Thursday, July 30, 2009

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

I know what you’re thinking –
Pec-tabulously perfect nipples!
Oh Fabio, if only you’d never uttered the word butter. That ruined you for me.
Do they still make shirts without buttons? How inconvenient on a cold day.

I thought of all these things and more when I saw this cover. I laughed and laughed. You’ve got to be kidding! And laughed some more. But I wasn’t supposed to laugh. This is a serious historical romance, not a comedy. Luckily, it didn’t take much to remove this hot-buttered Fabio from my thoughts as I imagined the tortured hero from this novel, and while only tentatively dipping my toe in at first I quickly jumped in whole-heartedly. This book consumed me.

Christian Langland, the Duke of Jervaulx (pronounced Shervoh) is London’s most notorious rake. An extremely intelligent and rich rake, but a rake none the less. Of course he is. Aren’t they always – sigh... When challenged to a duel by the husband of one of his ah, dalliances, he suffers a stroke that’s been coming on for weeks. All but his immediate family believes him dead, when in reality he’s been ensconced in a mental asylum under the presumption that he’s gone insane. Enter Maddy, a Quaker of the strictest kind and the daughter of the mathematician who’d been working with Jervaulx before he’d disappeared. Quite by accident she discovers him there, and over a period of months she strives to relieve him of his madness. Because he isn’t mad at all of course, just seriously ill. But don’t worry, all his parts are in working order soon enough. Or are they? Hmm...

What happens next is so stinking good I just don’t have the heart to spill the beans, sorry, but kudos to Kinsale for giving us a hero who can’t talk. She takes him to his barest self, almost stripped of everything; a naked spirit - See! I’m obsessed with skin after reading this book. I got a great sense of his frustration, his all out fury with his illness, and then Maddy as she wrestles with her growing feelings for him and her strict religion. It was well written. It was engaging. At times, it held me by the throat.

If you like a heady romance, this is as good as they come. You’ll be singing hallelujah before you reach the last page, no doubt, Fabio or no. You can take that to the bank. 4 stars

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

I love modern English lit. I love the way the characters talk. Brief, quick sentences full of meaning. For example,
“Loosen up, Sis. Mycroft is a brainbox and Polly, well, she does have a fat arse,”
or –
“Thursday!—” shouted Bowden against the rasp of the engine.

Perfectly timed and perfectly witty, this was a really funny book. The Eyre Affair is a heady amalgam of comedy and crime, and I guess alternate history, two words together I’d never heard of. Enter the world of Great Britain circa 1985 where time travel is common place, dodo’s are the pet of choice, Richard III is performed nightly with as much excitement as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and people vacation in their favorite novel. But now someone is stealing original manuscripts, kidnapping characters and permanently altering the stories. Hot on the trail of this slippery slope killer, such is a day in the life of Thursday Next, Special Operative in the literary detection division, until her beloved Jane is stolen from the pages of Thornfield Hall. Now she really means business.

Think Stephanie Plum with less hair spray and clothes that don’t glow in the dark. Instead of the rat, think dodo bird. Instead of the psycho grandma, insert time traveling father whose face could stop a clock. Landon is no Morelli (not even close), but there is a Vampire Spec Op agent who is dead-pan Ranger with dread locks and the cool shades.

Enough comparison though, I liked this book all on its own. In its own way it was original and funny, even bizarre at times. With names like Thursday Next, Captain Braxton Hicks, Jack Schitt, and Filbert Snood how can you go wrong I say. I laughed outloud multiple times.

The plot moved along rather swiftly for me, keeping me interested most of the time, with my only problem being it taking to so long to actually get to the Eyre affair. A lot of weird stuff happens before then, in fact I thought it might be better named The Eyre Affair, cont., but it is all wrapped up swimmingly, and like a good Bronte novel, ended with just the beginning. Be sure to read it with a cup of herb tea and a cucumber sandwich. 4 stars

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fire of the Covenant By Gerald Lund

"Come, come, ye saints" This song has been going through my head for the last week. I started this book forever ago (about 5 months). I will be honest and say it took me about 100 pages to get into the story. Then I was hooked. And all I have done for the last week is read this 760 page book. I know a bit about the martin and willie handcart companies. I have ancestors that were apart of both companies and survived. I have read their journals and been to martin's cove. This only added to my experience with the book. This is a story about the pioneers who pulled handcarts. They came late in the season and had terrible weather, no food, and many obstacles to overcome. If you don't know much about these pioneers than I suggest you find out. Lund does a good job showing many of the ways pioneers suffered and how they had joy along the trail. If you go back and study the history it was actually a lot harder than it was portrayed in the book. I have always felt more desperation when reading my families account of the experience, but most of the journals come from the Martin company and most of the book focuses on the Willie company.
The best part of the book, in my opinion, is the chapter notes. You get little portions of the pioneers journals. I was astounded, as I always am, at the strength these people had. Could I have made it? No! Is it easy to look at the situation and criticize the fact that they came? Yes. But we would be wrong.
One of my favorite quotes from a member of the martin handcart company- it is a response to criticism about the companies-
Francis Webster:
"I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife....
I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up for I cannot pull the load through it. I have gone to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me! I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the Angels of God were there.
Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No! Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay."
Sorry for the long post

The Wives of Henry the VIII by Antonia Fraser

King Henry the Eighth liked to have sex. Let’s just get that out of the way.


He thought himself the cat’s meow, a stud muffin, God’s gift to women even after his weight increased dramatically and a sore on his swollen leg reeked of disease. After all, he was King of England. But unlike other monarchs at the time whose spouses were selected from political standpoints and strategic alliances, King Henry in all cases but Anna of Cleves and even then he liked her picture, picked his own wife based on his heart. Forget the fact that he’s famous for treading over corpses; King Henry thrived on being in love. He wanted to control someone. He wanted an object of desire.

Towards the end of his life, for the women in court this was a scary business, especially as the list piled on from his previous wives…divorced, beheaded, died…divorced, beheaded, lived. No one was exactly lining up for the job. This is why I admire his last choice Catharine Parr so much. She must have been very brave considering his track record.

Antonia Fraser’s The Wives of Henry the VIII is a faithful, exhaustive gathering of information on the political goings on at the time, the religious fervor in England, and how this played into the stereotypes and backgrounds of his six wives: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anna of Cleves, Katherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. Did they really fit the profile that has descended down through history: The Betrayed Wife, The Temptress, The Good Woman, the Ugly Sister, The Bad Girl, and The Mother Figure. By the end of this book you have a pretty good idea.

A quick overview –
Catherine of Aragon. The most royal of all of his choices, a descendant of Spain and England (both were related to John of Gaunt), Queen Catherine truly was the betrayed wife. And she wasn’t going to go quietly. He was horribly mean to her and their daughter, and her life could’ve been so easy, if she’d just have agreed to a divorce. She refused over and over again. I wanted to cheer at the end of that chapter, “You go girl!” Fraser and many others asked the question, how would things have been different in England if she’d had a son? Would the religious reformation have taken place? Fraser and other scholars agree, probably eventually yes. The conditions were ripe at the time for change. The people wanted more of a voice in their own religion, scripture in English, etc. It was inevitable.

Anne Boleyn. One of the smartest women on her age. Her story is a well-chronicled one. One of desire, one of love, one of temptation. Was she really as calculating as some believe? Fraser says probably not. Her main mistake was not having friends in the right places like Catherine did, and most of all not producing a son. Is it any wonder these women had miscarriage after miscarriage? I can hardly imagine such pressure to procreate as that.

Jane Seymour. Lucky girl, she died quickly. She was Henry’s new fresh start. A clean slate. He always claimed she was his one true wife. Why? Because she gave him his only living son. Does she deserve the title of The Good Woman? Fraser speculates she was probably just as human and paranoid as the rest of the women in his life.

Anna of Cleves. King Henry was in a very bad mood when he married her. His first choice had laughed him off. This daughter of Cleves was his second choice, based on liking her portrait, and merely a convenient political alliance. When he saw her he changed his mind, not thinking she was the least bit pretty. This was his reasoning for a quick divorce – that she was not able to rouse him. But unlike Catherine of Aragon, Anna agreed almost immediately, perhaps fearing for her neck, as long as she could stay in England. He rewarded her with her own house and money. She was still alive and rich. Not too bad I say.

Katherine Howard. Half his age, and a cousin to Anne (that should’ve been the first bad sign), Katherine was not too bright, but she must’ve been very pretty – according to Fraser we're not sure if there's a picture of her. It’s widely guessed that the king was quite taken with her, but therein lies the thorn on the rosebush: He wasn’t the only one. This rose had been plucked before, poor girl. I believe Katherine’s only crime was being so young and na├»ve. Whom would you pick between if you were nineteen: an old, really large man with a smelly leg and a general attitude of importance, or a young dashing rogue who told you everything you wanted to hear? Not too tough of a choice.

Catherine Parr. Finally an older (she was in her mid-thirties), wiser widow. No more questions about whether or not she’s had sex before. This woman was safe. She definitely spoke her mind on occasion, was a stand in mother for his children and probably just as Protestant as Anne Boleyn, but knew her limits. She wasn’t stupid after all. Nothing was worth death.

So, along with this being a fascinating read, there are wonderful pictures of the king and his wives and offspring, as well as key political figures and places at the time. I recommend this to anyone interested in this period of history and women studies.

I’ve seen The Tudors on Showtime and have often believed, besides the fact that the casting of Henry was way off base as far as looks go, they made some of the storyline up. It’s just too much of a soap opera to be true. I don’t think that anymore. What came around really did go around. Who would’ve thought? I loved it, but I love the National Enquirer too, so it wasn't much of a stretch. 4 stars

Monday, July 20, 2009

What are you reading Mondays

I wished I had time to sit and read like this girl in the photo. Is she on the subway? In the park? On her lunch break at work? It must be the subway or on a bus because that guy next to her is really close. Eww. Hope he doesn't smell funny.

When do I read? Whenever I get the chance. While I'm eating is probably the most popular. In fact, my food digests better if I'm reading a good book. Otherwise, I'd probably starve! At least that's what I keep telling Eric when he looks at me like I'm a weirdo. He does that a lot.

I've just finished this week-

The Wives of Henry the VIII - by Antonia Fraser.

An excellent book if you're a fan of this time period at all. Many details. Very informative. I'll review it tomorrow.

These Old Shades - by Georgette Heyer.

As always, I'm gushing. I really liked this book. Regency romance at its finest. If your heart quivers for subjects like disguise, hand and finger kissing, men that wear wigs and make-up, dashing heroes that always get their man, and words like my dear, my infant and I worship the ground you walk on, you'll like this book. In fact you'll like any Heyer book as she's mastered the pistol, sword play, kidnapping, and the art of female rescue to such a fine point in her pen that my heart melts with each passing word. See, now I too am lost in the language. Sigh, it's a hopeless case.

What I'm currently reading -

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Meet Thursday Next, or Stephanie Plum with a really cool name. Really liked this one so far.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. Of course fantastic!

Listening to: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling. Seriously it makes cooking in this heat that much easier.

What are you reading? What have you just finished? See here for other what are you reading Mondays. Have a great week!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Speaking of Quirk Classics..

Here's a video clip of that Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters book trailer. I'm happy these unrepenting versions are going to continue. They really are a lot of fun.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sense and Sensibility goes macabre

I thought you fans of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies would be interested in the news that Sense and Sensibility is now getting the same treatment. I stumbled upon this story on Entertainment Weekly. Click on the link below to learn more about Colonel Brandon among sea monsters. Maybe I'll get on this bandwagon.


By P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

So I had a few problems with the book Marked.

The premise: In Marked, our hero heroine Zoey is a seemingly normal teenager in a dysfunctional family. She is surprised to find that she is not only a wizard vampyre, but also has an important destiny as indicated by an unusual scar tattoo on her forehead. As a result, she is whisked away to a boarding school called Hogwart’s The House of Night, where she trains to become a wizard vampyre.

I’m a little uncomfortable with its “young adult” rating: This book is full of cussing. It is also obsessed with sex. Yeah, I know that’s what’s on teens’ minds, but do you really want your kids reading so much about it? (And how weird is it that a mother-daughter team wrote this book? I have a close relationship with my mom, but we can barely even say the word “sex” around each other, let alone write a sex scene.)

The preachiness: Good girls don’t swear, sleep around or lust after hot boys. They are never ever prejudiced, they are not shallow and they always get good grades. And just in case you didn’t know all that, this book will repeat those messages over and over again until they are driven into your brain with all the subtlety of an ice pick.

Too much wish fulfillment: Zoey is super hot, all the hot boys are in love with her, she has super-duper vampire –- oops, sorry…vampyre –- powers, and she can drink all the non-diet brown pop she wants without getting fat. And yes, vampyres can get fat. All the perfection started to get on my nerves.

The writing: The teen talk and cultural references get old pretty quickly, but worse than that, our heroine and narrator Zoey is so repetitive. Can we use the word “hot” more often? Yes, I get that (fill in the name of any male character here, because they’re pretty much all hot) is hot. You don’t need to say it every stinking time he makes an appearance. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

All of this kept me so busy rolling my eyes that I could never really get into the book. I am forced to confess that it actually has a fairly interesting story, interesting enough that I skimmed the other four books in the series that have come out so far. It’s probably even safe to say that I would have loved this book when I was fourteen. Of course, my mom would have forbidden me to read it then, so I guess Marked and I were doomed from the start. 2 stars.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Harry Potter - Books 3,4 and 5 - Oh, and that little movie coming out Wednesday

I've plotted. I've prepared. I'm almost ready. Books 3,4,5 read. Finished. How were they? Wonderful. I listened to them, which was really fun by the way. Jim Dale must be a national treasure. I love his voice. It's so animated and fun, so well done it played through my head like on a movie screen. I highly recommend it, since the movies do leave out a ton of great stuff. I'd forgotten a lot of the original stories. Do I really need to discuss them? Is there one person on the planet who hasn't read these books? Really? I don't believe you. Book 3 - short and to the point. The first one I really liked in the series. Book 4 - way too long, but entertaining with a great plot twist in the end. Book 5 - Pretty good actually, but the point was a little muddled. I expected a bigger climax sort-of ending, other than just "the prophesy". Holy adverbs, but whose counting. Not me.

Just started Book 6. And the movie, ah, yes, but I'm starting to sweat in unusual places. Will I be done with it before the movie comes out? Will I be allowed to get away for 2.5 hours? Will I be able to sit through it without having to take someone to pee? I swear I miss half the movies I see with my kids because I give them too much to drink. This time no water for 5 hours before!

I couldn't find that new trailer anywhere. Looks like they yanked it. Idiots. Here's an old one. In the words of Ron, "Who cares!" Boy it looks like it'll be creepy. Ya-hoo!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Happy Birthday, Lula!!!!

You've had a birthday! Shout hooray!
We want to sing to you today!
One year older and wiser, too!
Happy birthday to you!!!

Wishing you many hours of happy reading in the coming year!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Top 100 Books Of All Time - Plus Your Favorite 5 So Far This Year -

Newsweek has crunched the numbers from 10 best-books lists (Modern Library, Oprah's, and more) to come up with the Top 100 Books Of All Time .
These are the first three books on the list. Can you put them in the right order?

'1984' by George Orwell

'Ulysses' by James Joyce

'War and Peace' by Leo Tolstoy

Rounding out the rest of the top 10:
The Sound and the Fury
The Invisible Man
To the Lighthouse
The Illiad and the Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Divine Comedy

What about you for 2009? What are your top 5 favorites you've read so far this year?
Mine are as follows, and it was really hard to narrow it down:

Black Sheep - by Georgette Heyer
Bird by Bird - by Anne Lamott
My Dear Cassandra, The Letters of Jane Austen- by Penelope Hughes-Hallett
A Midwife's Tale - by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
The Book Thief - by Markus Zusak

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife

A book I enjoyed is coming out in movie form next month. Finally a preview. This book isn't for everybody. It's very intense. I'm hoping the raw emotion I felt in the story translates onto the screen, while leaving out some of the needless filler she had in the book, and leaving in the original, thought-provoking love story. I guess we'll see. I have a feeling this one's going to be good.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

He scarcely needed an invitation to stay for supper; and before he went away, an engagement was formed, chiefly through his own and Mrs. Bennet's means, for his coming next morning to shoot the first autumn zombies with her husband.

Let me add my chorus of praise to the long list of favourable reviews for this clever take on a familiar classic. I laughed out loud when I read the paragraph above. It wasn't the first time either. I'd no idea zombie mayhem could be so entertaining, and in case you're wondering what the undead spawns of Satan look like - there are pictures!

As a diehard Pride and Prejudice fan, I'm surprised I liked it as much as I did. But beware you purists out there, the original text has been altered much. Of course, he kept all the best lines, and most of the general story remains intact, but he condenses and paraphrases a lot of the descriptive paragraphs. The book overall is about 75 pages shorter than the original, if you're anal, like me, and keep track of that sort of thing.

Grahame-Smith did seem to have it in for some of these characters. Few are spared being touched by this devilish plague that has consumed the countryside, which leads me to my main, tiny complaint: What's up with this plague? Where did it come from? What dark events led to its destroying England? Helloooo..big questions here.

That aside, I must say it was fun to see the characters and their fates altered a bit. Of course, Elizabeth can beat the crap out of Mr. Darcy. It makes perfect sense! And I know I've secretly wanted to kick Wickham's butt around more than once, and Mr. Collins! If you've seen the new movie - Lost in Austen you'll know what I'm talking about, Mr. Smelling Fingers! Gross.

What if you, like Mr. Grahame-Smith could alter these memorable characters. Whom would you change? Would all survive until the end?

Sadly, it seems the author plans no further zombie tributes in line with other Austen Classics. Maryann and Eleanor will never brandish a sword, Anne's sickly sister will probably not catch the zombie plague, and unfortunately Mr. Elton will continue living. Darn it all. I guess instead I'll just have to use that thing Mr. Grahame-Smith has in spades - my imagination. 4 stars

Other excellent reviews that far exceed mine: