Friday, December 16, 2011

Udolfo, the Abbey, and the Affair

I can't believe it has been a month since I last posted.  I feel very neglectful.  It's not that I was posting everyday before, but at least once a week.  The good thing is that I have been doing a lot of reading.  I've read the last two Sookie Stackhouse southern vampire books and am eagerly anticipating the next one that is due out in May of 2012.  I've read two more in the Pink Carnation series, The Mischief of the Mistletoe, and The Orchid Affair.  In addition to these, I find myself still plugging along with The Mysteries of Udolpho. I am a fairly fast reader, but this one is taking me awhile.  That's not to say that I'm not enjoying it. 

The interesting thing about The Mysteries of Udolpho is that by chance, it is popping up everywhere in the other books that I'm reading.  I should mention that I have also started Northanger Abbey, in which Austen parodies Radcliffe's gothic novel.  This was completely unkown to me when I checked Northanger Abbey out of the library.  In addition to this, in the book I've just finished, The Orchid Affair, one of the novel's characters is reading Romance of the Forest, yet another gothic novel by Radcliffe.
As if these conincidences were not serendipitous enough, I did a quick check on the word serendipitous, only to find that it was first used by Horace Walpole, himself the author of what is considered the first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, which novel has been much on my mind of late due to the appearance of a character named Fouche' in The Orchid Affair, who was inspired by the real life Joseph Fouche', Duke of Otranto.  So very, very many connections.

An interesting fact regarding Ann Radcliffe: Despite extensive, and I mean extensive, descriptions of the French and Italian landscape in Udolpho, she had not yet travelled to the European continent. In fact, she never saw Italy in her lifetime. Her descriptive details of the landscape are, at times, overwhelming, but all the more impressive when considering they were inspired solely through her imagination and the artwork of Claude Lorrain and Salvator Rosa.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Betrayal of the Blood Lily

The Betrayal of the Blood Lily is another fun installment in The Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig. Initially I found the books in this series a little silly and a bit predictable, but nevertheless, enjoyed reading them. However, over the course of the series, the books just keep getting better and I really look forward to each new installment.

Before beginning this one, I was not looking as forward to reading it mostly because I had read that it took place in India and I was reluctant for them to leave England.
But as it turns out, I loved the setting. It was romantic and exotic and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm inspired to find other novels set in early 19th century India. I think I'll give M.M Kaye a try as the main character mentions her name throughout the book.
Has anyone out there read any M.M Kaye novels? I would love to hear from you.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Book Beginnings

From A Few More Pages:
How to participate: There's nothing quite like the anticipation that comes from cracking open a book for the first time! Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

Title: The Betryal of the Blood Lily
Author: Lauren Willig

The food of love isn't music, it's grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches.

This is the sixth bok in the Pink Carnation Series.

Friday, October 28, 2011

From A Few More Pages:
How to participate: There's nothing quite like the anticipation that comes from cracking open a book for the first time! Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

Title: The Mysteries of Udolpho
Author: Ann Radcliffe

"On the pleasant banks of the Garonne, in the province of Gascony, stood, in the year 1584, the chateau of Monsieur St.Aubert".

So far I am really enjoying this book. As you can maybe tell from the first line, the novel has fairly lengthy descriptions of scenery and setting which are setting up the atmosphere of the novel well, but I am in a hurry to get to the juicy parts of this gothic tale! I keep reminding myself to enjoy it all but I have been too eager to read this one. At 25 pages in, I'm getting glimpses of what's to come and I think I'm really going to enjoy it!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Book Beginnings

From A Few More Pages:
How to participate: There's nothing quite like the anticipation that comes from cracking open a book for the first time! Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

Title: The Keep
Author: Jennifer Egan

"The castle was falling apart, but at 2am under a useless moon, Danny couldn't see this."

I think it's a good start. I'm intrigued by old castles so right away I'm interested in hearing more about it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Seduction of the Crimson Rose by Lauren Willig

The fourth installment in the Pink Carnation series, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, is by far my favorite. This one picks up the story of two characters which have previously played minor roles in the series, and the little we do know of them makes them, for the most part, un-likeable.

Mary Alsdale is beautiful, and beguiling. She's the sister that in the previous book, The Deception of the Emerald Ring, devised an advantageous elopement for herself, only to be thwarted by her younger sister (who mistakenly ends up in the elopement carriage and then has the fortunate accident of being seen there with Mary's fiancée, Geoffrey, Lord Pinchingdale, who does the honorable thing and marries the little sister) thus humiliating Mary in front of society.

Sebastian, Lord Vaughn, is first introduced to us in the second book as an English nobleman and a mysterious widower, recently back from the continent.  Whether he is the cruel and dangerous French spy, The Black Tulip, is the question everybody is asking. The Pink Carnation enlists Vaughn's help in recruiting Mary to unmask the Black Tulip, as the Tulip seems to have a penchant for dark haired, pale skinned beauties.

For the most part what ensues is hardly surprising, except for the twist at the end, but it's the story of these two, previously less-than-sympathetic characters which I enjoyed most. From reading the reviews it seems they are mixed. Some people really did not want a story about Lord Vaughn and Mary but for me they are by far the most interesting characters in the series and I would love to see more of them, particularly Lord Vaugh, in future books, although that doesn't seem likely as while each book takes up the thread of the adventures of the Pink Carnation, they each involve new characters which assist the Carnation.

The books in this series are pure fun, and I really look forward to the next one.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy

Everything Beautiful Began After is an enthralling story of three young expats who meet while living in Athens, Greece.
George, an American from Kentucky, grew up in New England boarding schools virtually parentless. He's a lover of ancient languages and Bach.
Rebecca is an artist who was abandoned by her mother at a very young age, and never knew her father. She has come to Athens in order to escape her small, French town and discover herself and her talent.
Henry is an archaelogist from Wales who lives with immense sadness and guilt due to a horrible accident in his past.
This story deals with these 3 strangers and their journey together after meeting in this ancient city, and how their love and friendship deeply affect them and carry them through some very difficult times.
I thought this was a beautifully written tale of life and love and loss-- and love again. It came highly, highly recommended by the host of Bookfoolery and Babble.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Book Beginnings

This Meme is hosted by A Few More Pages and will be up all week.
Post the first line or first few lines of your current read.

Sebastian, Lord Vaughn stood beside a rusting suit of armor, a dusty glass of claret in hand, wondering for the tenth time what evildemon had posessed him to accept an invitation to the house party Sibley Court.

Title: The Seduction of the Crimson Rose
Author: LaurenWillig


This is the fourth installment in the Pink Carnation series.  Judging from the first sentence, this one is going to be much the same as the previous three, which means it will be an entertaining, period mystery, with a good deal of misunderstandings and romance thrown in for fun.  And it is just what I need after the book I just finished this morning, Everything Beautiful Began After.  It seems I am, without planning it, alternating between the beautiful and heart-wrenching (The Invisible Bridge, Everything Beautiful Began After) and the mysteries/romance (The Deception of the Emerald Ring, and The Secret of the Crimson Rose), which is working out perfectly since the former 2 are beautiful, but I'm somewhat drained emotionally!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Deception of the Emerald Ring by Lauren Willig

The Deception of the Emerald Ring is the third installment in the Pink Carnation series.  This is a fun series that follows Eloise Kelly, Harvard doctoral student, as she follows the elusive Pink Carnation through the 19th century. In the spirit of the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Carnation foils the French during their bloody revolution and, most recently, quashes an Irish rebellion.

This book is my favorite so far in the series.  I'm not sure if it's because the author is simply getting better, or if it's because I just particularly enjoyed the story of Lord Pinchingdale and Letty, or if it's because there was significantly less of the "his pants suddenly felt too tight" scenarios in this one, (in the past two books, these kinds of scenes were far too frequent).  Although this book is not entirely without them.  In fact, in a couple of scenes where the protagonists find themselves in fairly dire situations, the above mentioned Lord can't help finding himself getting aroused.  This seems silly and not to mention unlikely, BUT all the same, I obviously enjoy the series or I would not be on the third book and eagerly anticipating getting around to the fourth.  Fortunately for me, my library seems to have every book in the series.

This book was just what I needed after the beautiful, tear-jerker which was The Invisible Bridge.

The Invisible Bridge

The Invisible Bridge is so much more than a love story, so much more than a story of World War II. It is a beautiful, epic novel that seduces the reader early on with the introduction of two brothers, who share a deep bond, the good fortune of a scholarship to a Parisian university, Paris itself, the theatre, young love and then completely immerses the reader in this man's life. His hopes and dreams and desires became my own. When war broke out across Europe and he and his family suffer, I suffered with them and feared for their lives as though they were my family and friends, too.
This novel was always beautifully written even when it was recounting the experience of this man and his family as they struggle to survive one of the absolute darkest and most horrible times in the world's history. A very, very human portrait of love, loss, and survival in very inhumane times.

This is Julia Orringer's first novel.  I am in awe, and not a little bit envious, of her talent and her ability to conjure so well this time in the past, and to make these people absolutely come to life on the page.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: The Commoner by John Burnham Scwhartz

The Commoner is the story of a young woman, who is of no aristocratic blood, that marries the Crown Prince of Japan in 1959. This may seem mundane today.  After all, just within the last few years, we've watched the Prince of Spain marry a woman who had alreay been married once before, and most recently Prince William of England married Kate Middleton, and Prince Albert of Monaco, too, married what we refer to as a 'commoner'.  But in 1959 Japan, this was unprecedented.  It had never before occurred in their recorded history.
 
We meet Haruko, who is the well-educated, only child of a succesful sake brewing, businessman father, and mother. We come to know her as a young woman, we are with her when she first meets the Crown Prince during a tennis match they play against one another, we are with her when she becmes a newlywed, and eventually when she becomes Empress of Japan. Through it all she opens up her heart to the reader.

When the prince first meets Haruko, he is at once drawn to her and a kind of courtship ensues.  But when the prince sends his most trusted advisor to the home of her parents to ask for her hand, her beloved parents respectfully decline the great honor.  They realize only too well what their beloved daughter would be up against if she were to marry into the Imperial family and they fear for her and do not want to lose her, as they surely would.  For once married, she would not be allowed to visit her family. Their fears were, unfotunately, well-founded.  Once married she must navigate the treacherous depths of the Imperial Sea, which holds fast to tradition and does not welcome newcomers, let alone a common one. This book sweeps you into Haruko's life. It is beautifully written. I highly recommend it.

I'm rating this: The Result of a Master Storyteller

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Book Beginnings

How to participate: There's nothing quite like the anticipation that comes from cracking open a book for the first time! Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

Title: The Invisible Bridge
Author: Julie Orringer

Later he would tell her that their story began at the Royal Hungarian Opera House, the night before he left for Paris on the Western Europe Express.

This book was not even on my list of books to read but came so highly recommended by a friend that I'm putting everything else on hold.  He's giving me his copy as soon as he finishes it sometime over the next couple of days.  I looked it up quickly on Goodreads to see what others think about it and it has received glowing reviews from all.  I can't wait to start it!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Neverwhere by Neil Gamain

As soon as I started this book, I was immediately impressed by what a master storyteller is Gamain. His voice and the manner with which he writes reminded me immediately of one of my all-time favorite authors, Roald Dahl. (James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and The BFG are still some of my fave books). But this is far from being a childrens book.  It is definitely reading for adults but it has something of that tone which I loved in Dahl's books as a child. The way I can see the characters, and notice their quirks and ticks, and hear their voices.

From the protagonist, Richard Mayhew, to the two 'bad guys', Croup and Van der Mar, I was entirely entertained.  I felt as though I was a kid again, devouring this story with these characters who live in the 'real world' but discover that there is the 'fantastical' world within. In the case of Neverwhere, it is London below, a place where the 'people who fall through the cracks' end up- a magical, dangerous place full of colorful, funny, interesting characters.
Neil Gamain has quite an imagination and I found Neverwhere to be a wonderful story told by a master storyteller. I can not wait to read more of what he's written. This was not a book that I couldn't put down. I could. I wasn't dying to see what happens. It was more that I missed the characters and I wanted to pick up the book and read so that I could catch up with them. It was as though they weren't just there contained in that paperback- simply a gathering of words put together, telling me a story-but actually alive somewhere in London Below and through this book I had something of a direct line to them and their adventure. I sort of wish I could go back there.
I guess I'll have to pick up American Gods. It's next on my list of Neil Gamain books to read.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Movie Adaptations of Our Favorite Books

I was thinking how pretty much everyone I have ever encountered agrees that the movie version of a book never lives up to the book.  And I agree. I love movies, but if the movie is based on a book I  have read, I go into knowing that it will disappoint me in some way. However, there are some exceptions. Here are just a few movies that come immediately to mind.

 Pride and Prejudice-The BBC version with Colin Firth.  Also, the recent film version with Keira Knightley.  While definitely not perfect, I think it was wonderful.

Jane Eyre-the version which was relesed this year. I loved it!

Little Women with Winona Ryder.

To Kill a Mockingbird

The Harry Potter films

These are movies that I liked better than the books:

The Notebook

In Her Shoes

Under the Tuscan Sun

Bridget Jones Diary

I would love to hear what films based on books you have enjoyed, and which films you liked more than the books.

I am having trouble posting comments. Does anyone have any suggestions? I have deleted cookies, as Blogger Help suggested but it hasn't helped.

Friday Book Beginnings

This Meme is hosted by A Few More Pages and will be up all week.
Post the first line or first few lines of your current read.

This is the book I will be starting when I finish Neverwhere in a couple of days.

Title: The Commoner
Author: John Burnham Schwartz




From the prologue:

When I was a girl, my father told me the story of two whooping cranes who set out to fly across the world together to fulfill their destinies.

I really like this first line. It's very beautiful and gives me the impression that I have as my narrator someone who will tell me a well-written story. I know from reading the back of the book that the narrator is Haruko, Empress of Japan and the year is 1959.

My copy of this book is the Bound Galley, therefore not the cover they ended up using when it was published in January 2008. I prefer my cover although I think both are beautiful.
The cover that it was published with is below.  Which cover do you prefer?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday Book Beginnings Meme

How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.
From the prologue:
The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.

Title: Neverwhere
Author: Neil Gamain

A nice first sentence. I am really enjoying this book. I got it a couple of years ago when a co-worker of mine was extolling the author.  He did not actually mention this particular book but shortly after I came across Neverwhere in the bookstore and thought I would give it a try. So far I am glad that I did.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

While perusing the New Fiction section of Barnes and Noble back in 2009, I read the dustjacket of this book and it sounded exactly like my kind of book. "But," that practical voice in my head nagged, "you have that stack of books at home that you just bought. Do not spend for this hardcover right now." And so I put the book back on the shelf and vowed to remember to pick it up in the future when I had read that stack of books that I already had at home.  Then I forgot the title.

About a year later, I decided to do a little research to figure out the title. And somehow I came across it again and I wrote it down on a little list that I was keeping in my phone. Then, I promptly started reading something else.

But the title was on that list in my phone so a couple of weeks ago, while shopping at a Waldenbooks, which was going out of business, I purchased my paperback copy of Deliverance Dane. Finally, the book was in my hands!

As soon as I finished The Last Werewolf, I dove right in to Deliverance.  And I loved this book. I loved it for these reasons:
1. It took me back in time
The book goes back and forth between Salem in the 17th and 18th century and early 1990's Harvard University, and Marblehead and Salem, MA.  I loved getting a clear picture of life in Colonial America through an interesting and suspenseful fictional tale, and since I know that the author did a ton of research while writing her novel, I can trust that she gives a fairly accurate description of the times.
2.The protagonist, Connie, is a witch.
Unbeknownst to her, she descends from a long line of witches, and we get to hear a little bit of their stories in the past as we travel back and forth in time throughout the centuries.
3. There is a hunt for an ancient magical text.
Connie must find the text for her doctoral dissertation.

As much as I enjoyed this book, and googled the author after finishing it to see if there was a sequel coming out, I realized that I wanted the sequel because I wanted more from this book. I wanted to know more about Connie's mother Grace, and so much more that I don't want to mention here so as not to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it.
And I wanted it to be a little less predictable, and/or Connie to realize what was going on long before she did.  For such a smart academic, she missed a lot of stuff.

This is a great book for anyone who enjoys historical fiction, witches, and is intrigued in particular by the Salem Witch Trials.

This is A Curl Up on the Sofa Read with something of the Total Immersion Read, because there were times I just wanted to be left in peace to read it with no interruptions. (See the new rating system in the margin).

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Book Beginnings

How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

Title: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
Author: Katherine Howe


Great title, interesting premise.

"It would appear that we are nearly out of time," announced Manning Chilton, one glittering eye fixed on the thin pocket watch chained to his vest.

I have been wanting to read this book since it was released in 2009. It's premise about a present day Harvard grad student and her mysterious connection to Salem, MA and the infamous witch trials immediately caught my attention.  I am a little over halfway finished and so far I am not disappointed.



Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

Meet Jake.  A bit on the elderly side (he turns 201 in March), but you'd never suspect it.  Nonstop sex and exercise will do that for you--and a diet with lots of animal protein.  Jake is a werewolf, and after the unfortunate and violent death of his one contemporary, he is the now the last of his species.  Although he is physically healthy, Jake is deeply distraught and lonely.

Jake's depression has carried him to the point where he is actually contemplating suicide--even if it means terminating a legend thousands of years old.  It would seem to be easy enough for him to end everything.  But for very different reasons there are two dangerous groups pursuing him who will stop at nothing to keep him alive.

Here is a powerful, definitive new version of the werewolf legend---mesmerizing and incredibly sexy.  In Jake, Glen Duncan has given us a werewolf for the 21st century--a man whose deeds can only be described as monstrous but who is in some magical way deeply human.

One of the most original, audacious and terrifying novels in years.
(A.A Knopf publisher)

The Last Werewolf  by Glen Duncan is being hailed as a new take on the age-old myth.  And new it is, and while the subject matter is ancient, the treatment of it is definitely original, as the dust jacket claims, and audacious (shockingly so at times), and certainly terrifying.  And the vampires involved--yes, where there are wolves there are vamps--are not the irrestibly sexy creatures they're portrayed as is in every other book out there. However, that could have something to do with the fact that the story is told from the perspective of Jacob Marlowe,  a 200 year old werewolf, who is overcome with nausea when in the presence of a vampire. But vampires play a very secondary role in this werewolf story. This very, very wolfish tale.

Was this novel engaging? Yes. Was it thrilling? Yes.  Did I empathize with Jacob, the murderous werewolf protagonist? Yes. Am I left today after finishing it with the sensation that I just spent a few days with a genuine werewolf, privy to all of his most private thoughts and cognizant of all his hideous deeds? Yes, yes and yes!
But. But. But...I think one of the reasons why I was disappointed with this novel was the constant use of the "c" word. I get that the narrator is a 200 year old male werewolf who, even while in human form, has something of the wolf lurking underneath so perhaps this language lends to the character.  Actually, maybe I'm not even realizing how much his language developed and made his character believable and authentic.  But wouldn't something of the well-bred English gentleman that Jacob Marlowe was still be in there somewhere?  But maybe I'm just not getting it.  Maybe it's like Mark Twain's use of the "n" word. 
 I just got a little tired of it with every sex scene, and of those there are plenty so if you're not into that in your books--this is definitely not the book for you. 

All this c stuff, and my disappointment aside, I think this novel is worth reading.  I think Jacob Marlowe's diary, which is what it is, has something important to say. And I think it's interesting to see just how much we are willing to identify with, and forgive or at least overlook the heinous crimes of the beast when we accept that he is just doing what he must to survive in a very lonely world.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig

The Masque of the Black Tulip is the second book in the Pink Carnation series, and I must say I enjoyed it more than The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.  While both books are purely fun historical fiction, the main characters of the Black Tulip, Henrietta and Miles, I found more likable, and just generally more well-rounded characters, and more believable—as much as a 19th century debutante stumbling upon a deadly French spy can be considered believable.  That being said, the love affair between Henrietta and Miles is fun to read, as is the burgeoning relationship between present day characters Eloise and Colin.  The story goes back and forth between present day and 1800’s England.  Eloise is a Harvard PhD student, who is doing research in England for her dissertation, and Colin’s family, being the descendents of these spy capturing heroes, provides the archives she needs.  Though she has just barely met him, she conveniently finds herself staying the weekend in his ancestral home holed up in his library.  An attraction ensues despite Colin’s initial opposition to her being there and having access to the family archives. 
Though there are some eye-roll inducing scenarios, such as when Colin comes upon her in the library in the middle of the night:
I sat to attention, suddenly very conscious that I was wearing nothing but an ancient white tank top, washed to invisibility”
This scene, along with a number of times that Miles’s pants were suddenly “too tight”, were  all rather too obvious, and clichéd for my taste, however they didn’t detract enough for me to stop reading.  I think this is a fun series and I am interested to see how Colin and Eloise’s relationship develops.  I'm looking forward to the third book in the series, The Deception of the Emerald Ring.

Midnight In Paris

Just saw this new film by Woody Allen last night, and I loved it!
A fantastic performance by Owen Wilson who plays a successful screenwriter intent on writing a serious novel.  He finds himself in Paris with his fiancee, played by Rachel McAdams, and her parents all with whom he really has nothing in common.

At the stroke of midnight every night he discovers a world exactly to his liking. I won't say anything more so as not to spoil it for anyone. I will say that this film is perfect for booklovers, writers, aspiring writers, artists, would-be artists, lovers of Paris, the 1920's and fans of Owen Wilson as he is truly great in this.

If you haven't already, go see this movie!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Book Beginnings


How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.


The title: The Last Werewolf
Author: Glen Duncan

"It's official," Harley said. "They killed the berliner two nights ago. You're the last."

A nice beginning.  I'm really excited to read this book! I finally finished To the Lighthouse, The Sheltering Sky and I'm very close to the end of The Masque of the Black Tulip.

Has anyone read this? And if so, did you like it?

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles


The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles is the story of three young American travelers in post WWII North Africa. It is said that it "explores the limits of humanity when it touches the unfathomable emptiness and impassive cruelty of the desert". (Harper Perennials)

I really enjoyed this book after putting it off for soooo long. It was given to me as a gift and it took me about 4 years to pick it up and finally read it and I am glad that I did. This story was beautifully written and gave me a very real sense of the place, but also of the period in which it takes place. I had a very distinct impression of who these American expats were with their inevitable philosophical soul-searching, and bland indifference to the culture of the Arabs. I knew them and yet I did not for they barely knew themselves.

The story centers on Kit and Port Moresby and their tag-along friend, Tunner. Tunner is impressed with them and a bit in awe of them initially and is probably how he came to be travelling with them. They must have initially sensed his admiration, and let him come along in order to detract attention from themselves and their crumbling relationship, although the author never dicloses exactly how the two became three.

The theme of this novel could be emptiness; the emptiness they felt within themselves, the emptiness in their relationships to each other or the emptiness that they find in northern Africa while they're searching for exactly the opposite. They want to be fulfilled emotionally, culturally, and intellectually. Also, the emptiness of the expansive and desolate desert, which plays such an important part of this book, it's practically another character in the novel. Indeed, the theme of emptiness comes up frequently when searching discussion groups online.

But it's the symbolism of walls throughout the book which is very powerful for me. Whether they are the walls of a city, the walls or parapet by which Port escapes from the Arab men after the episode with Mahrnia, the walls that their society puts up around them and from which they are fleeing, the walls in his relationship with Kit, the walls that Kit puts up all around herself in order to deal with the unforgettable potential threats and tragedies that she feels are awaiting her at every turn, the wall of Eric Lyle who isn't able to be himself. The prison like walls of Belquassim's house for Kit and finally the walls that her are her madness in the end.

There is much to discuss in this novel. I had chosen it for my library reading group and then unfortuantely was not able to attend the discussion held about it.  I was told that they had a lively discussion about it despite the fact that most of them did not enjoy the book. It's a shame they didn't enjoy it as much as I did. But at least it got them talking! Now I am looking forward to seeing the movie.

Friday, July 22, 2011

To the Lighthouse Read-a-long Week 3


We are almost finished with To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, a read-a-long hosted by Unputdownables.net

This week the reading was, if possible, even more dreamlike to me than before.  We started off the reading back at the dinner table with Mrs Ramsay's  neurosis.  Her anxiety has extended to even the fruit bowl, which she's "jealously" guarding, hoping no one would ruin it by taking a piece of fruit from it.  Although, if I remember correctly, she is hoping the composition won't be ruined because Rose has arranged. In fact, she glances at Rose "in sympathy".
Her gaze alights on Prue, whom she telepathically promises will one day be happier than the newly engaged Minta.  And why will Prue be happier? Because she is Mrs Ramsay's child.  Oddly, I don't think this is an example of Mrs Ramsay being full of herself.  She is always thinking of her children. At one point, early on in the book she says she wishes she could always have a baby in her arms.  Another time, she thinks sadly how she wishes they could stay the way they are because they will never be as happy as they are. While Mr Ramsay may at times consider what his writing career would have been like had he not had such a large family, Mrs Ramsay strikes me as completely the opposite.  She is very attached to her children.  When she goes to check on James and Cam and finds them still awake, she soothes them with stories and gently coaxes them to sleep.  She hopes that Charles Tansley, who is staying in the room above Cam and James, won't awaken them by dropping some book.  She is so obsessed by this idea that he is the clumsy type that would drop a book, that later she can't recall if he's actually done it or not.

The second part of this reading takes place after 10 years have passed.  This is a dreamlike sequence for me.  An elderly woman is cleaning up the neglected house and getting ready for the Ramseys return.  Only this time Mrs Ramsay is absent, and so is Andrew, who has died in the war, and so is Prue, Prue, who was supposed to be happier than Minta, has died in childbirth.  But Lily Briscoe is back, and she takes up painting out on the lawn, just as she did 10 years before.  Lily's description of creating and painting on pages 158-159 must surely be Ms. Woolf's own thoughts and frustrations with her art.

Lingering questions in my mind:

Was Mr Ramsay looking for more than sympathy from Lily? And was he a little flirtatious with Minta at dinner?
Mrs. Ramsay died suddenly. I wonder how.

Friday Book Beginnings



How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

The title: The Masque of the Black Tulip
Author: Lauren Willig

I bit my lip on an "Are we there yet?"
If ever silence was the better part of valor, now was the time.  Palpable waves of annoyance emerged from the man beside me, thick enough to constitute an extra presence in the car.

The Masque of the Black Tulip is the sequel to The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, which I thought was a fun read.  I expect The Black Tulip to be similar and a welcome respite from the profound and fearsome To the Lighthouse, which is what I'm reading as a read-a-long with Unputdownables.net

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Gothic Reader


Well, here's to starting over. My toddler just erased my post. Why is the cancel button right there at the edge of the computer within easy reach of her little fingers?

I've started to think that, while blogging itself is time consuming, it's actually the reading of all the other blogs that is taking up what little reading time I have these days.  I absolutely loooove reading all of the wonderful, interesting blogs out there and hearing what readers around the world think of not only my favorite books, but their favorites, and also discovering new books from them, but I seem to be reading books less and less!  In fact, like so many, I am constantly adding to my TBR list, which only lists a fragment of what I actually want to read.  I'm almost afraid to list it all, as I feel I will be completely overwhelmed and tortured with anxiety. Brings to mind a similar situation back in 1999 when I got a job at Waldenbooks, which was when I first realized there were so very many books I was dying to read, yet so little time.

It was while reading a blog recently that I was reminded how much I love a good gothic tale.  My bookshelves are crammed with Wilkie Collins, the Brontes, the Post-Gothic Edgar Allen Poe, Daphne Du Maurier and numerous volumes of English ghost stories, but I have read neither The Castle of Otranto, nor The Mysteries of Udolpho, both being de rigueur for any lover of gothic.  I am ready to remedy that situation.  I have ordered both of these novels along with a few others. Now if I can just get off the blogs and back to the books...




Friday, July 15, 2011

To the Lighthouse Week 2

To the Lighthouse has now become a bit addicting. I find myself eager to get back into these people's heads! I'm enjoying following the streams of consciousness because Virginia Woolf has a way of rooting out certain truths about ourselves that we are either oblivious to or seek to obscure, but which we immediately recognize in her characters.
I, for one, see something of myself in almost everyone so far, and unfortunately sometimes it's in their silliest, pettiest thoughts that I find myself thinking, "I can relate to that!"

The dinner scene in which we hop about from one head to the next is wonderfully intimate.  I just hope the book will not end leaving me with too many unanswered questions.

Someone I would like to know more about is Mr Carmichael.  Why does Mrs. Ramsay continually mention that he doesn't like her?  
 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

From the Publisher:
Deciding that true romantic heroes are a thing of the past, Eloise, an intelligent American who nonetheless always manages to wear her Jimmy Choo suede boots on the day it rains, leaves Harvard's Wiedner Library bound for England to finish her dissertation on the dashing pair of spies the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian.  What she discovers is something the finest historians have missed: the secret history of the Pink Carnation--the most elusive spy of all time, who saved England itself from Napoleon's invasion.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation opens with the story of Eloise Kelly settling in to read the secret history.  But before Eloise can unmask the Pink Carnation, she uncovers a passionate romance that almost threw off the course of world events.  How did the Pink Carnation save England? What became of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian? And will Eloise Kelly find a hero of her own?

My Thoughts:

Being a huge fan of historical fiction, and The Scarlet Pimpernel in particular, this sounded like the perfect story for me.  While it had an intriguing plot, and likeable characters, at times it was somewhat silly and often downright ridiculous.  That being said, the story did compel me to keep reading as I wanted to discover who The Pink Carnation was, and I enjoyed the budding romance between the main characters.  Although the descriptions of the female protagonist(s) were often annoying as she was frequently "breathless" blushing, or biting her lips in consternation all the while, unbeknownst to her, driving her love interest mad with desire...At times I just found it mawkish.
(There is some sexual content so be forewarned if you're not into that)

The story utilizes third person multiple vision POV and goes back and forth between the early 1800's in Paris post Revolution, and modern day London. There are three POV characters. The first is Eloise, an American Harvard Graduate student working on her dissertation, which is about the two English spies, the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. She's gone to London to find out what she can about a third spy, the Pink Carnation, the most elusive English spy in Napoleonic France.  The only person willing to assist her is an elderly aristocratic descendent of the Purple Gentian, who, of course, has a gorgeous nephew, Colin, who does not want Eloise to have access to the family archives. Nevertheless, the aunt allows Eloise full access to it all. So, while Eloise reads these family letters, diaries, etc..we are transported to the early 1800's where we encounter Amy, the second POV character, who is half French but has been raised in England after losing her French father to Madame Guillotine, and Lord Richard Selwick, the third POV character, the Purple Gentian and Colin's ancestor.
 I enjoyed the multiple POV aspect, I usually do, but I know that certain readers can find it frustrating and confusing.  In this particular novel it is very straight forward and not at all confusing.  The story is a simple one, albeit entertaining, which would make it an ideal beach read, and which is why I picked up the sequel, The Masque of the Black Tulip.  I'm quite sure that it's going to be much the same as this one, which means it will be entertaining.  And that's what I like after all---to be told a good story.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Book Beginnings




How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.


I am currently reading 3 books. The first is To the Lighthouse, a read-a-long with Unputdownables.net, the second is The Sheltering Sky, which I am reading for my monthly library book club, and the third book is The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig, which I found perusing the shelves of my local library.   I chose this book for a few reasons.  First for the setting: England. The main character is headed there in order to finish her dissertation on the dashing pair of spies, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and the Purple Gentian. The Scarlet Pimpernel would be the main reason I chose this read as The Scarlet Pimpernel was one of my all-time favorite books in high school.
"What she discovers is something the finest historians have missed: the secret history of the Pink Carnation-the most elusive spy of all time, who saved England itself from Napoleon's invasion."


Here is the first line of the story.




"The city of your birth awaits your return".


I'm hoping the book turns out to be good. Especially because I believe it's the first in a series.
Check back soon for a review.

To the Lighthouse by Virgina Woolf

John Adams was certainly an easier read than To the Lighthouse, at least in my opinion. It is so darn cerebral I find my brain aching just trying to follow all the wandering, meandering thoughts, and inferences.
For example, the glove stuffed into the corner of the sofa, 'known from it's twisted finger'.
An interesting way of pondering what was the essential spirit of Mrs Ramsay; what makes her recognizable as the glove is recognizable by it's twisted finger when found in the sofa.
I had to reread that when I came back to the glove reference on the following page(50) to be sure I had understood where she was going with that. But that is simply one of many paragraph sentences that I went back to reread.
The table in the tree, anyone? Pg.23

I found it amusing that on page 17, we are in the thoughts of Mrs Ramsay when she remembers that Lily is painting her from the lawn and that she must keep her head in the same position for the picture, but then we discover that Lily has painted her and James but they are simply a triangular shape.
And Mrs Ramsay who 'smiles at thought of Lily'. Would Lily never marry because of her 'little Chinese eyes and puckered-up face' or because she took her painting and thus her independence too seriously?

My favorite part of this chapter-as I found it really amusing and so perfectly described this character for me- was the silly self-centered Charles Tansley with his visions of grandeur. How he imagined himself 'gowned and hooded, walking in a procession. A professorship, a fellowship'- with Mrs Ramsay looking on. (pg.11)

I'm enjoying the book so far, except for the fact that I feel I am just outside of it, just missing something. I feel I need to be there with them in order to get the full picture. Although at times I do feel I am there with them. See page 8 and the description of the house. Perfect.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

To the Lighthouse Read-a-long with Unputdownables


Since I thoroughly enjoyed the John Adams read-a-long hosted by Wallace at Unputdownables, I am going to join in the next one which is To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.

To join this read-a-long, go to unputdownables.net (there's also a link in the margin to the right) for interesting biographical info on the author and for the reading schedule.

Friday, June 24, 2011

John Adams- Final Post

I did not post faithfully every week because I often fell behind with the reading but I am very happy to say that I did finish in time to join in the last discussion!

Most everyone doing the Read-Along has agreed that this is a fantastic book, McCullough is masterful and that this should be required reading. I am in complete agreement. I not only learned so much from reading this, I felt as though I went back in time. I now find myself looking around my small town and noticing when government buildings went up and thinking about what was going on at the time, how long was it before the First Continental Congress, where was Adams at the time? London, Paris, Amsterdam?

The last chapter wrapped things up for us. As it came to a conclusion we see Adams the grandfather, presiding over his family from his farm in Quincy,keeping abreast of the times but no longer getting too fired up. I was happy he lived to see John Quincy become president, Incredibily shocked that he and Jefferson died on the same day and it was the 4th of July!

A few lasting impressions and ideas:
1. I needed to know why Hamilton and Burr duelled. So I looked it up and essentially it was because Burr found out that Hamilton was going around saying he had a low opinion of Burr. Is that right? It just seems so trivial. If that were the case, then Adams should have duelled at least 1/2 of congress.
2. I feel about Jefferson as Abigail did- attached to the man but not able to esteem him. He criticized Adams, was always writing harsh things to his clique-y friend Madison, and then when called out on it, he acted all innocent. He never owned up to all of his intriguing. And I feel he owed more loyalty to Adams. He all but lived with them for awhile when first in Europe. The entire Adams family treated him like one of the family.
3. Does anyone else find it odd that Washington then directed the army under Adams? I can't imagine one of our recent presidents doing anything of the sort. I suppose they were different times.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

John Adams week 6

Well, I can not begin to express the relief I feel at being caught up finally!! By some miracle, my 9 month old took a 2 1/2 hour nap this morning so I was able to finish reading the last two chapters.
Since I have no computer at home today, I am forced to write everything on my phone.

I think Abigail was one patient woman and I have to believe that she was truly the most patriotic person of all. I would probably not be quite as patient as she had I been the one taking care of everything at home, farm, family--for 4 years straight. I can understand John's ideals and his desire to make the country a better place for his children and posterity but I probably would have questioned his devotion to his children. I think I would have wondered at times if he had a French mistress. But I am getting sidetracked.

Abigail made a lot of interesting observations when she arrived in Paris and one in particular that got me thinking was one in which she speaks of this country (France)"grown old in debauchery and lewdness" where marriages are arranged and not considered holy and honorable (comparing it to the one-America-"where the wise laws and institutions of one consider it holy and honorable")
Pg.304
Speaking of debauchery, it got me thinking and I remembered that in 1999 I was travelling in France as a student and the woman ticket agent who was selling me the train ticket at the station took the opportunity of asking the American why our country was so upset about our president being unfaithful to his wife.
I suppose Abigail would have had something to say about that.

I loved getting to know Jefferson a little bit better. I'm glad that he kept such perfect accounts of what he bought as it says a lot about a person. His love of books and excitement in the bookstores of Paris was something I could relate to, but I loved how much art he purchased and in particular the green Moroccan leather he used to outfit his carriage!
Aside from his irresponsible spending--he was a serious shopaholic--and probably a hoarder as well-- and his insane "sensation" about blacks and whites,all of that aside-- he was surely a fascinating person, and one who suffered a great deal. I like that these two very different individuals, one a staunch New Englander and the other an elegant Virginian, represented in France the diversity of America even in it's first days as an independent nation.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Book Beginnings

Friday Book Beginnings
How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at  A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

>The doctor with whom I discussed the question told me to begin my work with a historical analysis of my smoking habit.

From Zeno's Conscience

Very good first sentence.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

One Good Turn

In One Good Turn Jackson returns, following his girlfriend, Julia the actress, to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. He manages to fall into all kinds of trouble, starting with witnessing a brutal attack by "Honda Man" on another man stuck in a traffic jam. Is this road rage or something truly sinister? Another witness is Martin Canning, better known as Alex Blake, the writer. Martin is a shy, withdrawn, timid sort who, in a moment of unlikely action, flings a satchel at the attacker and spins him around, away from his victim. Gloria Hatter, wife of Graham, a millionaire property developer who is about to have all his secrets uncovered, is standing in a nearby queue with a friend when the attack takes place. There is nastiness afoot, and everyone is involved. Nothing is coincidental.
from Amazon.

I enjoyed this mystery set in Edinburgh, Scotland.  It's a quick read with a cliffhanger at the end of nearly every chapter. And every chapter switches back and forth between the main characters of the story.   
I read this for my library book group, and while I found it an enjoyable read, the others felt just so-so about it.  They found the change of POV at every chapter confusing, and they weren't happy with it as a book club choice, which got us talking about coming up with some criteria for choosing future books.  Did we want to focus on a certain time period, writing style, or topic?  In the end, we didn't come up with anything.  They decided for this month to read a book that another book club was reading and which I and another member of the group have already read.  This gives us some time to come up with some guidelines.  I'm going to do a little research of my own and find some tips on choosing for a rather diverse group, well, age group anyway.
If anyone would like to share how your book club chooses, please post your ideas. I would love your feedback.
Now, it's time to catch up on my John Adams reading.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday's Book Beginning

I wanted to share the Book Beginnings meme from A Few More Pages.


How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at  A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

Here's the beginning of my current read. It's One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson.

He was lost. He wasn't used to being lost. He was the kind of man who drew up plans and then executed them efficiently, but now everything was conspiring against him in ways he decided he couldn't have foreseen.

I decided to write the first three sentences since the first two were so short.
These first lines are not particularly intriguing to me. I hate being lost especially while driving, so these first lines probably reminded me of that when I first read them. And I have images of the character arguing with his navigation system. And the third line makes me feel that this character is either too precise, too tense or a serial killer. For some reason his precision makes me feel he may be a murderer.

But in the next line, we discover he is in Edinburgh, which is a city I love, so right away I am interested in the story!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

"In brilliantly controlled prose, Shadow Tag fearlessly explores the complex nature of love, the fluid boundaries of identity, and one family's struggle for survival and redemption."

Wow. Just fantastic.

I picked this book up last week at the library because they're holding a discussion about it the first week in May, and I can not wait to hear what the others thought of it.  This is a great book for anyone looking for something to read with their book club.

I don't want to say too much about it because I don't want to give anything away.  I will say that the first chapter annoyed me a little. I felt like I was being told everything, but it's just to get things going. 
This story was often funny, sometimes sad and sometimes shocking.  I definitely cared a lot about each character in this family and my heart ached for them.

It is a very close up look at an imperfect family, but one that will capture your heart in the end.

John Adams-Chapter Two

True Blue


In this chapter, Adams continues to astound us with his ideas, his passion, and his energy.  The man must seriously have had more energy than anyone ever in history.  He wasn't just impressing upon his fellow congress members the importance of independence and breaking away from Britain, he was doing it all while calculating the timing of everything and apparently was part of 26 different committees! And after spending all day working, he often still had the energy to go home and write down his thoughts and impressions of it all at the end of the day.
In this chapter we get a real sense of the whole process before they actually declare independence from Great Britain.  The magnitude of this decision is not missed by any.  Adams, rightfully so, is most concerned with the situation after a war.  He is constantly thinking about the future of America and how they will govern the country once they are independent.
My favorite part of this chapter was the introduction of Jefferson.  I really enjoyed reading about their very opposite upbringings.  And the two different worlds that were the south and New England at the time. Being a New England girl and not being very familiar with the South, I imagine there probably are still quite a few cultural differences.
Something that really horrified me was when they visited the hospital.
“Led below ground to view the “lunaticks” locked in their cells…”
Locked up underground… how awful.

Friday, April 8, 2011

John Adams Chapter One

Chapter One gave us a great picture of Adams as a child, young college student, a bachelor, what had happened before 1776, and also an idea of what was about to happen.  I really liked reading about this very human side of someone who is a giant in our history.  He was such a pensive person, constantly thinking and analyzing himself and striving to be better, yet he knew himself and human kind well enough to know that no one could be trusted with absolute power.

"There is danger from all men.  The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty".   (pg 70)

And such a fine speaker was he that they said he was as great an orator as any of the Greeks or Romans.  In fact, once he spoke for five hours-FIVE HOURS- while the the court and jury sat with patience and was even applauded at the end.  He must have been a very fine speaker indeed if they sat rapt, in perfect patience for that long. 

Adams had a way of wording things that was just very powerful, and beautiful.  Was it simply the way they spoke then or his particular gift that everything he wrote or said could have such depth, poetry and meaning? Writing about Otis and an argument he made in 1761 against writs of assistance, so masterful was Otis's speech that Adams writes, "Then and there the child independence was born."
I just love that.

Something that really made me think was in his Dissertation, where he is speaking about the importance of everyman's liberty, and the sacrifices that were made in order that they could have it. 

"Let us read and recollect and impress upon our souls the views and ends of our more immediate forefathers, in exchanging their native country for a dreary inhospitable wilderness....Recollect their amazing fortitude, their bitter sufferings-the hunger, the nakedness, the cold which they patiently endured-the severe labors of clearing their grounds, building their houses, raising their provisions, amidst dangers from wild beasts and savage men.."

In a couple of lines he has painted a very clear picture of what it must have been like for those early settlers.  And I found myself really putting myself in their position as they did what they could to survive.

And then I thought about Johnathan Sewell, who in 1764, probably foreseeing what was to come, took his family back to London.  I think I would have definitely thought that was the safer option for my family.  And yet I never thought about that before. I had never once thought about early settlers, loyalists, going back.  But it happened.  And then there were the rest who stayed and fought for some liberty. I think I would have been one who would not have believed it possible.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

John Adams by David McCullough

So, I found this great blog, Unputdownables, that is doing a read-a-long with John Adams by David McCullough.  I have never done one before and needless to say I'm really excited about joining these other readers.  The last book they read was Villette, which is obviously one of my favorites (hence my alias on this blog). Was truly disappointed I missed that read-a-long but since I am very, very new to this whole blogging thing, I only just came across Unputdownables site.

If I've understood correctly, this Friday everyone will be posting about the first chapter. As I really wanted to join in, I had to get my hands on a copy and fast.  Lucky for me, my local library, which to be honest, usually disappoints me, had a copy! So, I bundled up the babe and hightailed it downtown where a very kind person had put it aside for me.  By the time we got back into the car, she had fallen asleep so, taking advantage of what could have been either 5 minutes or 45, I dove in, and was able to read the first 30 pages.  Then along with another few pages last night, I managed to get about 3/4 of the way through chapter 1. 

If you would like to join in the read-a-long, you can find a link to Unputdownables under Blogs I Like.  There you can find all info regarding scheduling and posts.  Wallace also has a link to discussion questions in case you're stuck about what to post about.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover

Have you ever bought a book because of the cover? I'm sure you have.  We all have at some point or another.  I guess the people over at Penguin know that no one adheres to the old adage or they would not have had Ruben Toledo design the covers of some of the most well-loved classics.

I bought 3 of the Ruben Toledo designed Penguin Classic Deluxe Edition paperbacks early last year at one of my fave indie bookstores, The Other Tiger, but they actually came out in 2009.  Toledo's fashion illustrations have been seen in Vogue, Harpers' Bazaar, The New Yorker, Visionnaire, Paper, Interview and The New York Times.  The illustrations he did for the Penguin Classics are done in warercolor, pencil and ink, and they represent a beautiful marriage of fashion and literature. 


I had to bring these to the attention of anyone who loves these classics.  Even though I have other copies, I, of course, had to have these.  It seems there are 6 in total designed by Mr. Toledo and I want them all.  I have The Scarlet Letter, Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights, but there is also Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Jane Eyre!  Hmmm...I do have a birthday coming up...
My little babe is only 8 months now, but I like knowing that one day when she decides to read these classics, she'll have some pretty paperbacks to carry around.
Check out Heathcliff
Who wouldn't love these inspired, beautiful representations of their favorite literary characters? You can check them out at  http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Search/QuickSearchProc/1,,Toledo,00.html?id=Toledo and search Ruben Toledo.
Better yet, ask your favorite independent bookseller for a copy.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I Review A Discovery of Witches *Spoiler Alert*

I've just finished reading A Discovery of Witches.  I would like to start off by saying that I really loved this book, which is evidenced by the fact that I finished it in under a week with very little time to do it.  I used every spare second I had to read it and I would not have put it down if I had not been obligated to by a certain little someone that needed her mother.  That being said, unfortunately at times it reminded me of a mix between an adult version of Twilight and Harry Potter.  While these are two series that I thoroughly enjoyed for the sheer escape that they provided, the handful of times that it reminded me of those books, I was disappointed as I felt that I wanted something new from this book.  A newer perspecitive on vampires? It did offer that, don't get me wrong.  I know the teen vamp was not a geneticist, didn't practice yoga, or talk particulars about terroir, but there were certainly a lot of parallels.  I guess I just didn’t want to be reminded of the former 2 books while reading this one.    
Some things that I really enjoyed about the book are:
The magic:  I really liked the idea that Diana was trying to stifle her magic, that she wanted to be normal and earn her success without having the supernatural advantage but how it would come out in spurts and how she began slowly to realize her potential power.  I liked that she came from a long line of witches with a rich history.  I would like to know more about them
The setting:  I loved the atmosphere of Oxford and the college rooms where she stayed, and the library, of course.  I loved the early morning fog on the river, and the Old Lodge.  Matthew’s lab and the DNA studies were also very interesting. 
The protagonist, Diana Bishop, is a solid character.  But there were certain things that just didn’t add up for me.  For example, she has so much trouble remembering spells when her Aunt Sarah attempts to teach her.  Oh, she just can’t seem to get the spells right and continues to recite them incorrectly.   Yet when confronted with some alchemical text, or ancient manuscript, she has no problem.  She can recall obscure, complicated, and mysterious information she has read and studied.  Not extremely modest, she even says that it was her intelligence that got her out of Madison.  Not one famous (and even not so famous) playwright, scientist, physicist, monarch, or president from the past is a mystery to her.  Barely any historical or literary reference that Matthew makes gets by her.  She is that good of a historian.  The brilliant Dr Bishop though has a hard time remembering “Double double toil and trouble”.  I just didn’t believe that the serious, intelligent, academic Dr Bishop of Yale University would have trouble reciting some lines of spells.  But other than that, I really liked her as a character and I found myself getting very excited as her magic began to release and take form.  The magical Bishop house was a little too wacky magical in the vein of the Weasleys, but nevertheless I did enjoy the last part of the book in Madison.    I would have liked to have heard a little bit more about the Bishop ancestors and the trouble they got into in Salem, etc… but maybe that will be in the next two books of the trilogy.
Matthew is strong, interesting, and mysterious. He will surely not disappoint anyone who is a fan of handsome, dangerous vampire leads.   However, for being a 1500 year old vampire, he certainly seems rather insecure at the most curious of moments.  He’s the all powerful alpha male, grand master of the Knights of Lazarus, yet when it comes to Diana’s feelings for him he is as shy and insecure as a teenager.  When he puts his “mother’s” ring on her finger at the end of the novel, she says, “He took my left hand and looked away, afraid of my reaction.  Will you wear it?”
Wait a second.  She calls him her husband already, has called his vampire son her son, is defying not just thousands of years of rules and risking her life to be with him, and yet he is afraid of her reaction when he puts a ring on her finger? Did I miss something? 
She assures him with a nod.  She is so emotional she is “quite unable to speak”.  “Matthew’s face turned shy, and his eyes dropped to my hand…”  I had a hard time picturing Matthew acting shy and not being able to look at her.  Then with a shaking voice he begins to recite the vows.  When Diana asks him if they are now married in the eyes of vampires and according to church laws, he replies, “In your eyes, too, I hope.   Matthew sounded uncertain.”  
Uncertain?  Really?  Still? It’s just not convincing to me.   This is the man/vampire that could simply “sense” that she wanted to “jump the paddock fence” while riding Rakasa.  He is that in tune with her feelings and the sound of her blood and heart. 
Her utter desperation and sadness at his departure from Sept-Tours caused her to call forth a Witchwater so powerful she nearly killed herself and his Maman.  At his subsequent return they declared their love for each other thereby making them married in the eyes of vampires. This is a vampire with 1500 years of experience.   He’s already told her numerous times that she is his.  But now he’s shy and uncertain that she will want to wear the ring?  This smacked a little too much of Edward and Bella and that vampire’s mother’s ring.  That was palatable in their teenage love story, but was a little out of place here, in my opinion.   
Ysabeau is a great character, although initially when they arrive at Sept-Tours the whole “Maman” thing with Matthew was admittedly a little annoying and, I thought, somewhat silly.  Again, a 1500 year old vampire who was not a boy or teenager when he was “reborn” and yet he’s going on about his mother, and Diana's needing to be brave when she meets her.  But as I read on, Ysabeau did convey something maternal and I really grew to like her character and the relationship and dialogue between her and Diana.  I was ultimately convinced that she was a maternal figure.  I suppose it’s a testament to the fact that we all, apparently vampires included, have our families to contend with sometimes, but it’s our shared history and our loyalty to one another which makes it all worthwhile.
In the next books I am hoping to get some clarification on the parallels between Diana and Matthew and the image from Ashmole 782 of the wedding of the 2 substances to make the philosopher’s stone, and also to understand better the function of Diana’s role as a chimera.  What role does Diana the mythological goddess of the hunt play? What connection does the witch Diana really have with her?
 I would like to hear more about the Bishop witches during the Salem witch trials and possibly the trials in England as well.  And I'm looking forward to reading about their time in Elizabethan England.  Too bad we must wait until 2012.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Regarding Jane


With the release of Jane Eyre in cinemas, I have picked up my favorite copy of the Bronte classic.  It is just a paperback edition but what makes it special are the illustrations.  They are like gothic, Victorian comics.  The illustrator is Dame Darcy, a self-proclaimed neo-Victorian. 

I scanned this image from my copy. It's Jane as she watches Rochester ride with the beautiful Blanche Ingram.
Check out Dame Darcy at http://www.damedarcy.com/
She is currently donating 30% of proceeds from the purchase of select artwork to the Red Cross Japan Relief effort.

I can not wait to see the new Jane Eyre film.  As soon as I can get my mom to watch my babe, AND as soon as it gets to a theatre near me, I will go!  Its release date was 3/11, but only in select theatres (New York and LA, of course)  Right about now I am missing NYC. 
You can find when it will be playing near you on the website. http://www.focusfeatures.com/focusfeatures/film/jane_eyre/

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Back in the Saddle

I love books. I love…love…love them.  When I was around 4 years old, I could not yet read.  I had a book that was the shape of the number 5.  For some reason, I believed this meant that at 5 years old I would, miraculously, know how to read.  I could not wait to turn 5.  When I did, I was, of course, not yet a reader, but I did start Kindergarten, where we learned the alphabet.  Nowadays, most children probably already know the alphabet by the time they go to Kindergarten, but this was the 80’s.  Most moms were too busy listening to Lionel Richie, teasing their perms, and smoking Capris. (Right?)
So, it was just the alphabet but I didn’t mind because I knew was on my way to becoming a reader.  By first grade, we were reading.   I remember sitting in reading groups of 4 or 5 while the teacher had us read passages aloud.  I loved this. I always secretly wanted to read more.  But I never asked.  I was not that kid squirming in their seat, hand raised and waving furiously.  I was reserved about my new passion.
One day on the bus I was reading a book my mother had just brought back for me from a vacation she had taken.  It was about a kangaroo named Joey.  Happily I read my story.  When I heard a couple of older girls next to me snickering, I looked up from my pages to see why.  They were pointing to the back of my book.  I flipped it over and there, written in a happy little half circle, was ‘an “easy-to-read” book’.  I hadn’t noticed that.  I was as humiliated as any 6 year old would be.
But I moved on.  I read on. 

As the mother of an eight month old little girl, my time to read has become less than scarce.  In fact I haven't read a book in 8 months.  Despite having very little time at my disposal, I have decided to start reading again, and more than the occasional magazine. I am going to give myself back the greatest of luxuries--time everyday to read a good book. Or what I hope to be a good book.

 I have just started The Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.  The description says it is, "equal parts history, and magic, romance and suspense".  This is the description of everything I could want in a book. 

The next blog will be about this book.  And hopefully someone else will have read it and will come across the blog and want to talk about it.

Look for this book in an independent bookstore near you! To find one near you, check out http://www.indiebound.org/