Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman

On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff's edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross. a single fat cloud snailed across the late-April sky, which stretched above the island in a mirror of the ocean below. Isabel sprinkled more water and patted down the soil around the rosemary bush she had just planted. 

"After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them. M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss. The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel." 

I really did love this novel, which I received from Scribner's as a review copy. It was indeed deeply moving, and it was pretty unforgettable too. Oddly enough, it reminded me of The Vanishing Act, even though the plots are widely different. I guess it's the fact that both books are set on an  island, and their themes are somewhat similar. But I loved The Light Between Oceans much more than The Vanishing Act. I guess it was the writing, which was crafted much, much better. The plot of The Vanishing Act sounded much more interesting. But The Light Between Oceans ultimately was the more interesting novel, and the more compelling.

It also reminded me of another novel I loved, The Snow Child. It's really quite similar: a couple living far from civilization has failed to have a child, and suddenly one appears. But The Light Between Oceans was much more sad, which is what it was aiming for. In the later sections, I almost felt like crying, and my heart was being pulled in so many different directions. Because you don't know who to sympathize with. And you don't know who to be angry at. 

The writing in this book was amazing.  M.L. Stedman sometimes shifts from writing in the past tense to writing in the present tense. And though it was a bit confusing, it really worked, just felt right. I loved the language too, and I would highly recommend this heartbreaking historical fiction. 

Read The Light Between Oceans:
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like books set in Australia
  • if you liked The Snow Child or The Vanishing Act
343 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Rereading The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

From "The Bloody Chamber": I remember how, that night, I lay awake in the wagon-lit in a tender, delicious ecstasy of excitement, my burning cheek pressed against the impeccable linen of the pillow and the pounding of my heart mimicking that of the great pistons ceaselessly thrusting the train that bore me through the night, away from Paris, away from girlhood, away from the white, enclosed quietude of my mother's apartment, into the unguessable country of marriage. 

The Bloody Chamber is a deliciously dark little volume of fairy tales by the famed Angela Carter. I loved some of them more than others, but the majority of the stories are really good. In a morbid sort of way. Some, like the title story, are disturbingly bloody, others, like "Puss-In-Boots" are bawdily funny. "The Bloody Chamber" is a retelling of Bluebeard, and this book also includes "The Courtship of Mr Lyon", a Beauty and the Beast retelling, "The Tiger's Bride", also a Beauty and the Beast retelling, "Puss-In-Boots", "The Erl-King", "The Snow Child", "The Lady of the House of Love" which is a vampire story, "The Werewolf", "The Company of Wolves", and "Wolf-Alice". My favorites are the first five or so; they're more entertaining and less completely dark (except for "The Bloody Chamber", of course).

These stories are populated by beasts, and vampires, and werewolves, and witches, dark and gripping, and dark and grim. Angela Carter has a really distinctive writing style; it's sensual and descriptive, dense but somehow not overwritten. But also, each story has its own tone. "The Bloody Chamber" is descriptive and horrifying, "Puss-In-Boots" is narrated by the rascally cat himself, and both Beauty and the Beast stories are quite different too. "The Tiger's Bride", though similar in title to one of my favorite books, The Tiger's Wife, is not at all like the latter book. The "Beauty" character is gambled away by her father to a mysterious masked lord.

I love dark fairy tales, and of the various collections I've read (My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, The Rose and the Beast, Lies Knives and Girls in Red Dresses, etc), The Bloody Chamber is by far the best of these books. It also the most deeply and chillingly dark, to the core.

One note on the edition I read: it's from Penguin, a special Penguin Ink edition, and it's marvelously beautiful, in the style of the Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions, though it's not a classic...yet. I loved the art and the feel of the cover and the font in this book. It's the kind of design that you never get tired of looking at and feeling. I really want to own this book now, not only for the amazing quality of its stories, but also for its design (cover on right). I also really want to read Nights at the Circus, another of Angela Carter's works. Hint hint.

Read The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories:
  • if you like dark fairy tales
  • if you like Angela Carter
  • if you like dark fantasy 
162 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter, William Deresiewicz

I was twenty-six, and about as dumb, in all human things, as any twenty-six-year-old has a right to be, when I met the woman who would change my life. That's she'd been dead for a couple of hundred years made not the slightest difference whatsoever. Her name was Jane Austen, and she would teach me everything I know about everything that matters.

A Jane Austen Education is an interesting memoir of how Jane Austen's six novels changed one idiotic grad student's life. "Before Jane Austen, William Deresiewicz was a very different young man. A sullen and arrogant graduate student, he never thought Austen would have anything to offer him. Then he read Emma—and everything changed. In this unique and lyrical book, Deresiewicz weaves the misadventures of Austen’s characters with his own youthful follies, demonstrating the power of the great novelist’s teachings—and how, for Austen, growing up and making mistakes are one and the same. Honest, erudite, and deeply moving, A Jane Austen Education is the story of one man’s discovery of the world outside himself." 

My favorite thing about this book was definitely just the concept. I loved that a man would be willing to admit that Jane Austen's work, often regarded by many as silly and girly, had some worth; in fact, a lot of worth. In fact, they changed his life, and he wrote a book about it.

Some of his points weren't the most interesting, and I didn't LOVE this book, but I did like it. There are seven chapters: Emma: Everday Matters, Pride and Prejudice: Growing Up, Northanger Abbey: Learning to Learn, Mansfield Park: Being Good, Persuasion: True Friends, Sense and Sensibility: Falling in Love, and the final, concluding chapter, The End of the Story.

Some of the details about Deresiewicz's own life were uninteresting, but I did like his analysis of Austen's novels. I tend to read them for pleasure, rather than advice, but they clearly greatly influenced him. In the chapter on Pride and Prejudice, he was talking about some grad students choosing P&P, others choosing Jane Eyre, and fighting over it. But I love both of these novels. Jane Eyre is gothic and overly romantic, but almost as entertaining as Pride and Prejudice. And certainly, P&P is full of passion too, just a bit less unrestrained and wild.

My favorite chapter was probably the one on Northanger Abbey; it motivated me to perhaps reread it soon. Like Deresiewicz, I liked its "playfulness and youthful charm", but didn't pay a lot of attention to it. The points Deresiewicz (how do you even pronounce that?) offers are good to keep in mind when reading Austen's work. I definitely will.

Also, happy 200th birthday + 1 day to Pride and Prejudice!

Read A Jane Austen Education:
  • if you like Jane Austen and are interested in some analysis
  • if you like memoirs
  • if you like literature
255 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Rereading A Spell For Chameleon by Piers Anthony (WITH SPOILERS)

A small lizard perched on a brown stone. Feeling threatened by the approach of human beings along the path, it metamorphosed into a stingray beetle, then into a stench-puffer, then into a fiery salamander.

A Spell For Chameleon is an amazing, and very original fantasy novel. It is set in Xanth, a land of magic, where every citizen has their own magic talent, and centaurs and dragons and other magical creatures abound. But Bink of North Village seemingly has no magic. Unless he gets some fast, he'll be exiled. He goes to the Good Magician Humfrey, who is convinced that Bink does have magic, powerful magic. As powerful as by the King or Humfrey, or even the Evil Magician Trent. But Humfrey is unable to discover it. That's almost worst than having no magic...having powerful magic, but still being exiled. When Bink sets out for Mundania (Earth), more adventures will befall him...

The first section of the book is devoted to Bink's adventures as he journeys to Humfrey's castle, the second to after he's exiled. The most interesting character is certainly Chameleon; she's so multifaceted (literally), and so beautiful and intelligent, at different times. I think this concept is so fascinating, and obviously so hard to wrap your head around because it could never happen in our world. My favorite of the three is probably Dee; she's fairly intelligent, and not ugly. Though I really like Fanchon too. I also love Trent the "evil" magician.

I give A Spell For Chameleon 5 stars, but one thing that annoyed me was, well, Bink himself. He's a bit sexist, and he's always objectifying women's bodies. It was really annoying; each new (pretty) female character is introduced with some description of her physique. I noticed it more this time around than when I read it two years ago. Apparently, there are over 20 books in the series, most of which are like that. And they also have really stupid puns. Even the titles: Crewel Lye: A Caustic Yarn, Heaven Cent, Faun and Games.

But all kidding aside (no, that's not a pun), A Spell For Chameleon is a really gripping book, just as good as Magic Kingdom For Sale- SOLD!, though both are excellent 1980s fantasy novels. They have interesting plots, and interesting creatures, objectification aside.

Read A Spell For Chameleon:
  • if you like fantasy
344 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Rereading Magic Kingdom For Sale- SOLD! by Terry Brooks

The catalogue was from Rosen's, Ltd. It was the department store's annual Christmas Wishbook. It was addressed to Annie.

Magic Kingdom For Sale- SOLD! is an interesting fantasy novel. Ben Holiday is a dissatisfied lawyer; his wife has died recently, and he feels like life is over already at the age of thirty-nine. So when he sees an advertisement for a magic kingdom in a holiday catalogue, he jumps on it. Paying a million dollars, he arrives in Landover, only to find that the kingdom is not all it was cut out to be. Yes, there are fairies and dragons, but the kingdom is in ruin. "The Barons refused to recognize a king, and the peasants were without hope. A dragon was laying waste the countryside, while an evil with plotted to destroy everything. Ben's only followers were the incompetent court Magician; Abernathy, the talking dog who served as Court Scribe; and the lovely Willow- but she had a habit of putting down roots in the moonlight and turning into a tree. The Paladin, legendary champion of the Kings of Landover, seemed only to be a myth and an empty suit of armor. To put the final touch on the whole affair, Ben soon learned that the Iron Mark, terrible lord of the demons, had challenged all prospective Kings of Landover to a duel to the death- a duel which no human could hope to win. The task of proving his right to be King seemed hopeless. But Ben Holiday was stubborn..."

As you can see, there's quite a lot going on, a lot to absorb. Ben sets out on a quest to seek the aid of many of the kingdom's most powerful inhabitants, in hopes that they will help him win his impending duel, and prevent his impending death. He meets with many strange creatures along the way.

This book has humor, adventure, and another quality that's hard to name. It's in the vein of epic fantasy, although obviously, it's not. I love how the first few chapters of the book set in Chicago and New York are so realistic, and then it all of a sudden transitions into a completely fantastical world, with fairies and dragons and bumbling wizards and dark magic. Terry Brooks's writing in both styles is really engaging, and easy to get into. I found myself once again immersed into the story of Ben's quest, and highly enjoyed this one.

I loved the characters too: all of them are different weird creatures. Abernathy, who was turned into a dog by one of Questor's (the court magician's) failed spells is really funny, especially since he's always bickering with Questor. I really love Willow too.

This is the first of a series, and I may read the second and third books.

Read Magic Kingdom For Sale- Sold!:
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like books with quests
  • if you like Terry Brooks (although I haven't read any of his other books)
373 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Rereading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York. Especially in the summer of 1912. Somber, as a word, was better. But it did not apply to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Prairie was lovely and Shenandoah had a beautiful sound, but you couldn't fit those words into Brooklyn. Serene was the only word for it; especially on a Saturday afternoon in summer.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is an amazing novel, a kind of New York To Kill a Mockingbird. Beginning in 1912 but then flashing back to the early 1900s, it is the story of Francie Nolan, the daughter in a poor family. Her mother, Kate, is determined to get the best for her son, Neely, who is a year younger than Francie. Their father, Johnny, is handsome and funny and flamboyant, and also drinks way too much. And Francie loves to go the library. She's working her way through the books, from A to Z. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the story of the Rommely and the Nolan families' lives, centering on Francie. The title comes from a tree that grows in the yard.

It's hard to pin-point what's so great about this novel. I read it 2 years ago, and loved it. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is less compelling than To Kill a Mockingbird, less deep, I guess you would say, but it's still a classic in its own right, and written much earlier. And it is pretty deep, whatever that actually means.

Betty Smith brings to life the squalor and poverty of Brooklyn, New York, with her elegant prose. She creates wonderful, memorable characters and scenes. I loved reading about the various things that Francie and Neely did to earn a bit of candy money (though obviously, it was kind of sad), and reading about the various eccentricities of everyone in the neighborhood. You can certainly tell that Betty Smith was knowledgeable about Brooklyn; I'm pretty sure this book is based upon her own childhood at the turn of the century, and it shows. It feels realistic.

I also loved the way that school was portrayed. A lot of the kids are awful to one another; even after they go through something, they tease other kids for having the same thing happen to them. The teachers ignore when the children need to use the bathroom, and bullying is rampant. And yet, there are moments of brightness: when the music teacher comes, when Sissy (Francie's aunt) intercedes for her. Francie actually really does like school.

A thing I found interesting was that even though Manhattan isn't that far away, it seems so foreign to Francie, a whole other world that she can't even imagine.

The characters were amazing. Katie, Johnny, Francie, Neely, Sissy...all of them and more felt realistic and were really fun to read about. Francie, particularly. She's an avid reader much like myself,  "on that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived." I can identify with that, and I would highly recommend A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like books set in New York City (Brooklyn)
483 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Short Stories Inspired by Literature's Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

From "Jane Austen's Nightmare":  An extraordinary adventure which I only just experienced proved to be so vivid and distressing- and yet ultimately so illuminating - that I feel I must record it in its entirety.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It is just that; a book of short stories inspired by Jane Austen. Some are stories of Austen's own life, others are a kind "after the book ends" (for Persuasion and Emma) and some are just Austen related. In the first story, Jane Austen ventures out into Bath, and encounters many of her literary characters, all of whom have serious complaints about their characters and how their stories turned out (except for the characters of Pride and Prejudice). And these are the heroines. Then, all of the weak and nasty characters show up. Anyway, I really liked that one, and many others too.

Overall, I LOVED this collection; there were some really great stories, some good ones, and some not-so-good ones. But it's well worth it for the good stories. "Nothing Less Than Fairy-Land" and "Love and Best Wishes, Aunt Jane" were both really good stories; entertaining and interesting to read. The only two authors that I knew in this collection were Amanda Grange and Adriana Trigiani. I haven't actually read Adriana Trigiani, though I do want to read The Shoemaker's Wife. But "Love and Best Wishes, Aunt Jane" was by her, and as I said, I really liked it, as well as "Jane Austen's Nightmare" and several others. Some of the ones set in the present day, like the one at a haunted Northanger Abbey and the one about the actress named Anne Elliot were just okay for me. I felt like they lacked the distinctive verve of the Austen style, that special sparkle. Though the one in Northanger Abbey wasn't terrible.

This anthology contains many good stories, not just a few. I also really liked "Mr. Bennet Meets His Match", which tells of how Mr. Bennet married Mrs. Bennet. And "Intolerable Stupidity" was hilarious! The various people who have dared to meddle with Austen's works are put on trial. This includes the film adaptions- the wet shirt scene, for example. And of course, people who have dared to add zombies, vampires, and sea monsters to Austen's books. This story features Lady Catherine de Bourgh presiding, and Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, of course. Though very silly, it was really funny, and I loved reading it, though the actual plot between the defense lawyer and the prosecutor wasn't that interesting. Though some stories were just okay, I others I really liked, and still others I loved. I would highly recommend this collection.

This is an Austen inspired book worth buying, so I'm certainly glad that I did. It offers many a story for every Austen fan, and I loved it.

Read Jane Austen Made Me Do It:
  • if you like Jane Austen
  • if you like short stories
432 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan

The old woman remembered a swan she had bought many years ago in Shanghai for a foolish sum. This bird, boasted the market vendor, was once a duck that had stretched its neck in hopes of becoming a goose, and now look!- it is too beautiful to eat. 

Being half Chinese myself, I find myself doubting Amy Tan's authenticity, but one cannot doubt that her novels are very good. They're really compelling, and draw you in once you start them. In this one, the four mothers and the four daughters of the San Francisco "joy luck club", started when the four mothers came together to play mah jong, invest in stocks, and eat dim sum. "Nearly forty years later, one of the members has died, and her daughter has come to take her place, only to learn of her mother's lifelong wish- and the tragic way in which it has come true." Then, the stories of everyone else in this club are told, both mother and daughter, in (I think) four different parts, with three or four sections within each part.

It's hard to pinpoint what makes The Joy Luck Club so compelling. I don't think it's really accurate in its portrayal of Chinese immigrants; only some are like the characters in this book. But the plot itself is so gripping, the stories so... not fun, but perhaps necessary to read. I found myself pulled into the stories of mothers and their daughters, pasts and presents and futures.

A lot of the older women have had horrific experiences back in China, and finally, these stories start to come out, after so many years. And the daughters have their own tales to tell, of growing up in America, of hearing wisdom from their mother and ignoring it, or perhaps taking it too much to heart.

I read The Kitchen God's Wife a couple years ago, and though I don't remember much about the plot, I remember reading it on a sunny summer afternoon and really liking it. I think The Joy Luck Club was just as good, though again, I may not agree with its interpretation. But just as a story, it's amazing. And the Chinese words are actually accurate, which I can't say the same for other books (or perhaps they just use Cantonese instead of Mandarin. I only speak Mandarin).

Who was my favorite character? Hmm...I think all of them were equally interesting, though I particularly liked Tan's portrayal of the married couple who add everything up, account for every single cent and who owes whom what. I don't think that's how marriage should work, and predictably, their marriage does unravel. There's also (as with many of the chapters) an interesting anecdote about childhood superstitions that actually end up coming true.

"Amy Tan writes about what is lost and what is saved." She does. She writes about things that fail to get passed down, and things that do. And the stories. I loved The Joy Luck Club, and would recommend it. But don't believe that all Chinese immigrants are like the characters here. That's a dangerous misconception to fall into, so don't do it. Just enjoy this novel.

Read The Joy Luck Club:
  • if you like Amy Tan
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like books set in China/with Chinese immigrants
288 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Every Day, David Leviathan

I wake up. Immediately I have to figure out who I am. It's not just the body- opening my eyes and discovering whether the skin on my arm is light or dark, whether my hair is long or short, whether I'm fat or thin, boy or girl, scarred or smooth. The body is the easiest thing to adjust to, if you're used to waking up in a new one each morning. It's the life, the context of the body, that can be hard to grasp. Every day I am someone else. I am myself- I know I am myself- but I am also someone else. It has always been like this.

Every Day just blew me away. It's such an amazing novel. The protagonist, "A", has no body. That is, every day, he wakes up in a different person's body, which he inhabits for a day. It has always been this way, and he has always left people behind. But then one day, he wakes up in Justin's body and meets Rhiannon, Justin's girlfriend. He can't forget her. He's fallen in love. But how is such a love possible? I'm calling A "he", but sometimes "he" wakes up in a girl's body, too. But "his" love for Rhiannon is universal, no matter what body he is in.

I don't even know how to write about this book. It was so amazing, so gripping, so compelling. And it's such a novel idea; this idea that you could move from one body to another. A doesn't know whether he has parents; he must, I suppose, but he only stayed with them one day, the day he was born. There are other considerations too. You could commit the perfect crime, and the person's body you were inhabiting would get blamed for it. You could do anything, basically, and you wouldn't be responsible. A terrible thought. Another thought just occurred to me: if A is inhabiting someone, and that person gets killed, will A die too? Or will he just suddenly be in another body?

This book kind of reminded me of The Time Traveler's Wife. It's about an impossible love and whether or not it can succeed over time, in one case, through multiple barriers of appearance in another. I won't give any spoilers.

It seems like every other section introduces some startling new development or realization. Sometimes, that can be too much, but here, it was just perfect. Occurrence after occurrence, event after event. All building up to a shocking end (and there's another development near the end).

There's so many more things to talk about with this novel, but I can't think of them right now. I will just say that now I really want to read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which he co-authored with John Green.

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Splintered, A.G. Howard

I've been collecting bugs since I was ten; it's the only way I can stop their whispers. Sticking a pin through the gut of an insect shuts it up pretty quick.

Alyssa Gardner hears the voices of insects and plants. She's descended from Alice Liddell, the little girl who inspired Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Her mother, Alison went insane when she was five and was put in an asylum. But there's more to it than that. Old memories long forgotten resurface, and to break an age-old curse, Alyssa must go down the rabbit hole with Jeb, her crush. There, she meets Morpheus, a moth-like creature who she knew as a child. She's torn between the two of them, but meanwhile, she must also save the land, and herself.

Splintered is a somewhat disturbing, but also very gripping dark fantasy novel. I definitely liked Jeb a lot more than Morpheus, who was somewhat of a jerk, and really creepy, too. As well as selfish. I loved how the author turned the familiar Alice in Wonderland characters into new creations: Rabid White, Herman Hattington, and more. Suddenly, Wonderland is turned into a much more sinister place, where anything can happen, and no one is who they seem. A.G. Howard did a really good job of portraying the eerie madness that pervades the land, particularly in the first feast when everyone is chasing the live duck. It was scary, actually, and accomplished exactly what A.G. Howard was going for. Also, the scene where Jeb and Alyssa are trying to wake up the creatures at the tea party was amazingly well done.

The beginning of Splintered started out very slowly, but it quickly picked up, and I soon couldn't put it down. The premise was really good, and quickly panned out into a very good, if not marvelous, new novel (published on January 1). The cover, though a bit garish, also fit the book really well, and was beautiful in its own way. It conveys the essence of the book.

Another thing I liked was that Splintered is a stand-alone novel (I think). There are so few of those these days for the YA bracket, and I loved that this story could just go on its own. Splintered is an excellent twist of off the original tale, and I would highly recommend this book. Thanks to Amulet for providing me with a review copy.

Read Splintered:
  • if you like dark fantasy
  • if you like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
377 pages (in the ARC), 4.5 stars.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Rereading Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring. Inman's eyes and the long wound at his neck drew them, and the sound of their wings and the touch of their feet were soon more potent than a yardful of roosters in rousing a man to wake. So he came to yet one more day in the hospital ward. He flapped the flies away with his hands and looked across the foot of his bed to an open triple-hung window. Ordinarily he could see to the red road and the oak tree and the low brick wall. And beyond them to a sweep of fields and flat piney woods that stretched to the western horizon. The view was a long one for the flatlands, the hospital having been built on the only swell within eyeshot. But it was too early yet for a vista. The window might as well have been painted grey. 

Cold Mountain is an amazing novel, not only of the Civil War, but also of one man's journey. Inman has been injured, and has grown sick of the war. He sets out to return to his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and to his sweetheart, Ada. Meanwhile, her father has died, and she is grappling with rural farm life, helped by Ruby, a surprisingly strong girl. Their two stories interweave (my favorite), as Inman meets with all sorts of characters -both friendly and malignant- on his journey through the dying South. The back cover calls it an "authentic American Oydyssey." I don't know if I would go that far, but it certainly is a good novel. I hear it's going to be made into an opera at Santa Fe in 2015. I may go see it (since I go to the opera festival often). At first thought, I didn't think Cold Mountain would make a good opera. But it might. It's the kind of story that is so individual, but also so universal, good opera material, I think. I look forward to (possibly) seeing Jennifer Higdon's interpretation. In the meantime, I enjoyed rereading this excellent story.

Truth be told, I didn't remember much about Cold Mountain except for the basic story-line. The language that Charles Frazier uses really is beautiful; sparse yet descriptive. Simple, yet elegant and fitting. I wouldn't say it's great writing, but I would certainly say that it's very, very good writing. Not much of a difference, come to think of it.

The characterization is a bit vague, but perhaps it's meant to be that way. Inman could be any man stricken by the war, trying to get home to his lover, and Ada could be any woman, struggling to survive in a world where her father is dead and all the men her age soon will be. Or are gone, at any rate. Yet each character is also unique in their own way, and I think that pretty much sums up the entire novel. As I said, universal, but highly individual.

Also, I guess I just find the South of that time so interesting. So contradictory. They kept slaves and sometimes treated them brutally, but they also had their own way of life, a life that the whites at least were happy with. It's not that I sympathize with them, more that I think I can at least understand. Plus, the South has produced so many great writers: Margaret Mitchell, Harper Lee, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty (though I haven't read her yet). Oddly enough, all female. I don't know if I would rank Charles Frazier among them, but Cold Mountain is another example of a wonderful work of Southern fiction, one that I would highly recommend.

Coincidentally enough, I reread this book right before our Language Arts class started reading historical fiction, this novel being one of them. Funny how these things work out.

Read Cold Mountain:
  • if you like Southern fiction
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like books set in the Civil War
449 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

I Have Been Nominated...

for the Liebster Award.  I thought that that was only for Wordpress, but apparently I was wrong. Yay!

The Rules: 1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog and link back to the blogger who presented this award to you.

2. Answer the 11 questions from the nominator, list 11 random facts about yourself and create 11 questions for your nominees.

3. Present the Liebster Blog Award to 11 blogs of 200 followers 
or less who you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen. (No tag backs)

4. Copy and Paste the blog award on your blog.

Wow. I've never won an award, and it's nice to be noticed. Thanks so much, Nuzaifa @ Say It With Books! Check that blog out!

The Questions:
  • How often do you blog? 
Every day on my book review blog, infrequently on my other blogs.
  • What book did everyone like and you hated? 
It depends how you define "everyone". I know The Art of Fielding was a really popular adult book in 2011; it was voted one of the Top 10 in the year by The New York Times, etc. But I really didn't like it. At all.

  • What are 5 items you never leave home without?
My water bottle. Gum. Chapstick. A jacket. Sorry to be so boring, but there it is. And a book, usually. 

  • Is there a particular movie or TV series you preferred over the book version?
Nope, not really. But I did love BBC's 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice. 

  • Do you have a favorite book cover?
I love so many different covers, I can't narrow it down to just one. The Vanishing Act, The Night Circus, Graceling. Or maybe Divergent.

  • Favorite holiday destination?
I would love to go to Sri Lanka, though my enthusiasm for it has waned somewhat in the past year or so. Italy would probably be second.
  • Have you read a book you would like to rewrite the ending of?
I'm sure I have, but I can't recollect it right now.

  • What is the strangest item you've ever found in a book?
Ooh, good question. It reminds me of Forgotten Bookmarks. I've found a dollar in a book before, but that's not really that strange. My favorite thing is when I'm reading a used book or a book from the library and I find a bookmark from the previous reader. Those are always interesting.

  • Twilight- Love or Hate?
HATE. Though to be fair, I've never actually read the books or seen the movies, mainly because junk like that isn't worth my time. (At least, I think it's junk). But seriously, if a guy tells you he's dangerous and might hurt you, you should run the other way. However, I get that some people like it.

  • Any "required reading" you hated in high school?
I'm not in high school yet, so I'll let you know when I am. ;)

  • Which book do you keep telling yourself to read, but you probably won't?
Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks. I loved Cloudsplitter and The Darling, but I'm not sure that I'll actually get around to reading this one.

Time for 11 Random Facts!
  • I love dark chocolate, peach rings, and gummie bears.
  • I also love root beer, ginger beer, and sparkling cider.
  • I've been bitten by a zebra (though not in Africa, in the Beijing Zoo).
  • I have a lovely Bengal cat named Athena.
  • I love the Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
  • I've been to China, the US (obviously), Canada, France, England, and Japan (if changing in airports counts).
  • My favorite color is blue.
  • I love Jane Austen.
  • My favorite piece is Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto. I love classical music in general.
  • I was born in New York City, though now I live all the way on the other side of the country.
  • I read about a book a day.

Questions for My Nominees: 

1. When you read a book, what point of view do you like most (first person, third person etc)? 
2. Chocolate or vanilla?
3. What is a charitable cause you stand behind?
4. Who is your favorite book character?
5. What is your worst pet peeve? 
6. How long have you been blogging? 
7. Who is your favorite author?
8. Who are you most like - Jane, Lizzy, Mary, Kitty, or Lydia Bennet?
9. Jane Austen or Charles Dickens?
10. What is your absolute favorite genre? 
11. What's the best movie you've seen recently?

And I'm nominating: 
If you'll notice, 1 does not equal 11. The problem is, I don't follow that many blogs with less than 200 followers. And I don't want to spend hours searching for the many worthy blogs out there. So I'll nominate blogs if I find them. If anyone has any suggestions, let me know!

I've nominated another blog! 

Rereading Graceling by Kristin Cashore

In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind. One that had so far proven correct, as Oll's maps tended to do.

Here is what I said in my original reviewGraceling is one of my very favorite fantas
y novels. It's set in a land with seven kingdoms: Nander, Wester, Estill, Sunder, Monsea, Middluns, and Lienid. In the lands, some people are "Graced" with a special skill. Their eyes are different colors, and they are called Gracelings. It might be something harmless, like talking backwards, or something dangerous, like killing. Katsa is the niece of the king of the Middluns, and her grace is killing. Or is it? She meets Prince Po of Lienid, Graced with fighting skills (or is he?), who is searching for the reason that his grandfather got kidnapped. She and Po practice fighting often, and eventually, they set out on a journey to Monsea to investigate the suspicious King Leck of Monsea. Obviously, Katsa and Po fall in love on their way.

The characters in Graceling are really wonderful. Katsa is a great strong character, struggling with the way she sees herself, and Po-well, I love Po. There are a lot of surprises in the book, so I won't spoil it, but this is a really exciting fantasy. Definitely one of my Top 10 Books. There are two other books about this land, Fire and Bitterblue, which I look forward to reading. You can read Becky's review here."

As with Throne of Glass, I don't know why I wrote such a short review for a book I love so much. I just kind of glossed over a lot of things. The plot is amazingly suspenseful; you really can't put the book down, and you want to find out more about the characters. I really wish Cashore had written more books about Katsa and Po specifically. Fire and Bitterblue are very good too, but not as amazing. 

I think we can all admire a heroine who can "beat a man senseless with both arms tied to her sides", who can snap a neck like that, and easily outpower ten armed guards. And yet, unlike Throne of Glass's near perfect Celaena Sardothien (smart, athletic, attractive, bookish, musical), Katsa has her flaws: at the beginning of the book, she thinks that she's a savage monster because of her extreme killing ability. But others in the novel help teach her that that's not what she is: she's an extremely kind person (though maybe not to her horses), and she's helped a lot of people. And I just love Po too. The ending with Po is really sad, though I won't give it away. At least he doesn't die (oops). 

Graceling is one of those fantasy novels that are grounded in reality; it's set in a different world, but the only "magical" thing in it is the Graces. Everything else is very similar to our world (at least in the Graceling Realm. The Dells, the lands over the mountains, are full of fantastical things. Read about them in Fire). And I like that. Because you can really identify with the characters more. 

Read Graceling:
  • if you like fantasy 
  • if you are looking for a wonderful, action-packed book
  • if you like books with strong heroines
471 pages. 
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Rereading Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Here is what I said in my original review (which was kind of a double review) of Pride and Prejudice, my favorite Jane Austen novel: "'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.'

That's probably one of the most famous opening sentences of a novel, along with Moby DickPride and Prejudice is also probably one of Jane Austen's most famous novels. certainly liked it much more than Northanger Abbey. It is the story of Elizabeth Bennet, who lives with five sisters, and an odd pair of parents at Longbourn. Her mother is constantly scheming about marrying off her daughters to wealthy young men, so when Netherfield Park is let to the rich Mr. Bingley, she is very excited indeed. (Mr. Bennet's estate will be entailed away from the immediate family upon his death, so at least one of the sisters has to marry well to provide for them.) And Mr. Bingley brings his very proud friend, Mr. Darcy. The book is about the courtships, and, of course, has many twists and turns. Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, Mr. Wickham, and I suppose, the detestable Mr. Collins (who the estate will be entailed to) are the main men of the story.

I really loved this one; it had humor and wit in it, and great characters. I enjoyed Mr. Bennet and his sarcasm very much, though Mrs. Bennet and Lydia are really too silly sometimes. So stupid. And of course, Elizabeth. She is really a very smart and spirited young woman, who will not be ordered around. I also watched the 1995 TV series from BBC, and I must confess, Mr. Darcy...never mind.

Anyway, all the characters were well portrayed, and while the TV series is wonderful, it doesn't quite have the subtlety of the conversations in Pride and Prejudice itself. The TV series did have excellent casting though; all the Bennets, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Collins were portrayed very well. (Yes, I suppose this is sort of a double review.) I would say though, that Caroline Bingley should have been a little prettier; she was just hideous, and Mr. Bingley was kind of silly-looking. But everywhere else, they did very well.

Back to the book. As I said, there were many twists and turns which made this one a thoroughly enjoyable read. And really great characters. Though she is certainly less descriptive and florid than Dickens, Austen still manages in this one, to portray everyone extremely well. Mr. Collins really is detestable, Bingley overly-cheerful and positive, and Darcy stiff and stern (though he has his reasons, of course.) Mrs. Bennet is an extremely foolish woman, as is Lydia, the youngest Bennet. The pride and prejudice of the story refer, I believe, to Mr. Darcy's pride and Elizabeth's prejudice (though it is certainly debatable.) Mr. Darcy is very proud indeed at the beginning of the story, and Elizabeth's prejudice prevents her from seeing his true character for a while.

I will just add that I read the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition from 2009, and while it has a very nice design, it does not have any analysis or introduction, so if you want that you'd be better off reading the Penguin Classics regular edition or Oxford World Classics." 

Since I reviewed Pride and Prejudice in September, I've been obsessively watching bits from the 1995 series on YouTube (and purchased it myself), so it was good to take a break from that, and read the actual book. I realized that the TV series is fairly accurate in terms of dialogue, but not completely; they take out or shorten a lot of scenes while still remaining fairly true to the novel. I remembered Austen's original language better by rereading the book. 

I loved Pride and Prejudice just as much the second time around, if not more, and would highly recommend it. 

Next Austen-related reads: A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz (a man!!!), Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature's Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart edited by Laurel Ann Nattress, and of course Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen herself. 

Read Pride and Prejudice:
  • if you like Jane Austen
  • if you like British fiction
  • if you like romance
339 pages. 
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rereading The Castle Corona by Sharon Creech

A young peasant girl and her brother kneeled in the smooth gray stones on the edge of the river, filling wooden buckets with water for their master. 

The Castle Corona, also by Sharon Creech, is an excellent fantasy MG novel. It's the story of a castle, with "a king who longed for a nap, and queen who yearned for solitude, and a prince who loved poetry, and a princess who loved herself, and a spare prince who loved his sword, and a hermit who was wise." It's also the story of a village and "a peasant girl who dreamed of flying, and a peasant boy who dreamed of horses, and a master who dreamed of turnips, and an old woman who kept secrets." Something valuable and mysterious is stolen from the castle, and falls into the hands of Pia and Enzio, the peasant girl and boy. They must figure out why it is so important and what to do with it. Meanwhile, in the castle, the royals are working on that same question, as well as others, such as "What is all this loveliness for?" (the princess asks this one).

The story is about much more than that. It's about becoming a better person, and about change, and about finding out who you really are. The writing meanders from this to that, in Sharon Creech's very distinctive and simple style. She often says what each character is dreaming about, and in doing so, revealing something important about them, or what they've experienced that day.

But besides that, The Castle Corona is simply entertaining, a story of two poor orphans who are good people, and some spoiled royals who become better people as the book progresses. Sharon Creech brings this world to light, and despite its easiness, The Castle Corona is probably one of my favorite Sharon Creech novels. Because I like reading fantasy, and I think this is the only fantasy she's ever written.

The book is illuminated by David Diaz. Not illustrated, illuminated. The pictures do look like something out of an illuminated manuscript. They're quite beautiful, and fit the medieval-like setting of the story very well. They depict the characters, the setting, and the events.

I really love how you can see the changing perspectives of Prince Gianni, Princess Fabrizia, and Prince Vito. They start like Pia and Enzio when they come to the castle, despite the fact that they are peasants. The princes and the princess actually learn from them.

Read The Castle Corona:
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like Sharon Creech
  • if you like books with castles and royals and peasants
320 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rereading Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Gramps says that I am a country girl at heart, and that is true.I have lived most of my thirteen years in Bybanks, Kentucky, which is not much more than a caboodle of houses roosting in a green spot alongside the Ohio River. 

Walk Two Moons is an amazing MG realistic fiction novel. It's one of those simple but really resonating stories. Thirteen year old Salamanca Hill is driving on a road trip with her grandparents. Along the way, she entertains them with the outrageous story of one of her friends, Phoebe Winterbottom. And as she tells this story, her own begins to slowly come clear, like the brick wall that her father chipped away at, the story of a girl who only wants to see her mother again. As the back cover says, "In her own award-winning style, Sharon Creech intricately weaves together two tales, one funny, one bittersweet, to create a heartwarming, compelling, and utterly moving story of love, loss and the complexity of human emotion." That's a lot for one short novel to contain. But Walk Two Moons really does contain (at least most) of those elements. I love interwoven tales too, so it adds to the appeal of this book for me. Though that obviously wasn't my only reason for rereading it. It's an entertaining and quick read.

A lot of parts of Walk Two Moons are just so sad, like the ending, and many of the little anecdotes that Sal relates about her mother. You can see that her mother is troubled, and she ends up deciding to just take off and leave them. And Sal has to figure out how to deal with it, because obviously, things will never be the same again.

But there are also a lot of funny parts; Phoebe, for example. She's a hilarious character, so wacky and full of fun. And also suspecting mad-ax murderers and lunatics at every turn. Also, some of the country phrases like "chickabiddy" and "huzza huzza", as well as others, are amusing, and add some character to the novel.

I love Walk Two Moons a lot, but I don't know if it should have won the Newbery Prize. It's certainly more deserving than other books that have (like Dead End in Norvelt, which I didn't like at all), but I feel like there are lots of great books. It's just so hard to decide, I suppose.

I also love the collage art on the cover, and I really do like Sharon Creech's distinctive writing. Walk Two Moons is an excellent novel, certainly deserving of acclaim.

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Paris Wife, Paula McLain

From the prologue: Though I often looked for one, I finally had to admit that there could be no cure for Paris. Part of it was the war. The world had ended once already and could again at any moment. The war had come and changed us by happening when everyone said it couldn't.

From Chapter 1: The very first thing he does is fix me with those wonderfully brown eyes and say, "it's possible I'm too drunk to judge, but you might have something there."

The Paris Wife is an interesting, if somewhat depressing, novel. It's the story of Hadley Richardson, who at age 28 meets the 21 year old aspiring writer Ernest Hemingway. The two marry and move to Paris. This book is basically about their relationship's ups and downs. The back is a bit misleading. It says that Hemingway wrote that "he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley." But they divorced after only 6 years, though they were very much in love. Hemingway went on to have three more wives. The back cover acts like it's a true love, happily-ever-after story, which it was not, though I do think that Hemingway never stopped loving Hadley.

However, the writing style in this book is really engaging. The novel flows at a leisurely pace, kind of philosophically; it's actually very different from Hemingway's writing, not harsh or abrupt at all, though obviously that concept is touched upon.

I have mixed feelings about The Paris Wife. I did really like the writing, but I'm not sure I liked the way that Hemingway himself was portrayed. He's kind of a jerk at times (which I think he was in real life anyway), and Hadley, a bright, smart, young woman (though older than him) has to sacrifice practically everything for his career. It was really sad. And Hemingway doesn't really seem to understand Hadley much at all. They're very different people.

I am fairly interested in this period though: the artists' scene in Paris in the 20's. I saw Woody Allen's film Midnight in Paris, and this was an interesting and very different revisit to that era. I also learned some interesting history that I didn't know before.

I feel like The Paris Wife could have done more, but it was an adequate and entertaining read. I was doing some quick research online, and it seems like Paula McLain stuck very accurately to the facts. She has created a very well researched, but somehow slightly lacking novel. I did love the ending of the novel a lot. It was really good, and different, and managed to make my rating 4 stars (though 3 on Goodreads).

Read The Paris Wife:
  • if you like Ernest Hemingway
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like books set in Paris
314 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!