Friday, November 30, 2012

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

Thursday 7th November- Beyond the hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened upon a trail of recent footprints. 

I loved Cloud Atlas, though it definitely takes some getting into, and I didn't love it at first. It is a fascinating story, spanning over six time periods: the 19th century, the 1930s, the 1970s, the present day, a near-future Big Brother type society in Korea, post-apocalyptic Hawaii, and then back again. David Mitchell is a really amazing writer. This one is so different from Black Swan Green, yet equally well done, and certainly more complex. I really enjoyed all of the stories here, with possibly the exception of the first and last story, the one in the 19th century. The writing was a bit off-putting there, though the second half of it was good. David Mitchell shifts almost effortlessly from historical fiction to science fiction.

The next obvious question is: are the stories interconnected? And yes, they are. In each one, some mention is made of either a person or a book or a piece of music in the previous story. And there are some more subtle references as well, like the comet-shaped birthmark that many of the characters share. As you may know, a movie just came out of Cloud Atlas. I may watch it, though I doubt it's as good as the book.

This one has really great characters. I especially liked Luisa Rey, the smart and sharp journalist from the 1970s. She's determined to uncover the truth, no matter the consequences, and I really admired that about her. Sonmi-451 is not bad either, and very smart.

I liked the way that Mitchell structured the book too. Each of the first sections of the stories ends on a cliffhanger: either the sentence cuts off in the middle or something momentous happens, and you just have to wait until it comes back around again (though of course, you could cheat and skip ahead, if only to see whether the character survives).

I would highly recommend this one, but if you find the first section a little boring, stick with it. The rest are much better.

Read Cloud Atlas:
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like science fiction
  • if you like "all encompassing fiction" I guess you could call it
  • if you like David Mitchell
  • if you saw the movie and want to read the book (although it's always better to read the book first)
509 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Odyssey, retold by Barbara Leonie Picard

Another review from January:

"This another famous tale that Barbara Leonie Picard retold as part of the Oxford series. This one tells of Odysseus as he tries to journey home to Ithaca from Troy, and is thwarted again and again, battling many dangers, such as the Cyclops, the Sirens, Scylla, and Circe, a cunning and evil sorceress. However, in this version, Circe actually ends up helping Odysseus and his men. Also, there is Calypso, the nymph. Though she plays only a minor role, she is one of my favorite characters. Once again, I really liked Leonie Picard's wonderful writing style. This book and her book about Norse Gods are really good for kids, and I enjoyed it too. I looked up Leonie Picard and she has written many other retellings of famous tales, and also a collection of fairy tales. She is a really good writer, I think. The first part of the book tells of Odysseus's travels, and the second part tells of his son, Telemachus, who looks for him and tries to dispel the loutish suitors who have invaded his mother (Odysseus's wife's) house in hopes of marrying her. The third part tells of Odysseus when he returns to Ithaca. I really liked the way the book was divided. 272 pages, 4 stars."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

1 Year

Exactly 1 year ago, I started writing book reviews for this blog. One the one hand, it seems like I've been doing reviews for forever, but on the other, like I just started. I certainly have reviewed a lot of books since this blog's inception. I intend to keep doing so. Thanks, all of you, for reading.

Tales of the Norse Gods, retold by Barbara Leonie Picard

I found this review saved in my drafts from all the way back in January. I don't know why I didn't post it then, so it here it is now, almost a year later:

I love reading different types of mythology, especially Norse mythology. Wagner's Ring Cycle, some of my favorite operas, were based on Norse myth, so I'm particularly interesting in it. I really loved this retelling of the Norse myths, which was for children. Leonie Picard's writing style was straightforward, and most of the Norse stories were included, such as the creation of the world, the golden apples, Loki's children, and stories of Thor. Also, the building of the citadel and the Valkyries. I really enjoyed reading the Norse myths again, and I liked the format of this book. Each tale is told separately, and the text of the book is nicely printed on the page. I also loved the descriptions of each god and goddess, from the major ones (trickster Loki, wise and powerful Odin, brave Thor, Freyia, the goddess of love and beauty, Frigg, etc.) to the more minor ones (Balder, the sun god, Bragi, the god of poetry, and Skadi, the goddess of the mountains.) Another thing that I liked was the interpretation/style that Leonie Picard used to write about the end of the gods. I'd never heard the story told quite in the way that she did. 144 pages, 4 stars.

Note: As you can see, it is very short. It is also from last January, when my reviews were shorter.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rereading A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

Once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome.
I know, I know. You don't believe me. I don't blame you. A little while ago, I wouldn't have believed it myself. Little girls in red caps skipping around the forest? Awesome? I don't think so.
But then I started to read them. The real, Grimm ones. Very few little girls in red caps in those.
Well, there's one. But she gets eaten.

A Tale Dark and Grimm is a fantasy with many fairy tales woven in. Adam Gidwitz's new book is In A Glass Grimmly, so I wanted to reread this one before I read that. I love the narrator's voice. There are little asides in bold font, where Gidwitz usually warns the reader to send the little children out of the room because there are bloody bits coming up. They're really funny. But the book isn't actually that bloody. I mean, there are some graphic descriptions, but it's not as gruesome as you might think.

The plot is kind of hard to explain. The main two stories here are "Hansel and Gretel" and "Faithful Johannes", though there are others. Hansel and Gretel run away from their parents (who happen to be the king and queen of Grimm.) In the big wide world, they encounter all sorts of (bloody) adventures and not-so-trustworthy adults.

A Tale Dark and Grimm can definitely be kind of intense, so if you're not in the mood for blood and gore, save it for another day. It's not too bad though. And the writing style is so sly and humorous,  and the plot original. I really love this easy but interesting fantasy. Books with fairy tales are my favorite. It is dark yes, but somehow it's just so much better than The Rose and the Beast and Lies Knives and Girls in Red Dresses, probably because of the humor added in. You can read The New York Times Book Review's review here (along with The Grimm Legacy and Reckless, both pretty good books too.)

Read A Tale Dark and Grimm
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like fairy tales
  • if you like retellings of fairy tales
  • if you like dark fiction (or fiction that purports to be dark)
249 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Watching The Life of Pi (2012)

I read The Life of Pi by Yann Martel about 2 years ago, and I liked it, so I wanted to go see the new film, just out this week. So yesterday, I did.

I loved the movie just as much as the book (if not more). It was really moving; it's a story about life and death, but the directors also had some fun with it (there are some humorous parts). The story-line is fairly simple: Piscine Molitor Patel (or Pi) lives in India. is family owns a zoo, and they decide to move across world to Canada, taking their animals with them. The ship is wrecked, and Pi winds up on a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and Richard Parker, the zoo's Bengal tiger. In short order, only Pi and the tiger are left, and they must learn to survive together.

This film was in 3D, which allowed for some stunning special effects in the scenes at sea (though also at the zoo). The opening credits show many animals at the zoo, but little of it is shown after that. But in the ocean, there are bright fish, strange luminous jellyfish, dolphins, and whales. Some of them are more scary than Richard Parker himself. The island with the meerkats was well portrayed with its creepy carnivorous tendencies.

The movie is set up a little differently from the book. A young novelist (maybe Yann Martel?) has met Pi's honorary uncle, who told him to meet Pi, now a middle-aged man (or a little younger). Pi tells the writer his story, which is sad, but also full of hope. I also liked the other story that Pi tells at the end, the story he told the Japanese, and how the zebra represented the sailor, the orangutan his mother, the hyena the cook, and he, the tiger. That other story is probably more realistic, but: which do you prefer?

I loved the scenes in India and in the ocean, and would highly recommend this lovely movie, especially if you've read the book.

4.5 stars.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Future of Us, Jay Asher & Carolyn Macker

I can't break up with Graham today, even though I told my friends I'd do it the next time I saw him. So instead, I'm hiding in my bedroom, setting up my new computer while he plays Ultimate Frisbee in the park across the street.

The Future of Us is an amazingly original novel. It's set in 1996, and the two main characters (who take turns narrating) are Josh and Emma, who are high-school students. They have been neighbors all their lives, but things got awkward in November. Then, Josh's family gets an American Online CD-ROM in the mail, and his mom makes him go over to Emma's house so he can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they're automatically logged onto Facebook...which hasn't been invented yet. They're looking at their future in 2011, and every time they refresh the page, the futures change: their spouses, where they live, etc. This will change every aspect of their lives and how they think of each other too.

There were some elements of this one that I wished could have been explored more throughout the novel. For example, who sent them the CD? And obviously, how can they see their futures? But this is fascinating novel focused on other aspects of what happens, and I just loved the premise and the writing style. I assume Jay Asher wrote Josh's chapters, and Carolyn Macker wrote Emma's. Both Emma and Josh are interesting characters, and I really wanted to see Emma turn out happy.

I also find it really mind-boggling (inside joke here) that in 1996, the Internet was a relatively new thing. Just sixteen years ago. And the Internet and phone lines are on the same line (you can't use the phone and the Internet at the same time). The Future of Us was also hugely suspenseful; I tore through it in one afternoon. In terms of the vocabulary and font size, it's an easy read, but also fascinating and to some extent, mesmerizing. I hadn't read Jay Asher or Carolyn Mackler before, and I was pleasantly surprised (not that I was expecting it to be bad.)

The last thing I want to mention is this idea that if you change one tiny thing, the whole future will be different. It's such a huge concept. I think there's a science fiction story where people can travel back to dinosaur times but they're not supposed to step off of the sterile pad. To make a long story short, one of them does by accident, and crushes a single butterfly. When they get back to modern-day, the entire human race has vanished off of the face of the planet. It's kind of a similar idea (though on a much smaller scale) that's portrayed in The Future of Us, a novel which I would highly recommend.

356 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime: Forgotten Cops and Private Eyes from the Time of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Michael Sims

From "The Mysterious Countess": I turned a familiar corner and was soon threading the well-known avenues of Whitehall. 

I didn't like "The Mysterious Countess" that much, but I did love most of the other stories in this collection of female detectives. "The Mysterious Countess" was a bit overwritten, but most of the others weren't. Here's what the back cover says, "It is the late Victorian era and society is both entranced by and fearful of that suspicious character known as the New Woman. She rides newfangled bicycles and doesn't like to be told what to do." A lovely description, in my opinion, that captures the essence of the whole book.

All of the females in this collection are detectives or cops, not criminals (though they sometimes do commit a lesser crime in order to solve a murder.) I enjoyed this collection just as much as The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime, perhaps more, because of the smart female detectives here. One of my favorites was "Drawn Dagger" by C.L. Pirkis, with the courageous Loveday Brookes. It was a really ingenious and complicated one too. I also enjoyed "The Unknown Weapon" and Anna Katharine Green's (the author of The Leavenworth Case) two stories included in the collection.

This is an amazing collection, and it's shameful that there are 2 one star reviews on Amazon. I mean, if they actually had some intelligent criticisms of the book, that would be different, but they're completely inaccurate, as the editor himself, Michael Sims, pointed out for the first one. I hope that these reviews won't prevent anyone from reading the book.

I would definitely recommend this to fans of mystery/crime fiction and stories with female protagonists.

Read The Penguin Book of Victorian Crime:
  • if you like mystery and crime fiction
  • if you like stories with female detectives or female protagonists in general
  • if you like short stories
321 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

What's On My Bookshelf: 25

Friday, November 23, 2012

Rereading Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb by Kirsten Miller

From the prologue: The whispers began the day she arrived on horseback at the gates of the Emperor's palace. They knew her long journey had begun beyond the great wall belong built to the west. A princess of the Xiongnu, the barbarian tribes who waged endless war with China, she had come to marry the Emperor's son. When they saw her, most members of the court agreed. Peace had  been bought at too high a price.

From Chapter 1: Before we begin, take a quick peek out your window. It makes no difference if you look down on a crowded street in Calcutta or a strip mall in Texarkana. Wherever you might be, all the people you see share one thing in common. They've all got a secret they'd like to keep hidden. The dapper gentleman with the briefcase robs parking meters in his spare time. The kid on the bike enjoys eating ants. And the little old lady on the park bench was once known as the Terror of Cleveland. I'm kidding of course. I don't know their secrets any more than you do. That's the point. You never know.

Ah. I just love Kiki Strike. So much. It definitely would be on my Top 20 list. This is the second book in the series. The third book is called Kiki Strike: The Darkness Dwellers, and is coming out in late January. So excited!!! The second book isn't as good as the first, but I still love it. The Empress's Tomb focuses more on Oona, and the secrets that she carries, such as who her father is. Plus, there are giant squirrels mugging people in public parks.

I really love everything about this series. First of all, it's set in New York City, which I'm very familiar in; in Greenwich Village specifically, which right now is the area I'm most familiar with. Whenever we go back, we spend a lot of time in the West Village. Secondly, I just love the characters. They kind of seem to fit into stereotypes: the mysterious girl, the bookworm, the hacker, the mechanic whiz, the chemistry geek, etc. but they're all unique and have their own secrets, as you get to know them better throughout each book.

I must admit that I didn't remember much about this one, except for the fact that it deals with Oona and what the prologue's about has a lot of relevance to the modern-day story. So it was almost like I was reading this book afresh, though obviously I did remember what happened in some critical scenes.

You can't read The Empress's Tomb without having read the first book; so read that one first. If you loved it, you'll love this very good sequel too.

Read Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb:
  • if you loved or liked Kiki Strike and want to read the sequel
369 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey

Mabel had known there would be silence. That was the point, after all.

The Snow Child is an amazing and moving novel. In Alaska in the 1920s, middle-aged homesteaders Jack and Mabel have made a quiet life full of hard work for themselves in the wilderness. They both really wanted a child, but couldn't have one. Then, in the snow one day, they make a child out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone, but there are tiny footprints leading into the woods. For weeks after, Jack and Mabel keep catching glimpses of a little blond girl alone in the woods. The girl, who calls herself Faina, shows up on their doorstep. She's almost magical: she hunts with a red fox and somehow manages to survive in the harsh wilderness by herself. But things are rarely what they appear to be.

The book is described as "enchanting, mesmerizing, dazzling, shining with imaginative power, and a tale both universal and brilliantly unique." I think it's all of those things. On the publicity materials I got with The Vanishing Act, it was compared to The Snow Child. But I think The Snow Child is much better. The writing is more engaging, and the story more remarkable. Faina is so mysterious; I couldn't help wishing that we knew a bit more about her. I loved that she hunted with a red fox. I've always wanted a fox. I wanted to know more about Jack and Mabel too. Both of their families are explained a little bit, but not much.

This was an amazing novel, and I look forward to reading more from Eowyn Ivey. It had a wonderful cover too. I loved how it was partly based on The Snow Maiden, a Russian folktale, but not completely. As the jacket says, this tale is both universal and brilliantly unique. A lot of people can relate to it, but there hasn't been much like it before (at least, not to my knowledge). I would heartily recommend The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

386 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Monstrous Regiment of Women, Laurie R. King

I sat back in my chair, jabbed the cap onto my pen, threw it into the drawer, and abandoned myself to the flood of satisfaction, relief, and anticipation, that was let loose by that simple action.

This is the sequel to The Beekeeper's Apprentice, a book which I thoroughly enjoyed. The next book in chronological order is O Jerusalem (I think that's what it's called), but this one was the second ever written. It is set 6 years after The Beekeeper's Apprentice, and Mary Russell is finishing her studying at Oxford and about to become a wealthy heiress. Also, her relationship with Holmes is changing. She becomes interested in the New Temple of God, and its charismatic feminist leader Margery Childe, who Russell is drawn to. But when four bluestocking women from the Temple turn up dead, right after changing their wills, Russel and Holmes must investigate.

I liked this one a lot; there was a lot less of Holmes in it, which was kind of disappointing, but it shows that Mary is going her own way and growing up. I was rather surprised at how their relationship changed; I always thought of Holmes as a father figure to her, not a romantic interest. There's such a huge age difference between them. Still, this is an interesting series, and I look forward to reading the next book, A Letter of Mary, as soon as I can get my hands on it (it is unfortunately not at the local library).

Read A Monstrous Regiment of Women:
  • if you liked The Beekeeper's Apprentice
  • if you like mystery
  • if you like Sherlock Holmes
278 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Beauty Queens, Libba Bray (and I'm Back!)

"Are you all right?" The voice was tinny in Adina's ears. Her head ached, and she was wet. She remembered the plane pitching and falling, the smoke and screams the panic, and then nothing.

Don't judge a book by its (absolutely hideous) cover. This is an interesting satirical novel. Libba Bray is a really great, zany author. In Beauty Queens, the fifty contestants for the Miss Teen Dream Pageant crash on a mysterious island. The majority of them die, and the survivors are stranded with little food. Throughout the novel, Bray reveals that each girl is more than she seems, and also she reveals the idiocies of the whole contest. Also, "Operation Peacock" is based at the island, and the Corporation is cutting a deal with MoMo, the dictator of the Republic of ChaCha.

Bray tackled a lot of issues; perhaps too much. It seems like each of the girls has so many problems. The book is a bit silly, but certainly not as silly as the cover would suggest. There are amusing "ad breaks" and footnotes from the Corporation, the TV company that sponsors the pageant and a whole bunch of other idiotic shows.

My favorite character was definitely Adina, from New Hampshire. She just entered the competition to expose its stupidity. She's pretty, yes, but smart and independent, and I loved that about her. All of the characters were interesting, even Taylor, Miss Texas, who you hate at first. She has her own set of problems.

Problems. That was probably one of my only criticisms. All of the girls' lives were really messed up; not a single one of them had relatively few problems. But Bray probably wanted to show that nothing in the pageant is what it seems.

This was a funny and amusing read, though I found myself hiding the cover.

Read Beauty Queens:
  • if you like Libba Bray
  • if you like zany fiction
390 pages, 4 stars.

Friday, November 16, 2012


I will be away for this weekend and the week of Thanksgiving in Manhattan. So that means I will certainly miss a few days of posting (Saturday, Sunday, Monday, I think.)

I've also been getting behind on my reading lately (though it doesn't show on the blog). I blame homework and the Internet. So that is why I won't be posting a review today. Forgive me.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

For Darkness Shows the Stars, Diana Peterfreund

Elliot North raced across the pasture, leaving a scar of green in the silver, dew-encrusted grass. Jef followed, tripping a bit as his feet slid inside his too-big shoes.

I enjoyed this science fiction retelling of Persuasion much better than the original novel. In For Darkness Shows the Stars, it's been several generations since a genetic experiment gone horribly wrong caused the Reduction, killing off many people, and causing the rise of Luddite nobility, who outlawed most technology. They believed that the Reduction was God's way of punishing people for trying to play god.

Elliot North is the daughter of Baron North, and a Luddite. Four years before the story begins, she refused to run away with Kai, a "Post", a child of the Reduced with normal functions. Now, the world is changing: the Posts are advocating progress and rising to power. The estate is not doing well, causing Elliot to have to rent out land to the Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes the explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth- Kai. Elliot wonders if this could be a second chance, but Kai is aloof- at first. Elliot discovers a secret that Kai carries. And she has secrets of her own.

I enjoyed the spin of off Persuasion, though I do think that Diana Peterfreund should have kept Wentworth, not Wentforth, as the name. For Darkness Shows the Stars is also its own story though, and quite interesting as a stand-alone novel. It has a lot of differences from Persuasion, so it's just loosely based.

I loved the world-building here; the society is described well, and the various viewpoints on the Reduction portrayed are quite interesting. I think the question here is quite prevalent today: to meddle or not to meddle, to modify or not to modify? For Darkness Shows the Stars is a smart and enjoyable science fiction.

Read For Darkness Shows the Stars:
  • if you liked Persuasion
  • if you like science fiction
  • if you are interested in genetic modification
  • if you like romance
402 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Persuasion, Jane Austen

Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch-Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs, changed naturally into pity and contempt. 

I confess: I was expecting a lot more from Persuasion. The premise of the book is interesting: it is the story of twenty-seven year old Anne Elliot. Eight years earlier, she rejected Frederick Wentworth, choosing her duty to her family over her love for him. Now, he's back again as a successful navy officer, and Anne thinks this might be their second chance. But he's courting the Musgrove sisters, and seems determined to ignore her.

It all sounds very interesting, and Persuasion is definitely one of Jane Austen's more serious works, but the writing lacked something. It wasn't that witty or that interesting in the end. Maybe if I reread it a little later, I'll like it better, but it just didn't draw me in like Pride and Prejudice, and eventually, Emma. I couldn't really relate to Anne like I did to Elizabeth Bennet or Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey. There wasn't enough of Wentworth. The background history was kind of vague. I'm sorry to be critical of anything of Jane Austen's, but this one just didn't work for me.

Becky loved it, so I have to come a to a reluctant conclusion: We really don't have similar opinions on books. Books that I love she doesn't review, books that she loves I don't enjoy as much (generally.) Books that she reviews unfavorably I like. It's kind of sad.

Back to Persuasion. As I said, it's a much more serious work; it's not necessarily about young love and flirtation. Anne is still fairly pretty, but she has to face the fact that if she doesn't marry soon, she'll be an old maid. There was a lot less snappy dialogue, and overall, I think it's just an inferior book. I do look forward to reading For Darkness Shows the Stars, a science fiction retelling of it (review coming soon.)

Read Persuasion:
  • if you like Jane Austen
  • if you like light romance
252 pages (in my edition.)
Okay book, but it left me wanting more!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Jazz Age Stories, F. Scott Fitzgerald

From "The Offshore Pirate": This unlikely story begins on a sea that was a blue dream, as colorful as blue-silk stockings, and beneath a sky as blue as the irises of children's eyes.

I enjoyed some of these short stories. I'd read The Great Gatsby, but I didn't really like it. It got tedious, and there didn't seem to be much point. But I liked this a bit better. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is indeed a very famous Fitzgerald story, but a lot of the other ones in this volume from Penguin were interesting too, especially the first few.

I will admit though that these ones got kind of tedious too (especially the later stories in the collection.) They were all very similar, and though the "Roaring Twenties" are portrayed very well, a lot of them were uninteresting. Fitzgerald is a good writer, but they're just so repetitive. They're all about young men and women trying to cope with life in various ways. Some of the stories were interesting, others not so much. I'll admit, I skipped some of the ones at the end, so you can't say I technically "finished the book." I was bored, okay? Regardless, if you like F.Scott Fitzgerald, this is a good, comprehensive collection. However, I do not really like F. Scott Fitzgerald, as I've discovered.

Read The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:
  • if you like F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • if you like short stories
  • if you like stories set in the 1920s
411 pages.
Okay book, but it left me wanting more!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Eucalyptus, Murray Bail

We could begin with desertorum, common name Hooked Mallee. Its leaf tapers into a slender hook, and is normally found in semi-arid parts of the interior. 

This one is half a romance, half a fairy tale set in...Australia (as you might have guessed from the title.) It's the story of Holland and his daughter Ellen. They live in a property in western New South Wales. When Holland moved there, he began planting many types of eucalyptus trees, and found he could not stop. His collection kept growing and growing. Meanwhile, Ellen was growing into a beautiful young woman. When Ellen is nineteen, he announces that she may marry only the man who can correctly name all of the species of gum tree on his property.

Of course, the whole set-up is outlandish, but then, fairy tales aren't realistic. I'm interested in trees, though not eucalypt specifically. Bail just uses this as a tool for his writing. And the writing really is beautiful. It's unhurried, winding its way from one part of the story to the next, from one type of tree to the next.

Anyway, suitors come from all over Australia, and the region, including Mr. Cave, an expert on the trees. One day, Ellen finds a strange young man resting under the Coolibah tree. He tells her marvelous stories set in all sorts of places. That's where the book is at at about 105 pages in. (That's what I mean about the writing.) Then Ellen falls ill, and the young man must rescue her with his tales.

This was a beautiful little story, and I would definitely recommend it.

Read Eucalyptus:
  • if you like books set in Australia
  • if you are interested in eucalyptus trees
  • if you like romance
  • if you like fairly-tale-like books
255 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Watching Emma (2009)

I recently read Jane Austen's Emma, so I wanted to see a TV adaption. I found the 2009 BBC series on YouTube. In total, there are four episodes, so it's about four hours (compared to Pride and Prejudice 1995's six.)

All in all, I think Emma was very inferior to Pride and Prejudice (referring to the TV series here). I did enjoy it, but it wasn't nearly as good. Or maybe that's because the original Jane Austen novel wasn't as good. Anyway, I wasn't as taken with Emma.

Still, I think it was an interesting miniseries. I have a few observations about it. It's much darker than Pride and Prejudice, in both senses of the word. I think it's less light and merry in terms of feel, and also all of the rooms are much less well lit. It's probably more realistic for the time period than Pride and Prejudice; I seriously doubt candle-light would create the light rooms there. And it was also more sad. I actually was tearing up in the opening minutes, when the British narrator guy talks about the three children: Emma, Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. So a much darker take, I think.

The casting was pretty well done. Mr. Knightley wasn't that handsome, but I grew to like him a lot throughou tthe 4 hours. (But then again, Emma wasn't that pretty either.) I liked all of the characters except for Harriet Smith; she was so ugly at times. I think she should have been a bit prettier. One other thing that I liked was at the ball, the dancers all applauded the musicians. I don't know if that would have actually happened, but it was a nice touch.

Emma is a nice adaption of the novel and if you enjoy Austen TV/movies or Emma specifically, I would highly recommend it. You can find all of it online.

4 stars.

What's On My Bookshelf: 24

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar, Suzanne Joinson

I unhappily report that even Bicycling for Ladies WITH HINTS AS TO THE ART OF WHEELING- ADVICE TO BEGINNERS-DRESS-CARE OF THE BICYCLE- MECHANICS- TRAINING- EXERCISES, ETC. ETC. cannot assist me in this current predicament: we find ourselves in a situation. I may as well begin with the bones.

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar is two stories, alternating. In 1923, Evangeline (Eva) is traveling with her sister Lizzie and another woman named Millicent. They are missionaries, and have arrived in the city of Kashgar. Lizzie and Millicent are both very enthusiastic about their religious duties, but Eva is not. She comes with a green bicycle and a commission from a publisher to write A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar.

The second story is in present-day England. Frieda, a young woman, comes home from one of her numerous international trips to find a man sleeping outside her door. She gives him a blanket and pillow and in the morning finds a beautiful drawing of a bird. She befriends the Yemenese Tayeb, and when she inherits the contents of an apartment belonging to a woman she never heard of, they "embark on an unexpected journey together."

There's a sense of religious fanaticism in Eva's story; Millicent is consumed by her desire to convert, and Lizzie is drawn in as well. I think Joinson portrayed that aspect really well.

I enjoyed both stories, though I think I preferred Eva's story. Both Eva and Frieda are intelligent, independent-minded young women, and I admired them. The writing style wasn't anything special, though there were lots of flashbacks as Eva, Frieda, and Tayeb remembered something about their past. I enjoyed this novel, and I'm glad I checked it out at the library. For me, it wouldn't be worth buying.

Read A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar
  • if you are interested in Kashgar
  • if you like fiction with two interwoven stories
  • if you like books set in London
370 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!