Monday, November 16, 2009

Get a Life That Doesn't Suck: 10 Surefire Ways to Live Life and Love the Ride Get a Life That Doesn't Suck: 10 Surefire Ways to Live Life and Love the Ride by Michelle DeAngelis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A refreshing take on a self help book that, while it doesn't necessarily teach anything new and noteworthy, it teaches all the things we should know in a way that's refreshingly digestible and immediately applicable.

The summary from the book cover, which explains it pretty well (although the claims *may* be a little over generous for what it delivers...):
Life can really suck. But it doesn't have to. This book offers a better way to live every day.

Engaging and encouraging, Get a Life That Doesn't Suck: 10 Surefire Ways to Live Life and Love the Ride explains how ill-equipped most people are to deal with the challenges in life and then introduces foundational tools and effective techniques to take you from crappy to happy. By providing the specific "mechanics" to joy, Michelle shows that joy is a repeatable by-product of living your life in integrity and of making conscious choices every day that kick misery, worry and guilt to the curb.

For anyone who is bored, disenchanted, or in despair, this book serves up a combination of street-smart wisdom and cheerful irreverence and shows you how to enjoy the "ride of your life," regardless of the roadblocks along the way.

With this book you can:

•Close the gap between your dreams and your real life
•Learn very specific techniques to make the best of every situation
•Get the importance of saying what you mean and doing what you say
•Learn how to thoughtfully respond instead of react to tricky situations
•Master the 10 Life-Changing Ahas - daily actions that improve your life
•Get the tools you need to manage yourself and make life easier
•Um, get a life that doesn't suck!

Check out another synopsis of the content here:

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Monday, November 9, 2009

TV for your brain, take 2

The Angel Experiment (Maximum Ride, #1) The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I'll just get this out there: James Patterson is not one of my favorite authors. His books, which are typically formula-driven without a whole lot of originality, are typically perfect candidates for a made for TV movie. So it probably goes without saying that I wasn't expecting Pulitzer-esque writing.

My husband, who lovingly loaded this free book into my Kindle, thought this would be a great bridge between the mass market novels he likes to read and my current infatuation with Young Adult books. And he was sort of right: the story was one that was written pretty well (in YA formula). And though it was entirely predictable, I became invested in the characters, so much so that I think I MIGHT read another Maximum Ride novel. But first, I have to read something more pressing on my nightstand. (It may be awhile)

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sex, love and Vichyssoise

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
What a cute book. This book is a must for anyone who is a blogger and knows about the challenges of daily posting and the exhilaration of reading encouraging words from Internet strangers. The way Julie's story develops and intertwines with Julia Child's life, and the evolution of a basic cook that everyone can relate to who ends the book being able to make a nearly perfect pastry is a nice wrap up to the whole story.

It's also a great book about obsessions and symbolism. Julie compares her thrill in reading Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French cooking to her sneaking and reading The Joy of Sex behind closed doors when she was a younger girl, before she knew what sex was.

And in a way, she's right: French cooking is somehow mysterious and seems seductive in a way that makes the simplest dishes into gourmet meals. Take,for example, Vichyssoise. The English translation is cold potato leek soup. Yet the simplistic deliciousness makes it something I don't hesitate to share with the pickiest company. Also, it rolls off your tongue much better. Isn't it sexier to say "Vichyssoise" than "cold potato leek soup". (Plus it's really, really, REALLY good).

I'm looking forward to seeing the movie and will post an update to the review then. Until then, try the Vichyssoise. You won't be disappointed.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Great and Not Terrible Trilogy

The Sweet Far Thing (Gemma Doyle, #3) The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was by far my favorite of the 3 Gemma Doyle books, and an excellent audiobook.

I feel like Libba Bray's writing improved throughout the series, and the characters grew as time progressed. Gemma deals with more adult topics as she is nearing the end of her time in school, and the sub plots get darker and more complex as well.

Gone is the little girl who made butterflies out of leaves in the Realms, and in her place is a character who is nearly a grownup, very real and complex and at the same time - still her charming self.

If you've read ANY of the Gemma series, it's worth it to pick this one up and finish the story.

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Monkey's Raincoat

The Monkey's Raincoat (Elvis Cole, #1) The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A friend who knows how much I adore Nelson Demille's John Corey told me I might enjoy the Elvis Cole novels. What do you know? I did.

The sarcastic, altruistic tough guy with a streak of impatience for rules and regulations, this book reads like a Bruce Willis cop drama. In fact, it's suprising that no one has snatched these books up to make into movies. Hmmm....

Set in the 80s before cell phones were common and ignoring the cops was trendy, this pulp fiction-esq detective novel grabbed me. I already miss Elvis Cole and I'm sure I'll be back for more.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Status update (aka, what the heck is this blog for, anyway?)

I began an ambitious goal to read a book a week this year when something occured to me that scared me to death - as a 33 year old woman whose life expectancy is 79, my life would run out before the books I wanted to read did. The pace I was reading, erring conservatively, was about one a month. That would leave approximately 552 books left to read in my lifetime.


Faced with the notion that a person has a limited amount of time left in life, their immediate thought is probably not "I won't be able to read all the books I want!" Yes, I realize I am a total geek for admitting this. Oh well - this is my blog and not yours, neener neener.

So if you've made it this far, you may be wondering whether I still feel a book a week is a good goal, or where the heck I'm going with this, so I'll put together a quick FAQ for the remainder of the year.

How many books have I read so far this year?
31, counting 8 full length audiobooks

How many have I started and not finished?
4: Mary by Janis Cooke Newman, Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott, and Jane Eyre, all of which I intend to finish at some point, and Middlesex, which I do not.

Are you still on target for reaching your goal?
If I read 5 books a month I'll have made my goal. It's still ambitous, and I'm a bit behind where I wanted to be, but audiobooks should help.

Any advice for someone who wants to have a reading goal?
Audiobooks are a great way to get some reading in during times that you can't read (like when you're driving), join Goodreads or another online book club for inspiration, and keep your eye on the goal.

Adventures in David Sedaris, part 1

When You Are Engulfed in Flames When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
You could probably guess that I am the ideal audience for David Sedaris. For starters,

I listen to NPR regularly.
I love humor laced with sarcasm.
I have an overdeveloped sense of urgency around for gay rights.
My interest for living in the US is waning, and finding American citizens living abroad is more and more enticing.
I love a great story laced somewhere in between these topics.

David Sedaris meets all those things and more. There were times during the audiobook where I literally laughed out loud in my car, then looked to see if anyone was watching me make a fool out of myself. Yet there were other times when his voice became whiny and monotonous when I had to turn off the book just to find - ironically - he was the special guest of the day on NPR.

The part of When You Are Engulfed in Flames dedicated to David's journey about quitting smoking, while interesting, dragged on endlessly. His love of spiders was not entirely enduring either. I mean, who loves spiders above people and - ghastly - above puppies?!

I'm not done yet with David Sedaris, but I hope my next experience doesn't make me want to put down the book. Or worse - turn off NPR.

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Sunday, August 9, 2009


Dreamland Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I enjoyed this, my very first Sarah Dessen book. Dessen's ability to create characters with complexity was refreshing, especially for this subject - an abusive, co-dependent relationship with a girl you really don't expect to be "that" girl.

The book made me look at teenage relationships in a different light. Should be required reading in health class, although I can't think that any teenage boy would use the book as anything other than a flyswatter.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Year of Magical Thinking (sans magical writing)

The Year of Magical Thinking The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
So many people have raved about this book, and it won awards so though memoirs are not my usual genre, I thought I would really enjoy it. Boy, was I wrong.

The author is a writer and so was her husband of 40 years. Her writing is excellent, well researched points of view, etc. But as far as being engaged in the story or caring about the characters? Nada.

Perhaps if I had been touched by tragedy and death I would be able to understand and appreciate the authors POV. Until then, I'll stick to fiction.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Certain Slant of Light

A Certain Slant of Light A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
The premise of the book intrigued me-could the undead really have soulmates? The story line from the book jacket:

Someone was looking at me, a disturing sensation if you're dead. I was with my teacher, Mr Brown. As usual, we were in our classroom, that safe and wooden-walled box - the windows opening onto the grassy field to the west, the fading flag standing in the chalk dusty corner, the television set mounted above the bulletin board like a sleeping eye, and Mr Brown's princely table keeping watch over a regimen of student desks.

That "someone" was Billy, a spirit inside a living person's body. This novel is an interesting and original ghost story that kept me rooting for the main character, Helen, who has haunted her live hosts without contact for over a hundred years. I literally could not put this book down last night until I finished it to find out what happened to Helen as Jenny and James as Billy.

Unfortunately, the end was rather anticlimactic. I ended up reading it twice to make sure I wasn't just tired, but alas... the end lacked the substance that kept the pages moving. The passion in the relationship when Helen was living her life in Jenny's body led to an end I felt somewhat cheated by. Helen and James got to live happily ever after in 400 words or less. There were far too little answers on what happened to the bodies they had been inhabiting while falling in love, their perfect spirit love was rather boring. I felt cheated as this had such wonderful possibilities. It got me wondering whether the editor got tired and let the last few pages go, as the producer did in nearly all of Steven King's movies.

A good, somewhat "light" YA novel with a lot of mature themes not suitable for your little sister.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Firefly Lane

Firefly Lane Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Lately I've been reading two books at once. Well, not actually "reading". In order to find more opportunity to get reading in and make my commute more bearable (it's not that bad, really) I'm listening to audiobooks.

In the past, I'd only listened to audiobooks on long trips because I couldn't stand the interruptions on short trips, but I've found that if you're listening to a "light" novel and otherwise engaged in another activity (driving, cleaning, etc.) an audiobook is perfect. Firefly Lane is one of those books that makes a perfect audiobook in small doses.

Onto the story...

Kate and Tully meet in the 70s when they are 14 and Tully moves across the street. During that year they become almost immediately inseperable. The story follows their friendship through adolesence, college, and adulthood.

The story has a LOT of references to each time period, which brings the story together in an interesting way. It sets the scene with all the visual details (big shoulderpads in the 80s, changing hairstyles, popular music of the times) that bring back so many memories for us 70s kids. (Okay, a little before my time, but I can still relate)

In the end, Tully and Kate choose different life paths: Kate a wife and mother, Tully a famous, driven career woman. Will an act of betrayal end their decades of friendship?

Another side story is the relationships between Kate and her mother and the difficulty of raising a teenager, then being the mother who understands how difficult she was to raise.

If you're looking for a somewhat light book that will probably make you cry at the end, this is it.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Are you more literate than the BBC

Here's something that's been going around Facebook for a while now. It's been proven to be not true, but a fun competition anyway, and I'm in favor of anything that motivates people to read more. Here it goes:

BBC believes most people will only have read SIX of these 100 books. How many have YOU read? Be honest!

1) Look at the list and put the ones you've read in bold
2) Underline the ones you LOVE.
3) Italicize those you plan on reading.
4) Tally your total at the bottom.

1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6. The Bible

7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott

12. Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19. The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

20. Middlemarch - George Eliot

21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34. Emma - Jane Austen
35. Persuasion - Jane Austen

36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne

41. Animal Farm - George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50. Atonement - Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel

52. Dune - Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70. Moby *** - Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 . Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses - James Joyce
76. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal - Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession - AS Byatt

81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte's Web - EB White
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94. Watership Down - Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

18 on my TBR pile, 34 I've already read.

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse Series, book 1)

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, Book 1) Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book was very entertaining - no wonder it's been made into an HBO series! Sookie Stackhouse is an entertaining main character who has her quirks, being telepathic and having a interest in vampires being the most defining of her character.

Sookie's telepathy is a hindrance in her love life, because as she points out hearing someone think about your butt being big puts a damper on a romantic moment. Being able to hear what everyone is thinking at all times also impacts her ability to concentrate in school. This leads her into a career as a waitress in a local bar in her hometown, Bon Temps, a small town near New Orleans. Which is how she meets Bill, the local vampire trying to assimilate into society by drinking synthetic blood.

Perhaps because Bill is technically dead, Sookie can't hear his thoughts. This makes him an ideal companion, and added to his romantic appeal. Of course, there are plenty of drawbacks for a human in a the world of the undead, which makes the book even more interesting.

If I had one criticism though, it's that the characters lacked some depth. Maybe this is intentional, so that there will be some mystery that we can find out further along in the series. I found it difficult to sympathize with Sookie when she worried Bill might be hurt, or that her brother would be framed for the murders of local girls. The book was exciting and held my attention, but I have the next two books Sookie Stackhouse series on my nightstand, and yet I'm still debating over what book I'll pick up next.

Dead Until Dark in 6 words or less: Love bites - dead boyfriends are trouble.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
I so wanted to love Holden Caulfield, in all his teenage angst glory. Somehow in school I avoided this classic, perhaps there was a negative connotation to teaching it in school since it's been declared a banned book. (Which is pretty laughable considering how tame the story is).

The story takes place in just a couple of days, where Holden decides to spend a few days in New York on his own, before his parents can find out he's been expelled from ANOTHER school. In his emo, teenage angst that's the undercurrent of the novel, he describes why he won't tell his life story, "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them."

Holden's biggest hatred is reserved for "phonies", which could be either his teacher or anyone he happens to run into that feels the least insincere. The best thing this novel does is capture the alienation due to conflicting feelings when a teenager has trouble relating to adults.

I found it difficult to relate to Holden, even though I was once an emotional teenager filled with angst. Other than his commitment to not be a phony, I found little to like about him - his self-loathing and confusion about life just reinforced that I didn't like him as much as he didn't like himself.And if he said "I'm not kidding, I'm really not" one more time, I think I would have thrown the book across the room. Overall, I'm confused as to why this is such a beloved book. It's an original story, probably the first of it's kind written from the point of view of a teenager. But I don't want to be a teenager again, or be friends with them. I couldn't put this book down fast enough.

Catcher in the Rye in 6 words or less: Expelled, angsty teenager visits New York.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Upon the suggestions of many of my fellow book lovers, this book has been on my TBR list (to be read) for quite some time. I’m not sure what prevented me from picking it up before; perhaps it was the circus theme which instinctively led me to think of clowns. (Yes, having a fear of clowns as an adult is completely irrational, but there are much worse things to be afraid of and besides, it hasn’t inhibited my lifestyle so far.) Luckily for me, there are no clown subplots in this story. But I digress - onto the story.

The characters

The story is told from the point of view of Jacob at ages 23 and 90 (or 93). Present day Jacob is a resident in a nursing home who reminisces on the time he joined the circus. Young Jacob is an Ivy League veterinary student who leaves college abruptly during his final exams following a tragic accident that leaves him an orphan. Wandering aimlessly, homeless and without money, family or a place to go, he jumps onto a train and is unexpectedly met by circus workers. Luckily, an older worker befriends him and allows him to work alongside him for the day in hopes that he can secure a job with the circus. During his first day at the job he sees a horse trainer that reminds him of his college girlfriend. Later, older worker brings Paul to meet the circus owner, Uncle Al.

The story

During the “interview” Al asks Jacob if he’s ever seen a circus, and if he’s seen their show, the Benzini Brothers. Prompted by his friend to the answer-Al-wants-to-hear, Jacob lies and says he’s seen Ringling Brothers but they were nothing compared to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. This does not interest Al, and just about the time Al is ready to dismiss Jacob, he finds out Jacob is a last year veterinary student. This intrigues Al, because Ringling Brothers has a vet on staff, and more than anything else in the world, Al wants to be Ringling Brothers. Jacob is brought on with the direction that he can stay as long as he keeps the sick horse alive.

The horse has an incurable ailment and ends up dying. Jacob ends up staying on, befriending both the “elite” group of performers and the respect of the working staff. Love begins, first for the animals, and then for the wife of the ill-tempered masterofanimals. August and Al shows their evil natures, both toward people and animals. Marlena, the beautiful horse trainer, grows deeply attached to Jacob. Relationships grow and become more complicated, both in the present day and as Jacob reminisces about the past. Filled with suspense, the end of the book takes a somewhat predictable turn which is no less gratifying even though it was expected.

Why you should read this book

I enjoy stories with a lot of character development and can empathize with the protagonist. A circus vet is an unlikely hero, but not in the least unlikeable. The book has something for almost everyone – empathetic characters, vivid scenery, a sprinkling of romance and plenty of suspense. Another surprising plot device is the animals themselves, in particular one very charismatic elephant.

Totally off topic to a book review but interesting anyway

This bestselling novel was written in a month! NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is to writers what a marathon is to runners. Participants in NaNoWriMo pledge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. It's sometimes incomplete, and rarely published so it's a real jem to find a writing project written with such fervor that turned into a bestseller. Also, it's also one of my goals to participate in NaNoWriMo this year after a year of reading a book a week.

Water for elephants in 6 words or less

Not quite Ringling, love without clowns.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009


Rebecca Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

Something about this book seemed eerily familiar from the first chapter. The opening line is famous, and with good reason. I don't recall another book whose opening is quite so immediately enchanting with DuMaurier's gothic style.

Perhaps the familiarity stems from the main character, an insecure and timid young girl who falls madly in love with a handsome, rich, complicated older man while employed as a companion to a boorish American woman, Mrs. Van der Horne.

I know Stephanie Meyers SAYS she got inspiration from Wuthering Heights, but honestly, there are SO MANY parallels between Twilight and Rebecca.

The (unnamed) narrator in Rebecca was self-depreciating, clumsy, insecure, had a vivid imagination and was in a different class than her love interest. I actually called her Bella in my head. :)

Maxium was handsome, rich and mysterious. He had a dark secret and was a bit elusive with the 2nd Mrs. de Winter. She was constantly haunted by Rebecca's memory, the incredibly beautiful person who was so well suited to Maxium's world. (coughTanyacough)

This book was written so much better than Twilight, but it was impossible for me not to see the parallels.

But onto the story...

Supposedly Maxim was a dashingly handsome romantic interest that ladies of the time were swooning over, but I think he sounded like kind of an ass. When the 2nd Mrs DeWinter was spending time with him in Monte Carlo, it was difficult to see why she was falling in love with him. Other than that he was handsome and rich, he didn't seem all that interesting. The distant moodiness and the constant brooding was just kind Where was the passion? Granted, this was in a time when feelings were repressed in Britan - perhaps feelings were a bit more muted.

I was thoroughly annoyed with Maxim when he was telling Mrs DeWinter that she could either stay as a companion or come and live with him at Manderly and the duties would be the same. Uhh...ok? No thanks...

He then said that it wasn't exactly the proposal that she dreamed of, that she should be in a white dress and he should be making love to her violently behind a palm tree. Much better but still - not exactly swoon worthy.

Meanwhile, the incredibly romantic narrator sees Maxim like this:

"His face was arresting, sensitive, medieval in some strange inexplicable way, and I was reminded of a portrait seen in a gallery I had forgotten where, of a certain Gentleman Unknown."

And like this:
"Could one but rob him of his English tweeds, and put him in black, with lace at this throat and wrists, he would stare down at us in our new world from a long distant past—a past where men walked cloaked at night, and stood in the shadow of old doorways, a past of narrow stairways and dim dungeons, a past of whispers in the dark, of shimmering rapier blades, of silent, exquisite courtesy."

It's as if the word "dashing" was invented just for him. Though the book didn't cause me to fall in love with Mr. DeWinter, I did fall in love with Manderley, and with Daphne Du Maurier. Soon I will be going back to Manderley again, to wrap myself in the enchanting tale of a gothic romance I'll never forget.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Along Came A Spider

Along Came a Spider (Alex Cross, Book 1) Along Came a Spider by James Patterson

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ah the lure of mass market fiction... I often refer to Patterson novels as "TV for your brain". Page turning, edge of your seat excitement? Yes. Intellectually challenging? Not particularly.

This is the first introduction to character Alex Cross, a DC detective whose differentiating characteristic is his intrinsic morality, love of his children and his doctorate in psychology. A failed attempt in private practice leads him to policework.

Cross lives with his grandmother Nana and 2 young children. There is occasional mention of his late wife, who was killed in a drive by shooting a few years before the start of the book. Cross' partner Sampson and Nana are two likeable characters in the book. Cross himself is a worthy hero for the series, with an interesting character and southern charm.

The major theme of the book opens with a kidnapping of 2 famous children by their teacher. Consequently, a brutal murder of a family in a poor neighborhood remains unsolved. Cross manages to tie both cases together, for an interesting plot change toward the middle of the book.

The book frequently alludes to racial themes, but doesn't really dig deep into them. They exist more as a setting in the story than an actual developed part of the plot. (For example, Cross begins an interracial romantic relationship with an FBI agent. During one scene, Cross gets into a heated confrontation with a bystander who makes racial slurs regarding toward the agent. What was the conclusion to that? He goes home angry. There was a lot of opportunity for plot development with this scene, but wasn't central to the action of the book, so it was left alone.)

Perhaps I have been getting spoiled with my choices of reading lately, but I didn't feel like I got a lot out of this book. For pure entertainment value, this book was excellent. However, if you're looking for something a little deeper or something worth having an intellectual discussion about, keep looking.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Book Thief

The Book Thief The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am haunted by you humans.

So ends one of the most captivating books I’ve read in years, and I am similarly haunted by the trance of this book. In fact, I’ve been unable (or unwilling, perhaps) to pick up another book since.


The Book Thief is set in Nazi wartime Germany. In an interesting twist, Death (of Grim Reaper fame) is the narrator of the story. Captivated by a young girl, Death follows the events in her bittersweet life story, from the time she is given up from her birth until her death. It’s a story built of love and humanity in the most unlikely of places.

The Story Unfolds

Intertwined throughout the book is a passion for both books and human life. Liesel is an enduring, unlikely heroine - a school aged illiterate girl who loses her brother at the time of her separation from her mother and steals a book from his graveside. She quickly befriends a neighbor boy (Rudy) and together they commit small acts of defiance (from book and apple thievery to giving stale bread to starving Jews walking to Dafur) in an attempt to settle the score between the unfairness of the time.

As Liesel’s love grows for her foster father and her best friend, so does everyone around her fall in love with her. Her reading improves to the point where she reads books in the shelter to keep everyone calm during air raids. She sits in the enchanting library of the mayor’s home. She brings gifts to the ailing Jew hiding in their basement. She is a worth opponent in soccer tournaments in the streets with the boys.

Zusak touches on difficult times in history with a novel approach. From Death’s eyes, we see both virtue and malevolence in humanity. "So much good, so much evil. Just add water." Death occasionally interjects personal opinions into the book, which breaks the flow of the story. I found these anecdotal interruptions added to the depth of Death as a character, but some readers found this style distracting.

The end (spoilers)

After an air raid flattens the neighborhood unexpectedly at night, no one survives but Liesel. Death alludes to the possibility many times, which made me believe that when my favorite characters finally were ripped from the story, it wouldn’t be so painful. I was wrong. After you have fallen in love with Rudy, Hans and even warmed up to Rosa Hubermann, you miss them terribly. The tears on Liesel’s cheeks become your own.

Zusak literally put the mayor’s home on a hill – the rich were quite literally put on a pedestal. Liesel chastises the mayor’s wife for living in such affluence while others were living in poverty. One of her acts of defiance is to steal books from the mayor’s library. As the story evolves, it’s clear that the mayor’s wife has intentionally let Liesel steal the books, and shares her love of literature. In an interesting twist of fate after the air raid, the mayor’s wife comes to find Liesel and brings her to her home. While visiting Rudy’s father’s store, Max walks in and the two find a happy and tearful reunion.

There are happy and sad times in life, as there are opportunities for great heroism in times of tragic adversity. Zusak has captured them beautifully, and captured my heart as well.

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