself is a little disappointing, you know early on who the murderer is because there's no other reason for introducing the character. I spent a good part of the story waiting to hear the murder details explained, but not the murderer. And the other reoccurring characters come on more...what's the word I'm looking for...overdone? than in later stories. No criticism against Sayers, she does a fantastic job of developing her style and characters down the line. I think she's making fun of the British upper class, but I could be wrong, satire isn't my strongest suit.

It's an entertaining story, I enjoyed it. But I think if I had read this first written Lord Peter mystery first, I would have been disappointed. If you're new to Lord Peter or Dorothy L. Sayers, I'd suggest working your way backwards and start with a later publication. Just my two cents speaking from experience.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Telling - Ursula K. Le Guin

I read The Left Hand of Darkness years ago and loved it very much. I really don't know what my excuse is for not reading more of Le Guin sooner! (Although I have read and love the short story Catwings and had read A Wizard of Earthsea before.) As I said in my review for the Earthsea trilogy, she is the master world builder. I borrowed my mom's copy and read this Locus Award winning novel while staying at my folks' farm last month.

The Telling is set in the Hainish Cycle. Sutty is an earthling and an observer for the Ekumen (like Genly Ai on Gethen in The Left Hand of Darkness), staying on the planet Aka. The society there is run by the Corporation, currently in "The Time of Cleansing", and systematically destroying all knowledge, writing, and practices of the planet's past. Anyone caught using the old ways is "re-educated". Sutty digs carefully but deeply into the culture she's observing, starting out in Dovza City and traveling to Okzat-Ozkat, far up in the mountains. What she finds there can only be described as the truth.

I LOVE Le Guin's style! The people of her stories are fictional but live in perfectly crafted, realistic, complicated societies. There is no window she doesn't look through in her writing; there are anthropological, historical, ecological and environmental themes going on, and like in The Left Hand of Darkness, she addresses sex and sexuality. She takes relevant swings at our own contemporary culture with the Dovza people's favorite morning drink 'akakafi', which can be purchased at the Corporation brand 'Starbrew's'. And on page 127, Le Guin made my day with the phrase, "a world of words". Darned if I can remember the exact sentence, but that's what I get for taking so long to write about it, rats. I can't recommend this author's writing enough. If only the people making decisions like this were required to read these books, I think the world would be a very different place.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Gripping Hand - Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

"Humanity's finest minds have spent the past quarter century analyzing and agonizing over the deadly threat posed by the only aliens mankind has ever encountered- a race divided into distinct biological forms, each serving a different function. Master. Mediator. Engineer. Warrior. Each supremely adapted to its task, yet doomed by millions of years of evolution to an inescapable fate. For the Moties must breed- or die. And the single wall standing between them and the galaxy beyond is beginning to crumble...." -excerpt from the dust jacket

Another trip to Jupiter for the Mind Voyages challenge. Last week I finished The Gripping Hand, the sequel to The Mote in God's Eye and a book that was apparently eighteen years in the making. It takes place 25 years after mankind's first encounter with the alien species known as the "Moties". There is a wormhole that allows ships to pass from the Mote system into normal space, protected by a military blockade to prevent the Moties from leaving their solar system. The Moties two biggest problems are that they are in a state of constant population explosion and exhausted resources. A new Alderson Point (wormhole) is expected to materialize, although exactly where and when is open to interpretation. And so the plot begins, with new and returning characters.

There were elements to the story that left me disappointed, in both the book and the authors. One was a saying that was frequently used by male characters to express exasperation or surprise that left me kind of angry and to be honest...well I can't honestly say why the phrase "rape my lizard" bothered me, but it did. I'll just leave it at that. And there were characters (Jennifer and Terry) whose fate was never concluded to the reader, and I was looking forward to that part. And lastly, as a woman reading this novel, there was a lot of blatant sexism. I was really starting to like the character Commander Ruth Cohen, who isn't heard from again after Renner's had his fling and leaves her behind. The only female characters that have any real bearing on this story are an overly sexualized aggressive reporter who (surprise!) uses sex to get information and a just turned legal age "I have authority issues" aristocrat who bats her eyes at her sometimes boyfriend to get him to fly her into the Mote in his racing space yacht. The MD to Horace Bury turns out to be an assassin/martial artist/concubine, and her job is to be whichever her master needs when he wants it. It's like the authors are working out sexual fantasies through their characters. The pilot turned Captain is a man, the Imperial Trader with Motie experience is a 116 yr. old man, the scientific advisor/astrophysicist is a man. Although Glenda Ruth Blaine, the young aristocrat, does have the important job of carrying a special cargo that may help the Moties to change their fate. But once this is done, her importance in the story fades out too.

There were elements to the story that I enjoyed too, such as the authors making use of different aspects of human cultures to explain how the Moties dealt with their situation and communicated with humanity. The phrase "on the gripping hand", as in "on the other hand", was picked up by human people from the Moties, since most Motie biological forms have two slender six fingered right hands, and one big muscular left hand. The human characters are also picking up Motie body language, learning to shrug without moving their shoulders, for instance. There are a lot of scientific and mathematical explanations of space travel and space warfare too. I think Niven and Pournelle have some sort of obsession with coffee too. Every chapter mentions coffee! Drinking it, trading it, producing it. If they were trying to tell me something while referencing coffee, I couldn't pick it up. Unless it was that their characters are caffeine junkies?

I would definitely recommend reading The Mote in God's Eye first. And I definitely enjoyed that novel more. This isn't a sequel that can be easily enjoyed or understood without understanding what happened 25 years earlier in the storyline. But honestly, if you don't get around to The Gripping Hand for a while, don't sweat it. Entertaining, sometimes. Disappointing, YES!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A present from Ithaca!

My mom and dad were in Ithaca, NY for part of their vacation. And they brought me back THIS baby!

It's full of recipes: breads, pastries, and pizzas, as well as a cheese primer. It also includes a history of The Cheese Board, a bakery/cheese store/pizzeria that started in Berkeley, CA in 1967, and became a collective a few years later. I can't wait to get started on some of these recipes...Pecan Pear Muffins, Hazelnut Shortbread, Irish Soda Scones, Day of the Dead Bread, Saffron Bread, Roasted Eggplant Pizza w/ Red Peppers and Feta Cheese! PLUS a whole chapter on "The Cheese Counter"; how cheese is made, different kinds of cheese plates to put together and what goes well with other foods, cheesy bread recipes and of course, cheese recipes. The book is also full of local history tidbits and photos from the shop over the years. Thank you, Mom and Dad!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Morbid Taste For Bones - Ellis Peters

At last! I have finally read a Brother Cadfael mystery! It's been a literary goal of mine for ages, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I've watched quite a few of the BBC series with Derek Jacobi first. I decided to start at the beginning with the first chronicle, at the recommendation of several people. I haven't watched the television version of this story, so the story's mystery was fresh to me. 12th-century Benedictine monk Brother Cadfael is an ex-Crusader and herbalist, who has retired into monastic life at Shrewsbury Abbey. His quick intellect, keen observation, and compassionate understanding of human nature are his crime solving tools. This particular story chronicles the events that take place when his abbey decides to send a delegation to recover the relics of a Welsh saint. Being Welsh himself, Cadfael goes along as an interpreter. While the characters are fictional, the actual event of St. Winifred being moved from a remote Welsh mountain village to Shrewsbury, England in 1138 is an actual historical event. The only vocal opposition the monks encounter is with one local lord. Before they can come to an understanding he is found dead, having been stabbed in the back with a dagger and then pierced with an arrow in his chest post mortem. This sets the main plot, although there are other lesser dramas happening within the story as well, including a story line that illustrates the animosity between the Welsh and English at the time. It's impossible not to like and admire Cadfael, whose life experiences before taking his monastic vows have given him the poise that enables him to look at a situation from every angle. It might take me a while, but I'm going to read all 20 Cadfael mysteries! And I think I can mooch them from my medieval English professor mother, woot!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Stories from Afar

Take a moment and look at this. Tiny lives being saved and lived. Does that tug at the heart strings or what?!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Stolen Lake - Joan Aiken

I apologize about the very badly taken homemade pic, but I wanted you to see the cover picture by Edward Gorey on my copy. I couldn't find one online. This was a compulsive reread, I just love this story. My grandmother gave it to me years ago on some occasion, my birthday or Christmas. She had a distinctive all capitalized handwriting.

Sadly, it's the only Dido Twite novel I've read. I've always meant to read the whole series of the Wolves Chronicles (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts in Battersea, and Nightbirds on Nantucket) but haven't yet. Someday! Dido's a very lovable character. This story involves various people she's adventuring with, little cats and a big cat, and Queen Ginevra (Guinevere) of the land of New Cumbria as the villian. I'm going to leave you with some quoted reviews and whatever your age, I highly recommend this book.

"A larky adventure story that boasts a free and spirited adaptation of Arthurian legend and a generous supply of menace and chills." - Kirkus Reviews

"Dido Twite is back again and what a treat! There is enough material in the book to provide a lesser author with years of work; Joan Aiken's uniqueness lies in her imagination and in the breathless quality of her storytelling." - The Horn Book

"Satisfies, with or without knowledge of the previous books in which Dido appears, and it offers many of the same pleasures as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Excalibur." - School Library Journal

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Face of the Waters - Robert Silverberg

I found a copy of this novel on my mom's bookshelf while I was visiting Ohio last month, and thought it sounded like a great Jupiter Voyage. I'm also including this one in the Speculative Fiction Challenge. (The only other Silverberg I've ever read is The Ugly Little Boy, originally a sci-fi short by Asimov, and I really enjoyed it.)

It was interesting to go from reading about the water world of Le Guin's Earthsea to Silverberg's planet, Hydros. Like Le Guin's world, Hydros has not yet been fully explored by the human population and communication between islands is primitive. Except in Silverberg's story, the humans are not originally native to the planet. Earth was destroyed generations before. Hydros was originally used as a penal colony and there is no way to leave the planet once you arrive; the native race called the Gillies or Dwellers have forbidden the building of spaceports, and the "islands" that the humans live on with the Gillies are artificial and constructed of organic materials. Having been warned once already by the native race not to abuse the natural environment, one island of humans is banished for killing local wildlife (sentient creatures called "divers"), and given one month to pack up and get out. The long and short of the plot is that they have nowhere to go but through the Empty Sea and into uncharted territory to face the Face. I think Silverberg is excellent at bringing out his characters' attributes and flaws, making them very relatable. The main character, Valben Lawler, is struggling to define his humanity as a human who was born on Hydros and will never leave it, and dreams about Earth and will never see it. When you're putting yourself in his shoes as you read this story, you can sympathize with him every step of the way.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Earthsea Trilogy - Ursula K. Le Guin

Before Harry Potter and Hogwarts, there was Ged and Roke Island. I read this for a Neptune Voyage on the Mind Voyages challenge, and am also counting this as fantasy fiction for the Speculative Fiction Challenge. The Earthsea Trilogy is made up of the three small novels: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore. I got very attached to the recurring character, Ged/Sparrowhawk, who travels the world in his boat Lookfar. The three novels are three major quests that Ged, a mage, completes at different stages of his life, while helping others and facing his fears. The planet is Earthsea, a world made up of islands, mountains, sea voyages, magic, dragons, and various human cultures. I love this author. She is a master of world building. In the past year, I've reread The Left Hand of Darkness, another great read of hers. I give each book five out of five stars.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I'm not so sure about this...

They're making a movie based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go. Damn it, isn't there ANYONE in the film industry with original ideas? Do they have to keep turning beloved books into movies for quick cash? Although I will admit, it has the potential to be a good flick, they BETTER not mess this up. Grrr.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Endless Night - Agatha Christie

I read this for the Typically British challenge over in Book Chick City. It's been a long time since I read an Agatha Christie story, and even longer since I read one that wasn't either Poirot or Miss Marple. I was looking in only part of the right direction when picking a villian for this one. Up until about the last thirty pages, I was still figuring it out, but then it seemed so obvious. Got me again, Aggie. Some people are just inherently evil.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mind Voyages

How can I be my mother's child and NOT sign up for this challenge? I've been looking for an excuse to reread The Mote in God's Eye. And Babel-17. And Ender's Game. And Dune. And Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? a.k.a. Blade Runner. And heck, maybe I'll even try something new. Plus, some of these can double up w/ my speculative fiction challenge. Yay!

How the Irish Saved Civilization - Thomas Cahill

I read this for a class in college, but decided I wanted to reread it for the medieval and Ireland book challenges. It's been about ten years since the first read through, and I honestly couldn't remember what I thought of it, but it didn't take me long into rereading this book to remember what I think about Cahill's writing. I think the Irish monasteries certainly did their part to pass on knowledge and save certain texts from extinction. And also definitely provided a level of civilization and order that was scarce at the time. But the Irish certainly weren't alone in this task, and Cahill would have you give them most of the credit. (All of the credit, if you judge a book by its title.) I don't know, I just don't think he's a very objective historian, more like a sports fan rooting for his team. Or maybe I just don't understand his sense of historical humor? He certainly has Irish pride! He makes a great argument for his case by leaving out/failing to mention certain information and that makes me feel like he's manipulating the facts. I don't think this was meant to be a scholarly book per se, but I do think a better title for this book would be, "How Some of the Irish Saved Their Part of Civilization". Let me put it this way: if what you're looking to learn about is Irish Christianity's contribution to Western Europe in the early Middle Ages, then this is a well written and informative read.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Great Short Stories by American Women

This anthology, edited by Candace Ward, is of stories published between 1861 and 1930. I was already familiar with some of the authors, but there were names I hadn't come across before. I was familiar with authors Sarah Orne Jewett, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, Louisa May Alcott, Zora Neale Hurston, and Willa Cather. But the names Rebecca Harding Davis, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Susan Glaspell, Djuna Barnes, and Nella Larsen were new to me. The story subjects vary. If you like early American lit, then you will like this collection. A nice, light read!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Self righteousness results in impulse shopping

So this afternoon, after my fourth failed attempt to reach the downtown library (don't ask!), I logged onto Amazon in a fit of self righteous rage and purchased THIS babeh.

*Eeeeeeee!* I've wanted to read this for a while, the subject really interests me. I should exercise will power when it gets here because there are about half a dozen other books piled on my desk right now, and they were here first. But I'm pretty sure that's not gonna happen.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

84 Charing Cross Road - Helene Hanff

This is the first time I've ever read Ms. Hanff's writing. I would love to have met her, what a character. You can tell from this novel she was brave, funny, energetic, and had a dry sense of humor. She seems like she was a little temperamental, but it makes her a fiesty writer. I loved learning why the Thames is pronounced "Temmes." It was also nice to learn that Helene was someone who needed solitude; she didn't like writing where she could be disturbed. (I know I need time to myself to space out and daydream when I write in my journal. Or blog for that matter...) Time goes by pretty quickly in the first half of the story, which is made up of letters between Helene, Frank Doel, and the other people she corresponds with for years at Marks and Co, a rare and secondhand book shop in London. Call me a romantic, but reading letter correspondance really gives you a chance to get to know the writers and I love it. The second half of the book is entitled "The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street" and describes her adventures in England, when she finally gets to visit in the summer of 1971. Very charming story and lovable main character.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Monkey: A Journey to the West

The version of this story that I just finished is retold by David Kherdian. My philosopher brother loaned me this book a couple months ago, and it seemed especially fitting considering the past few months of my life. The original work is a hundred chapters and is thought to have been written by Wu Ch'eng-en in the sixteenth century. This version was in 23 parts, in 209 pages. Full of themes, symbolism, and social satire, it's a historical epic, a folk novel, and a fun adventure/journey story. The story is full of characters that each embody qualities of human nature, some are obvious and some are more subtle. Honestly, I wasn't sure what Sandy was supposed to represent, I had to read some reviews to get some ideas. Monkey's behavior lands him in some tight spots, (and there were times Monkey's incorrigible antics reminded me of certain men I've dated) but he eventually learns the self discipline he needs to obtain enlightenment. The woodblock illustrations in this version were taken from an 1833 Japanese retelling. Whether or not you're a history buff, philosopher, or love adventure stories, you should check this out. Thanks for the loan, bro!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Medieval People- Eileen Power

Read this for A Tournament of Reading. A very scholarly read that I really enjoyed; I was entertained as well as informed while I read this book. The author sets out to illustrate life in the Middle Ages and she draws on diaries, wills, letters, account books, and other records. In doing so, she provides insight into the lives of six individuals who lived during this time, and also draws on her own fascination and grasp of economic and social history. The edition I have also includes a previously unpublished essay by the author, "The Precursors", that describes the lives of three men living during the barbarian conquest of Rome. In this essay, she demonstrates that "they were not only the epigones of Rome but the true precursors of the Middle Ages" and that many aspects of their social lives survived to reemerge in the Middle Ages.

She starts out with describing a day in the life of Peasant Bodo, who lived during Charlemagne's reign. In this chapter, you catch a glimpse of life working a manse, the hardships and the pleasant times. I especially liked the description of Bodo, his wife Ermentrude, and their three children going to spend the day at the St. Denys fair, which went on for a whole month outside of Paris. They worked hard and they played hard!

Next, she describes the life of Marco Polo, drawing on his diaries and writings of his travels. In 1269 in Venice, Marco is a young, restless daydreamer who is given the chance to travel with his father Nicolo and his uncle Maffeo. He observes, asks qustions, and learns many things through many experiences, among which he becomes proficient in the Tartar language, meets the great Khan Kublai and becomes his attendant for many years. Ms. Power is careful to point out at the end of this chapter that Columbus not only read Polo's writing in the Latin versions and took extensive notes on them, they were the reason he decided to sail west and have adventures himself!

The third character we meet is Madame Eglentyne. When I read "For a long time historians foolishly imagined that kings and wars and parliaments and the jury system alone were history" on pages 74 and 75, I had flashbacks to college classes when I would be thinking the same thing. Any classes I took that focused on non-male (or non-white for that matter!) historical figures had to be separate. Anyway, in this chapter the author does a fantastic job of describing the huge amount of information historians found on social and ecclesiastical life when they began to look in other places outside of war and glory. By studying registers of medieval bishops who visited the nunneries, our author is able to describe details of monastic life that otherwise would probably have remained a mystery. Madame Eglentyne liked entertaining, dressing prettily, and having rooms to herself as the prioress. And you also learn that, to get around the rule of silence, the nuns had their own version of sign language. In some cases of extremely relaxed priories, the Prioress and her sister nuns had...*GASP*...pet animals! Here is where I'd like to get on my soapbox and say a few words about my favorite patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi!

In the fourth character study, Ms. Power draws on a book of deportment, written by the Menagier de Paris (Goodman of Paris) for his young wife between 1392 and 1394. She describes this book as one of particular interest "because of the robust good sense of its writer and the intimate and lively picture which it gives of a bourgeois home." (Yeah, but I still say the old fart was a bit of a pig!) In it, the Goodman describes everything from his wife's religious and moral duties, to household management, to how she should spend her free time! It also contains details on medieval cooking, "beginning with a list of specimen menus for dinner and suppers, hot or cold, fast or feast, summer or winter, giving hints on the choice of meat, poultry, and spices, and ending with a long series of recipes for all manner of soups, stews, sauces, and other viands, with an excursus on invalid's cookery!" (That sounds interesting to me.) It also described how she should dress and carry herself, but as Power writes, "The greater part of the Menagier's book is concerned, however, not with the theoretical niceties of wifely submission, but with his creature comforts." So, it's very informative on the life of a particular Parisian housewife of the time, but I honestly got impatient with the old goat husband very quickly when Power referred to him, and felt sorry for his wife. Bourgeois snob.

Chapters six and seven focus on two Thomases; Thomas Betson, a Merchant of the Staple in the fifteenth century, and Thomas Paycocke of Coggeshall, an Essex clothier in the days of Henry VII. The author's knowledge in the medieval economic system helps to bring both merchants to life through a compilation of letters. She is a genius at keeping things real; real people and what we can glean from actual physical documents. I really enjoyed this book and highly suggest it to anyone interested in medieval life.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Year of the Flood, Anne of Green Gables

GOOD GRIEF! It’s been a while! What a crazy few months it’s been. Before we left Ohio, in between packing and saying goodbye to friends and family, I did manage to purchase and read The Year of the Flood cover to cover and I've been meaning to share it for ages. I’m so in awe of Margaret Atwood. It was worth the wait.

This novel takes place in the world of Oryx and Crake, giving you the story from the point of view of the God’s Gardeners, a quasi-religious, vegetarian eco cult who have been banned and are being persecuted and murdered. But the few survivors are still celebrating their ideas, their Saints’ Days to Dian Fossey, Farley Mowat, Mahatma Gandhi. As in Oryx and Crake, none of the characters can truly love. There is some link that is missing in all of them, that is not supplied by the culture running their lives. Jimmy, Lucerne; their emotions and understanding of reality are completely warped and stunted. Pollution is so thick, you need a mask to walk around the inner cities. Corporations own and run all of civilization's systems, there is no justice; prostitution companies recruit at schools; natural healthy food is practically unattainable. At one point in the story, when two of the characters are reunited, one warns the other after they hug that they must be more careful, that they look suspicious (pg. 299). Natural emotional attachments and reactions are dangerous to express. Every decent aspect of nature and humanity is being exterminated. Gene splicing is condoned on a huge scale, with religious fanatics creating half lion, half lamb creatures for no better reason than because they can. The only animals left are genetically altered human creations, like rakunks and pigoons with human brain cells. Lumiroses are still blooming and glowing in the dark on the lawns of people long dead from a human created bio-virus. It's a horrific, man-made world of survivors surviving the death of civilization. Coincidentally, Shaun and I watched The Road earlier tonight and it definitely stirred up the same emotions; the idea of "keeping the fire burning" despite all the horrible things happening around you. (I was furious with the Mother figure for bailing on her family like she did!) Alas, I have not read the Cormac McCarthy novel yet. Bad, I know! But it is officially on my reading list to be finished sometime this summer hopefully!

Since the move, I've also reread the Anne of Green Gables trilogy. Passing by my living room shelves a couple of weeks ago, I was feeling restless and the green photo cover appealed to me. There is no green here! Lots of blues and grays though, but I'm missing my cool, green woods of northeast Ohio. Somehow, reading about Anne's Lover's Lane, Lake of Shining Waters, and White Way of Delight cheered up my homesickness. Thanks Anne!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Life in Medieval Times-Marjorie Rowling

Okay, before I can concentrate on anything else I have to share something with you. THIS recipe. Jhenn, you are a genius and thank you for sharing this. These make a great snack to go with hot tea or homemade tomato soup while you're enjoying your book. And now...for the latest book. I found this in the dollar bin of Half Price Books while I was living in Dayton, Ohio a few years ago and had never gotten around to reading it. So now is a great time since I'm working on Medieval Bookworm's challenge. It's a quick overview of the daily lives of medieval men and women of various classes, professions, and interests. Pretty straightforward. I'm enjoying how structured her writing is; each chapter is broken down into a specific set of people and gives you the basic rundown. It reads pretty smoothly, with the occasional sketch or drawing to illustrate a point. Enjoyable, with a great chronology and bibliography. Geez, I sound like I'm at a wine tasting or something.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Penelopiad-Margaret Atwood

I love Margaret Atwood. I read The Handmaid's Tale as a teenager and was hooked on her instantly. The Blind Assassin, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, Surfacing, Wilderness Tips, Oryx and Crake, I have read and reread and loved them all. I was running late this morning and grabbed the first random book off the shelf on my way out the door to make sure I'd have reading material at work. Lo and behold, it was The Penelopiad. I managed to finish it before I left work. This reread made me want to eat my words in my last post; the reworking of certain stories certainly can work and work well. And, I admit, I love the chance to hear a woman character's side of the story when she's been left out. Sorry for being a doubting Thomas, Mr. Maguire, I loved your Elphaba too. Penelope's voice is loud and clear in Atwood's novella. And it's just so damn satisfying to hear her address the double standard present in The Odyssey. There's Odysseus, off fighting, adventuring, and philandering with goddesses, sirens, and who knows who else. And there's patient, clever Penelope, fending off aggressive suitors, raising a rebellious Telemachus, maintaining the homeplace in Ithaca, and expected to stay chaste and faithful to her whore of a husband, even when she has no certainty that he is actually going to return to her. I definitely don't have that kind of patience myself; after almost 2 years, I'm still trying not to be annoyed by my boyfriend's lifetime subscription to Playboy in our bathroom. As you can see, we like very different...um...reading material. But I'll take that over him running off to rescue Helen of Troy anytime. And speaking of clever, Ms. Atwood brilliantly uses the Greek dramatic technique of the chorus to help Penelope's Maids tell their story. I can't WAIT to get my butt over to Borders to use my gift card and get me a copy of The Year of the Flood!

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Week of Rereads

Every once in a while, I love a good reread. I know not everyone out there is a fan, but for me there's something so comforting about rereading a good story if you're in the right mood. With about 3 weeks left in Ohio, getting ready to move across 5 states away from the fam and getting ready to be unemployed in a strange place, I'm enjoying zoning out with some childhood favorites whenever I get a minute to myself.

I actually started last week's rereads with Son of a Witch. When I first read Wicked, I wasn't feeling too open minded about the idea of one author (Gregory Maguire) reworking another author's (L. Frank Baum) characters. But Mr. Maguire's writing is subtle and thoughtful. Anyone who reads this can find a way to identify with Liir. Everyone makes mistakes and has regrets, but it's part of growing up and the price you pay for experience. Liir, like Elphaba in Wicked, reminds you that your mistakes are part of what makes you YOU.

Next, it was The Cricket In Times Square. I loved this book as a kid. I remember having to look up what "liverwurst" was. Who wouldn't be comforted by the adorable story of Chester Cricket, Tucker Mouse, and Harry Cat? Hee hee!

And lastly, on Saturday I reread Mrs. Piggle Wiggle stories. Where I grew up, the town library had all of Betty MacDonald's stories on the goofy grandmother character and I ate them up. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Farm was my favorite of course! ^-^ I especially love The Bad Table Manners Cure chapter in Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Magic, where Lester the Pig is recruited to instruct proper table etiquette. All in all this week, it was a good read down memory lane, so to speak.

Coming up next, I'm going to find some new medieval literature to read for the Medieval Bookworm's challenge! I think a phone call to the Mommy Bear is in order.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Language Older Than Words-Derrick Jensen

This is some seriously heavy, insightful honesty. This book has been on my mental reading list for almost three years, what the hell took me so long?! It really is brutally honest, and while I love it, it's a lot to look in the face. I had to wake up Deedee the Grumpelupigus to give her a beep on the nose to cheer myself up after the last chapter. Want to try it? It'll make you smile. Go ahead, beep the Grump's nose.

Thank you, Mr. Jensen. You are a wise one. I was afraid I was going crazy too, until I read your book. (As I write this, I'm being nudged on the leg by an elderly houserabbit with a huge sweet tooth, begging for a bite of trail mix. Communication at a very simple level, but interspecies communication nontheless. Her favorite part of the mix is the dried bananas.) Just so you know, I picked up on the irony of my earlier post, when I compared your book to money burning a hole in my pocket. *AHEM*

(I coincidentally came across this article earlier today, and it upset me so much I was really glad to be reading this book at the same time, it helped to give me some perspective. This incident is sad on so many levels, I didn't know which to cry for first. The obvious fear and anger on both sides of this situation are horrifying. That an elephant mother killed a human mother and her child...who know's what the real full story is? Why could this have happened, has she lost other babies to poachers before? Was she acting out of rage and frustration against human people who've hurt her before? Wouldn't the human mother who was killed have killed the elephant in defense of her own child, if she'd been able? You have to ask yourself, what brought this situation about, what made it possible? What can we do to make sure this doesn't happen again? I'm currently digging through the web for more information on this story. I'll share it with you if I find anything.)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Like wind in a bamboo flute

Has anyone ever read this book? Or watched this movie?? That's Raise the Red Lantern, by Su Tong? I have this flute solo STUCK, STUCK in my head! Curses!! Wonderful book, actually three novellas (little novels). I think the movie is pretty well done, I've watched it a bunch. Check them both out, if you haven't already!

Jumping right in!

Well, having just finished The Shadow Rising earlier today, I've decided to procrastinate for a bit before starting on the next in the series. Liked it just fine but after the first four in a row, I'm not in the mood for it at the moment. There is such a thing as too much fantasy and drama; burning farmsteads, bloodythirsty Trollocs, Perrin getting shot with arrows. Besides, if Derrick Jensen's A Language Older Than Words was money, it would be burning a hole in my pocket. So, up next, my b-day present to myself......