2010 – Year in Review

Ah, 2010.  What a year you were.  You almost kicked my readerly butt, you did, but 2011 is here and ready to refresh and renew me and, hopefully, this pitiful little blog.  I managed to read (or listen) to 107 books last year.  There were some highs (finally reading Dracula!) and some lows (uh, Beatrice and Virgil anyone?).  My goal of challenging myself more was, pretty much, a success.  I did challenge myself some, but not as much as I hoped.  I hope to do that even more in 2011, where the new motto is quality of quantity!  If I make it to 100 books, GREAT, but if I make it to 100 AWESOME books, even BETTER!    So, without further ado, here are some of the highlights of 2010 for me.   In no particular order, of course.

  • Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue – I couldn’t put it down.
  • Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons – I will forever love this book.  I’m still in love with Jack and Sadie and their lovely, lovely story.
  • Waiting for Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk – I read this book in like, one day, I think, or maybe two.  It was for the new year readathon and it is still with me a year later.  I’m so glad my Secret Book Blogger Santa person (who are you??? I want to thank you!!!) sent me my very own gorgeous copy.  My love for this book remains strong.
  • The House of Tomorrow: A Novel by Peter Bognanni – I can’t even remember how I got my advanced copy of this, if it was unsolicited or if I asked for it on a whim.  It was definitely on a whim that I picked it up and I was blown away.  Sebastian still melts my heart and Jared makes me want to rock out with my, um, hair down?
  • Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork – my not-so-secret blogger Santa Chris for last year, sent me this for Christmas last year and it was with giddy relief that I finally picked it up.  I had wanted it for ages and It. Delivered.
  • Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness – HOW did I NOT review this book???  Monsters of Men was the conclusion to what has become my hands-down, heart-a-thumpin, favorite series of all time.  Except for maybe Harry Potter.  Maybe.
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters – Ah, Little Stranger.  How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.  Oh yeah, I already did.  I will be rereading you this coming RIP VI.
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker – Oh Dracula, you cold-hearted little mucker.  What took me so long? I promise, it won’t be that long again.  I personally hold you responsible for mucking up the fourth quarter of reading for me.
  • The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson – another I haven’t reviewed yet.  I wasn’t technically supposed to read it until this year for my challenge from Nymeth, but when I read the description I couldn’t wait.  For good reason.  Elegantly written, this book is a little jewel.  I’ll review it soon.

Top Audio:

  • The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister, read by Cassandra Campbell – great story, but for me the reader was kill here.  Campbell is definitely one of those readers I would listen to read anything.
  • Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson, read by Peter Altschuler – Delightful story, delightful reader, in every way delightful.  I adored this book.
  • Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, written and read by Anthony Bourdain – Another I should have reviewed.  I adore Bourdain, he delivered Bourdain and then read it to me.  Bourdain FTW!
  • White Cat (Curse Workers #1) by Holly Black, read by Jesse Eisenburg – Haven’t reviewed (drat! another one?!) but I really enjoyed it.  Jesse Eisenburg better be back for the next one!
  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, read by Lee Horsley – An all time favorite book made even more epic by a great reader.  Good Lord above but I love Gus.
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, read by Bernadette Dunne – Dunne gives this creepy tale a whole ‘nother level of creepy.  She oozes the creepy.  It’s fantastic.
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker – Not only am I so very happy I finally read this book, I’m even happier I let the author read it to me.  I’m absolutely certain that took it to a whole new level of awesome.
  • Nation by Terry Pratchett – I haven’t gotten around to reviewing this one yet, but I adored it.  I adore Terry Pratchett and he was without a doubt my best discovery (authorwise) of 2010.  I will be reading many, many, many more Pratchett books in the coming year.

So there she is.  Here’s to 2011, a year of no reading slumps, no blogging slumps, just lots of fun.  Hey, a girl can hope, right?

What were your favorite books of 2010?

Book Review: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

  

If there is one story I have grown up with, besides Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, and Narnia, it is Lonesome Dove.  Which probably sounds strange, to lump Lonesome Dove in with those beloved children’s books, since admittedly it is far from a children’s classic, it is a classic and a product of my youth, so there it is.  My uncle absolutely loves, no adores, no… something stronger than that… I don’t know how to describe it.  He can quote the movie from beginning to end.  I think he secretly wishes he had been a cowboy.  And he reveres Gus.  So, it goes without saying that I grew up listening to the vast wisdom and wit of Captain Augustus Mcrae, one of the immortal cowboys of Lonesome Dove.  

When I was about 14, and prone to reading long, epic novels of vast scope and ideal, (I’m trying to be witty myself here, can ya tell?), I decided I would read Lonesome Dove.  Get all the details of the story, so to speak, so I could give my uncle all the little details he didn’t get from the movie.  I don’t think I had even watched the movie, I knew most of the story because of my uncle.   I got my hands on a copy and I started the trip.  And my, my, what a trip this book is.  I raced through the book, like 14 years are able to do, and went on to read the rest of the series as it came out.  

Lonesome Dove is about so much. It is more than a western, more than a work of historical fiction, more than romance, more than an epic road trip, more than an adventure.  It comes down to two men and their strange friendship, for two men are less alike than Gus and Call.  The book starts in the dusty little down of Lonesome Dove, Texas down near the borderlands and moves steadily north through prairie, desert, Indian infested land, snakes, buffalo and takes you all up to the wilds of Montana on a cattle drive.  The characters in this novel are unforgettable.  I can rave about Gus all day (and I’m sure any woman who has ever read this book came away a little bit in love with him) but there are other amazing characters living in these pages.  Heroes.  Outlaws.  Indians.  Whores.  Ladies.  Settlers.  This book is the story of the Wild Wild West and is beautifully written, dramatic and unforgettable.  I dare you to read this book and not laugh, cry, and fall in love.  

I just can’t get enough of Gus and Call and all the boys (and girls!) of Lonesome Dove.  

And I still can’t.  When Amy (of My Friend fame) challenged her readers to join in a readalong of Lonesome Dove, I knew I had to join in.  I have since seen the movie, several times, and this story remains near and dear to my heart.  I worried about exactly how I would do it, with RIP going on, and all the other review books that are stacked on my desk (cringe), but then I remembered.  One of the first audiobooks I ever got from Audible was Lonesome Dove!  And I had never listened to it.  Problem solved!  So I decided to listen to the audio, read by actor and western novelist himself, Lee Horsley.  

And what a fantastic journey it was, all over again.  It was even more, for me, reading it again almost 18 years later.   The things that jumped out at me!  The treatment and lives of the women of the old west were especially interesting.  There is so much to this story, I know there is no way I can hit on it all.  You become invested in these characters along their journey.  Gus and Call and all the boys came alive in Lee Horsley’s voice.  Now, this isn’t the best audio production I’ve ever heard.  It was the first time I heard background noise in any audiobook I have ever listened to.  I didn’t care.  Mr. Horsley made these characters live.  And breathe.  And love and hate and kill and walk and talk and more.   I’m sure I have no adequately described this book, but I know I have described how it makes me feel.  Lonesome Dove is on my all time favorites list, will you add it to yours?  As USA Today says:  

“If you read only one western novel in your life, read Lonesome Dove.”  

*Note: Amazingly enough, I cannot find an audio CD of Lonesome Dove anywhere, they only have *gasp* cassette tapes.  I downloaded my copy from Audible.  Either way you read it, I still highly recommend it.  The copy I link to here is a new edition that came out in June of this year.  The edition in my upper picture is from 2000.  The one below is the new edition.  Isn’t the new cover gorgeous?  It looks like all of McMurtry’s books got a similar treatment and I find myself wishing I didn’t own my copies, so I could get the new ones!  Silly me….  

*Also Note: If you have read this book, be sure to follow along with the discussion at My Friend Amy’s blog.  

*Yet another note: If you are curious about the evolution of this book and how McMurtry came to write it, you should read the Wikipedia entry on Lonesome Dove.  It is very fascinating.  

*One last note, I promise:  I also highly recommend the movie.  Robert Duvall is magic as Gus; it was a part he was born to play.  

 
 Lonesome Dove: A Novel by Larry McMurtry
Genre: Western, Historical Fiction
Paperback: 864 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published: June 15, 2010
ISBN: 978-1439195260
Rated: 5/5  

Other varying opinions:  

books i done read and lots of posts from the readalong… 

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Hummingbirds by Joshua Gaylord

Oh my dears.  I don’t know if I should put this down to the huge reading slump I am in (3 weeks and counting, still haven’t finished a book) or the browbeating I feel  like I am getting from this book, but I’m afraid this is going to be a big ole Did Not Finish.  Which is sad because I really wanted to like this book.  I loves me some books set in a private school, especially ones for girls, but whoa.  This is maybe too much.

Obviously, since I haven’t finish and am seriously considering not finishing it, (which, knowing me means I won’t), I’m going to give you the Summary from BN.com

A wonderfully compelling debut novel about the intertwining and darkly surprising relationships between the teachers and students at an all-girls prep school Spend a year at the Carmine-Casey School for Girls, an elite prep school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side: the year when the intimate private school community becomes tempestuous and dangerously incestuous as the rivalries and secrets of teachers and students intersect and eventually collide.

In the world of students, popular and coquettish Dixie Doyle, with her ironic pigtails, battles to wrest attention away from the smart and disdainful Liz Warren, who spends her time writing and directing plays based on the Oresteia. In the world of teachers, the adored Leo Binhammer struggles to share his territory with Ted Hughes, the charming new English teacher who threatens to usurp Binhammer’s status as the department’s only male teacher and owner of the girls’ hearts. When a secret is revealed between them, Binhammer grows increasingly fascinated by the man he has determined is out to get him.

As seasons change and tensions mount, the girls long for entry into the adult world, toying with their premature powers of flirtation. Meanwhile, the deceptive innocence of the adolescent world complete with plaid skirts and scented highlighters becomes a trap into which the flailing teachers fall. By the end of the year the line between maturity and youth begins to blur, and the question on the final exam is: Who are the adults and who are the children?

Sounds really good right?  All repressed sexuality and deflowerings and scandals and whatnot.  Like WriteMeg.com wrote in her review, it’s the “Gossip Girl for the thinking woman or man.” Yet it’s lacking something and I’m thinking that something might be some heart.  Gaylord is a lovely writer; extremely evocative.  At first, I was delighting in the shear beautiful of language, the richness of it, the utter beauty of it.  But then, around page 50 or so, it started to grate. on. my. nerves.  And geez, all these girls!  They are like walking sex time-bombs and I can’t tell who is going to go off first, the girls or their male teacher Mr. Binhammer. (Talk about phallic symbolism. Sheesh.)  And then, then!  Gaylord introduces a character named Ted Hughes?  For Pete’s Sake!!!  And starts talking about how all the girls are going to slit their wrists or stick their heads in ovens a la Sylvia Plath?  Gah!

For all the flowery talk, the book is insanely readable.  I read these first 55 pages pretty quickly.  I’m just not connecting to anyone. At all.  And dude, after 50 pages?  I need some connection.  So alas, I feel this book isn’t for me.  But please, please, please check out the other stops on this tour and get more opinions.  For, like I said, it could all be me.  It’s happened before!

Hummingbirds: A Novel by Joshua Gaylord
Published by: Harper Perennial Paperback – 368
On Sale: October 5, 2010 ISBN: 9780061769023

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Book Review: Keys to Good Cooking

My friends, meet Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best Foods and Recipes.  You will be the very best of friends.

I own quite a few cookbooks.   I have cookbooks for Asian, Mexican, America, vegetables, meats, breads,  kids (not to cook, but to cook FOR), and more.  I have them from fire stations, schools, some I have inherited, some I have mooched, and some, well, I’m honestly not sure where I got them!  I have Mark Bittman, America’s Test Kitchen, Emeril (I inherited it), Food Network, All Recipes, Williams Sonoma, Rick Bayless, and oh, the list goes on and on.  I think you get the idea.

None of them hold a candle to the conciseness, the helpfulness, the learning to be had from Keys to Good Cooking.  This is it my friends, the cookbook you have to have.  The cookbook you NEED to have.  This is the end all, be all, of cookbooks.  This book doesn’t give you recipes my friends, it teaches you HOW TO COOK.

And the thing that speaks the most to me about this cookbook?  This guy, this Harold McGee, I can tell he wrote this to teach us how to cook.  I don’t even feel like it was to make money, which I do know was part of it, but it also feels like a legitimate attempt to teach people how to cook and how to do it well.  It’s lines like this:

Cooking  can be one of the most satisfying things we do in life.  It’s a chance to make things with our own hands, nourish and give pleasure to people we care about, and choose exactly what we eat and make part of ourselves.  It’s also a way to explore the astounding creativity of the natural world and thousands of years of human culture, to taste foods and traditions from all over the planet at our own table.  This endlessly rewarding quality is what has kept me delving into cooking for more than thirty years.

And this:

You’ll  notice that the pages of this book have plenty of blank space.  This is because the words on them aren’t the last, just the first.  The margins and line spaces are there for you to fill with new information and ideas as they come along, and especially with notes specific to your kitchen, your tastes, and your discoveries-your own personal keys to goo cooking.

I hope that your copy of this book will quickly become well stained and marked up, and will long help you cook with insight, pleasure, and success.

This cookbook does not have any recipes in it, at least not recipes as you know them now.  It’s more of an explanation.  A why certain things happen to food, why and how and more.  Like what happens to meat when you cook it and why it tastes bad when you overcook it and why it tastes good when you cook it exactly right.  And then it tells you how to cook it exactly right.  McGee explains how to shop for fruits, vegetables, meats, all foods; he tells you want to look for, what to avoid, how to store it in your house, how to clean it and when do throw it away.   And more. So much more!  There is a wealthy of information here.  This book is like the dictionary I’ve always needed, a tourist guide to my kitchen, my grocery store and the instruction book on how to use it all.  It. Is. Amazing.

This cookbook would be the perfect gift for newlyweds, for Christmas, for birthdays, for experienced cooks or for the freshman in college.  Or for just because they can’t cook worth a lick!  I am glad my kitchen will never be without Harold McGee’s wisdom, do you really want your kitchen to go another day without it?

Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best Foods and Recipes
Author: Harold McGee
Category:
Cookbook
Published by: Penguin
Format: Hardback
On Sale: October 28, 2010
ISBN: 9781594202681

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Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

“…I could feel the hot breath on my neck. Then the skin of my throat began to tingle as one’s flesh does when the hand that is to tickle it approaches nearer, nearer. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the super sensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in languorous ecstasy and waited, waited with beating heart.”

It is with much humble pleasure and astounding glee, that I bring this review to you.  It took me 5 (marvelous!) years of Readers Imbibing Peril challenges, but I finally got Dracula by Mr. Bram Stoker read.  Can I get a round of applause?  I feel like I really accomplished something.

I have no IDEA what was wrong with me; (I guess it was a timing issue) but I fell head over heels in love with this book. It’s not that I thought it would be scary; it was not really scary at all.  I will admit to having a couple of vampire dreams though….  The grandfather to Twilight, the Vampire Diaries, and hundreds of other vampire books, movies, TV shows and such, trumps them all. Stoker kicks their collective end-papers! Dracula is, without a doubt, the best vampire book I have ever read.

One of my favorite authors evah is Wilkie Collins, which many of you probably know.  I rarely let a chance go by to expound on my love of all-things-Wilkie slip by me!  My absolute favorite book by Collins (so far) is The Woman in White.  Dracula is very similar to The Woman in White’s style, as it is told in letters, journal entries, telegrams and the like.  I think this can be a very fun and unique device, since you get a glimpse into all the characters minds that you don’t always get with the more common narrative styles of first-person or third.  And these characters are amazingly well written, I thought, but we’ll get back to them in a minute.

How does one recapitulate the story of Dracula?  A story so old, and so commonplace, surely everyone knows what Dracula is about!  Do you know the story of Dracula?  I was surprised to find that I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew!  I mean, really!  I didn’t!  So, I shall attempt a brief, concise (if I can manage it), and thoroughly mystifying recap of my own.  (This should be entertaining.) (And maybe slightly impossible.) 

(There I go again.)  (I shall blame it on William Goldman.)  (That’s an inside Princess Bride joke.) (You should read it to find out what I mean.)

I imagine you realize that Dracula is a vampire.  I’ll throw that most obvious tidbit out there right now.  Dracula is a vampire!  Who seems to love the bloods of the young, gorgeous females!  For young, gorgeous, blood-thirsty female vampires abound in this novel!  And not Bella Swan beautiful either, these women are more… wildly exotic.  At least that is how I pictured them.  Like animals or something.  Does that make sense?

Anywoo.  So, this young man who is like a real estate agent?  but they don’t exactly call him a real estate agent? goes to Transylvania to sell the Count a place in England. Once there, all kinds of spooky things happen to him.  The Count is, by all appearances, kind and curious about the young man, who is called Jonathan Harker by the way, and asks many a question about the way things are over the pond.  Things get stranger when the Count will not let Harker out into the castle, but tells him to Stay In His Room.  So natural Harker sneaks out!  And meets three creepy women!  Who almost lure him to sleep and drink his blood!  Of course, Harker doesn’t know this because he’s somewhat adorably clueless.  

By this time I was hooked. 

Eventually the Count shows his fangs and goes all evil on Harker. (Did you see what I did there?!)  He doesn’t kill him of course; he just abandons him to the castle and leaves for England.   You will have to read it to find out what happens to Harker.

In FACT, I will leave you here.  That first section of the book was enough to hook ME, it should be enough to hook YOU.   Bram Stoker was a much better writer than I was fearing (no, I have no idea what I had that preconceived notion in my head) and the characters were a delight.  Especially Mina Murray.  Dude, she was kick ass!  I love these smart women characters in 19th century literature.  They make my bones all warm and fuzzy.   One could do a whole post on how she much she rules.  

Here are a few little quotelets that I jotted down. 

“It is the eve of St. George’s Day. Do you not know that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway?”

*shivers* Isn’t that a deliciously scary thought?

Then a dog began to howl somewhere in a farmhouse far down the road, a long, agonized wailing, as if from fear. The sound was taken up by another dog, and then another and another, till, borne on the wind which now sighed softly through the Pass, a wild howling began, which seemed to come from all over the country, as far as the imagination could grasp it through the gloom of the night.

It’s like a doggy telegraph system or some canine form of morse code.  Here comes danger!

“We are in Transylvania, and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things.”

Despair has its own calms.

Yikes.

How blessed are some people, whose lives have no fears, no dreads, to whom sleep is a blessing that comes nightly, and brings nothing but sweet dreams.

Dude, don’t I know it.

“I have learned not to think little of any one’s belief, no matter how strange it may be. I have tried to keep an open mind, and it is not the ordinary things of life that could close it, but the strange things, the extraordinary things, the things that make one doubt if they be mad or sane.”

I think perhaps Dracula has earned a spot on my yearly RIP read list now, along with The Graveyard Book. 

Book Review: Mr. Peanut

When David Pepin first dreamed of killing his wife, he didn’t kill her himself.  He dreamed convenient acts of God. – page 1

I have been striving to read more challenging books this year, and I didn’t think I would meet a book more confusing, more complicated, and more verbose than Day for Night by Frederick Reiken this year.  Thenl I picked up Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross and wow.  I read it a couple of months ago, have read many other reviews, synopses and such and I still do. not. have. a. clue.  I know what the book was about, yes, but then again, I feel like I have no idea what the book was about.  Let’s see if we can pick it apart and put it back together in a way that will make you want to read it.  That way you can come back and tell me all about it.  I need you to go read it and come back and tell me all about it.

And be sure you take notes as you write.  I would be at least five times more confused if I hadn’t.

So there are these three guys.  They are all (by all appearances) desperately in love with his wife.  All three men have entertained the idea of murdering his wife.  Two quite possibly have murdered his wife.  (I hope that is grammatically correct.)  The other just knocked his up and I am still undecided if she actually agreed to that, but anyway, she’s having a baby.  Two of the women definitely have mental issues, one to the point that she will not even leave her bed, the other to the point that she looses over 100 pounds.  One of these couples was real; like really alive.  Like, they actually lived and Ross is using part of their story for his story, you know, to make it extra special confusing.  To top it all off, I (personally) get the feeling that no one seems to like women or marriage much in this book at all.  (The author has said otherwise, that is it actually pro-marriage, but anywho.  I do not (personally) see it.) (Why am I so parenthetical lately?)

Couple number one is, at first glance, happy.  David and Alice Pepin have been married for thirteen years.  David adores her, despite her weight, which is significant.  In fact, he seems to find her more beautiful fat than skinny.  He can’t imagine life without her, yet from page one he is fantasizing about something (or someone) killing her.  Before long she is dead and he is both deeply distressed and the number one suspect.  Enter the two detectives; Ward Hastroll and Sam Sheppard.  If you remember, I mentioned one of these couples were from real life.  If you have seen the Harrison Ford/Tommy Lee Jones movie The Fugitive or the television show of the same name, you know the story, for those shows were based on the story of Sam Sheppard, a man accused, tried and convinced of killing his wife in 1954, and eventually cleared and set free.  Somehow Sam is alive and well in contemporary New York and is a police detective.  Ward Hastroll is his partner.

What follows in the dissection of the three marriages, almost down to the molecular level.   There is lots of depression, violence, love, hate, fear, confusion, fear, hate, love, violence, depression, and food allergies.  Yes, food allergies.  Where do you think those peanuts come in?  Ah, but we’re venturing into spoiler territory, so let’s leave that alone.   No one in these three marriages seems particularly happy.  In fact, they all seem pretty miserable.  The action goes back and forth between the three stories.  Each man grapples with his feelings for his wife, his desires, his ideas of marriage, love, and his morality.  In the end, I’m not sure any are left happy.

Ross’s writing is evocative.   He can definitely write a beautiful phrase and for that alone I would probably read another book by him.  For instance:

We tell stories of other people’s marriages, Detective Hastroll thought.  We are experts in their parables and parabolas.  But can we tell the story of our own?  If we could, we might avoid our own cruelties and crimes. – page 22

Isn’t that lovely?

In the end, my thoughts are like those of the Library Journal, who says in their review, “Recommended for ambitious readers.”   I’m just not sure either of us means that in a good way.  Mr. Peanut is definitely a challenging read and I’m not sorry to have read it.   The rapid back and forth between couples, time, and stories gave me a bit of reader’s whiplash.  If forced to give a definitive opinion, I would say I did like it.  I just didn’t love it.  I’m left feeling uncomfortable with the way each man thought about his wife and that’s why I didn’t love it. 

This is probably the worst review I’ve ever written, but I’m just tired of messing with it.  I do apologize…

Other, more educated opinions:

The New York Times Book Review – Scott Turow  – …the daring, arresting first novel by Adam Ross, an author of prodigious talent, which takes as its theme “the dual nature of marriage, the proximity of violence and love”…Mr. Peanut requires considerable decoding. This can be annoying, a little like going to a dinner party where all the guests seem bright and amiable but insist on speaking another language. Yet over all, the novel is an enormous success—forceful and involving, often deeply stirring and always impressively original.

The New York Times – Michiko Kakutani – From the first page on, it’s clear that Mr. Ross…is a literary gymnast. He’s a sorcerer with words, whose David Foster Wallace-like descriptive powers have given him the ability to conjure everything from a pretty Hawaiian beachscape to the slow-motion horror of a car accident with color and élan.

Mr. Peanut
Written by Adam Ross
Category:  Literary Fiction
Published by: Knopf
Format: eBook
On Sale: June 22, 2010
ISBN: 978-0307270702
Rated: 3/5

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Book Review: Clockwork Angel – The Infernal Devices Book #1 by Cassandra Clare

It is no secret that I think Cassandra Clare’s writing is a ton of fun.  I read her first trilogy, The Mortal Instruments in one week at the beach last year and they were among my favorite reads of 2009.  You can read about that here (City of Ashes), here (Bones) and here (Glass).  Clockwork Angel takes the awesomeness that is Cassandra Clare, adds in lots of Victorian and steam punk awesomeness and takes it all to a new level of just plain ole super awesomeness!   There is a lot of awesome in Clockwork Angels and I think if anyone can get me back into YA, it’s probably Clare.  She’s just that good.

Sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray is fresh off the boat from American and looking for her brother, when two – unusual– women meet her at the dock.  These women, called the Dark Sisters, tell her that her brother has sent them to meet her and bring her home with them.  In actuality, they have kidnapped her, with the intent of training her to do what she was born to do.  Tessa is a Downworlder, a warlock, born with the extremely rare ability to transform, at will, into someone else, anyone else as long as she has held something that once belonged to them.   The Dark Sisters’ master, The Magister, wants to claim Tessa, and her ability, for himself.

The Shadowhunters, those warriors dedicated to saving the world from demons, save her at the very last moment (as usual).   They swear to help Tessa find out what she is, and to help her save her brother from the evil Magister.  Of course, there are two handsome, emotionally scarred boys just waiting to fall in love with her, and have her fall in love with them.  They boys fascinate her; James with his fragile health and tragic patrician features and Will, the resident bad boy of scathing wit and the violent mood swings.And of course, he is quite the handsome lad himself.  We will comeback to the boys un moment si vous plait.

The Victorian London of Clare’s world is familiar and yet unique at the same time.  And she did her research.  I could smell the gas lamps, but I do have an active imagination.  I just felt so there!  Which, in my eyes, is where Clare is amazing.  I get so lost in her stories that it’s like I am there.  And really, isn’t that all we ask of an author?  To take us out of ourselves and into another place, where our problems don’t matter for a few minutes of the day?  I digress and apologize, for this review probably will be all over the place.  I am all over the place.  Hence, the all-over-the-place-ness of this review.  Anywoo.  I felt like I was in Victorian London, okay?  lol  And I love me some Victorian London!  I love me some angst and there is plenty of that here.  Three teenagers, one girl, two boys, of course there is angst!

Which brings me back to the boys!  The boys.  They are full of lovely angst.  But, alas, I had a tiny problem with one of the boys.  Will.  Will is Jace.  Will is (in this book anyway) a carbon copy of Jace Weyland from the first trilogy of books.  Witty, wild, devil-may-care… it is attractive, but I’m seriously hoping Clare is going to be a one-trick pony with this type of character.  I am sincerely hoping Will deviates from the typecasting going on here in the next book.  Because I really want to like Will, but if he is just going to be a copy cat, well, I don’t find this the sincerest form of flattery when you copy yourself.  As for the other boy, James, I adored him.   He’s Jace/Will’s complete opposite and one of the reasons I continue to have faith in Clare.   He’s very un-Simon and very un-Alex which is very good.  (Simon and Alex are in the first trilogy as well.)    I want to heal him, for he’s a sickly lad and for no good reason either!  But that’s a spoiler, so you’ll have to read it to find out how and why.

Tessa is, as most girls are in this genre, tougher than she looks.  And like most girls in these books, she doesn’t know herself, at all, yet, but she’s in for a crash-course in knowing herself.  She learns A LOT in Book 1.  I mean, for all she knew she was a regular ole teenager, coming to meet her big brother in the big, exciting city of London and then hello! She finds out she’s a warlock!  Who can shape-shift into other people!  And hear their thoughts and stuff!  That is a big thing.  A big, big thing.  And she handles it with aplomb.  (I have always wanted to use that word. I finally worked it in!) (I’m being very parenthetical today, aren’t I?)  Sure, she cries a few times, but who wouldn’t? Big things are started with this, Book 1, and I am way excited for Book 2.  Here’s hoping Will grows into his own character!  If you have stuck with me to the end, I love you, because wow. I’ve been having writer’s block, so I kinda let myself ramble and wow. Did. I. Ramble.  I am sorry.

Clockwork Angel: The Infernal Devices Book 1
Written by Cassandra Clare
Category: Young Adult
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry
Pages: 496
Format: Hardcover
On Sale: August 31, 2010
ISBN: 978-1416975861

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Book Review: The Recipe Club

When I first opened this book, I gasped in shock (and then with glee!).  It’s a deceptively normal paperback book, but when you open to the first page, you see color.  And then, when you go to the next page, there is more color.  And then, if you finger rapidly through the book, you see even more color!  Every single page of this book has something in color.   Pink title text, pink boxes for recipes (yes! recipes!), and it helped add to the fun of this book.

At first glance, The Recipe Club has an intriguing premise.  Two lifelong friends, Lilly and Val, grow up together, writing each other cozy little letters all the time.  They are within visiting distance of each other, but they seem to enjoy writing to each other on the side.  They decide to form club, The Recipe Club, and included various recipes with their missives; delicious sounding things like Lovelorn Lasagna, Double Date Blintzes, and Cloud Nine Stuffed Peppers.  All their recipes are included in the book and wow, some of them sound fantastic!  The two friends are vastly different.  Val is smart, shy, and ambitious.  Lilly is dramatic, a real ‘show person’, who loves to sing, dance and act.  Each girl struggles to find their place in the world, away from their parents, and seek solace and advice from each other.  They sustain each other for many years, until something happens in their early twenties that tears the two close friends apart for over twenty years.

The epistolary framing is interesting here, but I’m not entirely convinced that it works.  Being the 1906s, and being young, I can see where that would be fun.  I had a good friend in school that I corresponded with constantly simply because we liked getting mail.  And I have read several epistolary novels that I thoroughly enjoyed.  In this case, however, I felt that it held back the characters just a bit.   It made this a very quick read and I never felt entirely connected with the characters.  It took me a long time to figure out who was who and which parent went with which kid.  The letters were not a typical back and forth; sometimes three or four letters from one girl would be together.  Then, about three-fourths of the way through the book, it abruptly changed to a more traditional third-person narrative and it was jarring.  I almost felt lost, as my brain had to change gears a bit.

These were minor quibbles as I did enjoy the book.   Once I figured out who was who, I came to care about Lilly and Val and wanted them to end happily.  They felt like real friends, as both got on my nerves constantly, but not in a bad way!  I suppose they reminded me a lot of me and my friends.  I loved being reminded of my childhood friend and our love of writing letters to each other.  It makes me want to grab a sheet of paper and write her a nice, long letter now!  Don’t you miss letter writing, just a bit?  There is something so romantic about taking pen to paper and writing your thoughts and feelings to someone you care about so much.  It means so much more than just an email, or even a phone call, in my mind.  Anyway, all in all, this is a nice, light, fun read for the beach or on a day when your brain may be a little bit tired.   A fun read, to be sure.

The Recipe Club
Written by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel
Published by HarperCollins Publishers
On Sale: September 2010
Paperback, 342 pages
ISBN: 9780061992292
Rated 3.5 out of 5

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Book Review: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

How does one sum up such a book as The Little Stranger?  How does one accurately put this sprawling, Gothic decadence of a novel into words that will make every reader of this humble, inadequate blog post run out and grab themselves a copy?

Newsday calls it, “Completely absorbing… I wanted to linger in that fictional world, page by page, chapter by chapter.”

Not good enough.

The Seattle Times says, “A virtuoso writer… If you want a ghost story that creeps up your spine, The Little Stranger delivers.”

Closer, but still not it.  This is about the closest;

“Waters has managed to write a near-perfect gothic novel,” says Laura Miller for Salon.com.  “While at the same time confidently deploying the form into fresher territory.  It’s an astonishing performance, right down to the book’s mournful and devastating final sentence.”

And oh, what a mournful and devastating final sentence it is.  It still haunts me.

“And perhaps there is a limit to the grieving that the human heart can do. As when one adds salt to a tumbler of water, there comes a point where simply no more will be absorbed.”

The Little Stranger.  It is about so much, too much for this humble blogger to even begin to capture.  And it is when it comes to talking about what, exactly, it is about is where I get tongue tied.  In truth, I find I have no words.  Plus, it is my personal belief that coming into the book with little knowledge of what it is about the better to feel the full impact of it.  All I knew going in was that so many of my blogging friends loved Sarah Waters, that it was a Gothic, spooky read, and that it would fulfill part of my requirements for RIP V.  I had no idea of the… treat… I was in for.  It is a ghost story, set in postwar Britain.  There is an old, ancestral haunted house  full of lots of macabre atmosphere, creaks and groans, and bumps in the night.  Doctor Faraday returns to the house he last saw 30 years ago as a young boy, just as enamored with it as he was then.   He leads a quiet life as a respectable country doctor but soon, however, he finds himself caught up in the Ayres family’s drama.  Son Roderick has returned from World War II a broken and scarred young man and Faraday becomes his doctor, bringing him to the house quite often. The house is in decline, it’s masonry crumbling into dust, the once lush gardens stifled with weeds, and most of it closed off, already retired from life.  What is it, exactly, that haunts the house, be it something malevolent or just a dying way life?  I would love to hear what you think.

The class struggles!  Woman’s place in society!  The history of medical practices and how Britain was forever changed by World War II!  Sarah Waters is such a master, I hate I waited to so long to try one of her books.  Her writing is so amazing.  Here, read this.  This is suspense. This is how to do it…

No wind disturbed the branches of the trees, no bird rose, even, in the thin, chill air, and if any sound had come, any movement been made, I would have caught it.  Nothing changed, nothing at all-and yet, it began to seem to me that something was there in the garden with us, creeping or edging towards us across the crisp, white snow.  Worse than that, I had the bizarre impression that this thing, whatever it was, was in some way familiar: as if its bashful advance towards us was more properly a return.  I felt the flesh of my back rise, anticipating a touch-as in a childish game of tig.  I drew my hands from hers, and twisted round, looking wildly about.  p. 403

I have endeavored to write a review of this masterpiece for about two weeks now.  I even had over 500 words written about it and I just deleted them all.    They were not good enough to describe how I have come to feel about this book.  I am almost obsessed with it.  I am surprised I have been able to read anything since finishing it.  It’s a reading slump started for sure.  Sarah Waters pulled me, head over heels, into this dark, mysterious novel and has yet to turn me loose.  I’m afraid this review is very “tripping over my own feet,” but it’s the best I can do.  It wouldn’t let me go until I reviewed it.   Sitting here now, writing this out with pen to paper, and glancing at the book by my side, I feel compelled to pick it up and loose myself in it all over again.  And that, my friends is the highest recommendation I can give any book.  I urge you to go pick up The Little Stranger now, as the days get shorter and cooler, as the trees begin to turn and the earth goes to sleep for a time, get lost in the world of Hundreds Hall and the lives of Doctor Faraday, Caroline, Roderick and Mrs Ayres.  You will not regret it.

The Little Stranger
Written by Sarah Waters
Historical Fiction
Published 04 May 2010
by Riverhead Books
Paperback, 512 pages
9781594484469
Purchased from The Book Depository
Rated 5 out of 5

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Book Review: Naked in Eden

Robin Easton did an admirable thing.  Robin had been mildly autistic her whole life and, like many people, she recognized that something wasn’t quite right with her life.  She lived her life trying to “do the right thing.  Being polite.  Orderly.  Don’t rock the boat.  Never contradict anyone or break the rules, and always ‘think before you act.'”  She recognized she wasn’t happy living like that.

“Most days, I walked in a dark shadow of vague fear, lost and detached from all that most people hold dear: friends, family, and a sense of home and belonging.”

She believed if she didn’t “somehow awaken to life” she would die.

Then she met Ian.  Ian, an Australian and Robin’s soul-mate, is her complete opposite.  Where Robin was a rule follower, Ian was a rule breaker.  Where Robin was cautious, Ian was adventurous.  Where Robin cared what others though, Ian didn’t give a thought to it.   They instantly fell in love and moved into together.  One day, after taking several jobs as a model and finding herself miserable. Ian asked Robin what she did like doing.  Without hesitation, she said what she loved most was being in the mountains camping and hiking.  He promptly took her to the mountains, in the middle of the night, seeing it was what she needed.  And it was.  Ian taught her to follow impulse.

It is impulse that sends the pair out into the Australian Rain Forest.  To life.  Just the two of them.  And it is there, despite the dangerous animals, the insects, the deadly poisonous snakes, the stinging trees, the mud and the muck and the filth, and the Loss of Modern Day Conveniences that Robin becomes acutely aware of herself and the things around her.  To sound cliche, she becomes ‘one with nature.’

Sounds like a great book, doesn’t it?  For the most part, it was, there were just some parts.  Some parts that were… out there.  Like the whole talking with (not to, WITH) the trees and the animals.  The instantly knowing that the man you just met is the man you’ve known you would marry ever since you were four years old.  And I am all for love, butthis?

The first day I met Ian complete recognition washed over me. I felt I had always known him. I knew he was the person I’d waited for since I was four and a half years old. … When I met Ian, my life finally became real. (pg 21)

I’m sorry.  I love my husband but he did not make my life real.  I do not believe any one, man, woman, but perhaps child, could make my life real.  I make my life real.

But these are minor quibbles.  In the end, I admire Robin for taking control of her life.  I  had a hard time, initially, with her writing style, especially the dialect Australian.  I mean, what the heck does “strewth” mean? Anyone?  Marg?  And I am a creature of comfort.  As in, I like my chairs, my air conditioning and my oven, so the whole giving it all up and going wild went a little over my head.  Yet I can definitely see where some people would love this.  There were parts I enjoyed!  But in the end, it just wasn’t quite for me.  Definitely give it a glance though, perhaps you will be inspired to follow a few impulses of your own.

Naked in Eden: My Adventure and Awakening in the Australian Rainforest
Written by Robin Easton
Category:
Nonfiction
Published by: HCI
Format: Hardback
Pages: 264
On Sale: September 1, 2010
ISBN: 978-0757315121

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