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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