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,,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.