Saturday, August 30, 2008

At the end

I forget why I decided to read The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson (doesn't that sound like a fake name?). Probably because the book had pirates, harems and dual story lines. I liked the dual story lines in The Eight, which could be why I decided to read this book.

Here's a shortened summary: "Dual story lines feature spirited English heroines—a 17th-century country girl and a modern-day craft shop owner—both with a gift for embroidery. As a farewell gift from her married lover, Julia Lovat receives a book published in 1625 and filled with a variety of sewing patterns. Inside the manual, Julia discovers the words, scribbled in pencil over the pages, of Catherine Tregenna ("Cat"), a 19-year-old British servant kidnapped by Muslim raiders and taken to Morocco to be sold into slavery." Then Julia goes to Morocco to learn more about Cat and falls in love with a did Cat.

Who knew that pirates actually raided the coasts of England, stealing thousands of "infidels" to sell as slaves in Morocco and that area? I had no idea about that! Anyway, the plot was believable; Cat wanted more out of life than England could offer her. And her pirate/new master (I forget his name...he literally had 15 and everyone called him something different) gives her a chance to use her master-level embroidery skills on a far higher level than she could in England. Yet she had to become Muslim and accept that way of life--anonymity.

The idea that an English woman would easily give up her freedom bothered me in A Singular Hostage. It bothers me less in this book, but wow, that is something I could never do.

If you read the author bio at the end, you get the strong hint that the book is largely based on actual events that happened to her. While her own story is fascinating, I think some of her own personal struggles and opinions filtered too strongly into the book. That is the prerogative of an author, though.

Anytime you write a book about two cultures clashing, particularly Islam and Christianity, well, it's never pretty. Johnson got a bit too preachy and even had her 17th-century characters saying things like "we all serve one god." Seriously, would someone from that era even think that? Isn't that a modern relativistic idea?

The inspiration of the book is interesting and the book itself is well-written. Some of the plot just wasn't believable....and the one person who gave up so, so much to save Cat gets screwed in the end. Poor guy. Still, the dual story lines worked just fine for me--a rarity. I'd be interested to hear other takes on this book.

Rating: 7.5/10

Friday, August 29, 2008

Unintentionally hilarious

To keep up with my "read one classic book per month that I've never read" goal, I picked up The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss. Written in the early 1800s, it is hilarious and fantastic--as in the sense of "extreme as to challenge belief" and "marked by extravagant fantasy" (thanks for those definitions, Webster).

The basic plot is this: a family of six is stranded on a desert island somewhere in the tropics. Everyone else on the ship dies but them; thankfully, the ship is beached and the Robinson family can ransack it for EVERYTHING you could possibly ever need.

This is a fantasy; the family can do and make anything you can think of--bridges, a house, irrigation systems, a weaving loom, etc. Their life isn't hard; it's just busy making different tools and such.

Oh, and this island they live on is populated with an incredible amount of species. Don't worry though--Father Robinson knows every single animal that ever existed. Here's a sampling of the wildlife found on the island: flamingos, penguins, buffaloes, capybaras, condors, bears, tigers, lions, eagles, 30-foot-long boa constrictors, ostriches (which they TAME and RIDE) and oh so much more.

The family is very trigger-happy, though. At one point, they kill 40 apes. Wow. Comparing their attitudes toward wildlife to ours is a study in itself. At least the family generally eats every creature they kill. (At one point they eat a whale's tongue and bear paws! Disgusting.)

Read this book in good fun. It will make you laugh--but that probably wasn't the author's intentions. Oh well...

Rating: 8/10 (for sheer entertainment!)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Two in two

I'm on a reading binge, as I have less than a week left of freedom--the new job starts next Tuesday! In honor of my Elizabeth Peters' summer, I read Devil-May-Care and then to suit my nautical mood, Mad Kestrel (by Misty Massey).

First of all, Devil-May-Care is also the name of a James Bond book. Anyway, Peters' book is a stand alone novel, featuring an old mansion plagued by ghosts. There was definitely a more Barbara Michaels-esque feeling to this book, except toward the end when more comedy was added. The book was funny and interesting. The plot is this: Ellie and her tight-laced fiancé visit her crazy Aunt Kate, who is about to set off on an adventure. Ellie stays to watch Kate's house and animals but soon she has several midnight visitors...who appear to be ghosts. Add in an appealing and attractive neighbor and you've got a funny mystery. I love knowing that Peters' satisfies my reading needs each time!

Rating: 8/10

Up next, pirates! I like this cover of Mad Kestrel.

While I like the art, for some bizarre reason, it reminds me of Théodore Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa. Perhaps that's just my art history classes peeping up in my subconscious...

One aspect I liked about this book was that it's a fantasy. There's magic and it's set in a different world. There was plently of adventure and swashbuckling scenes. While the main character, Kestrel, is a lady pirate, it seemed plausible. She was realistic about what she could and couldn't do. There wasn't as much romance as I'd like but hopefully there will be in books to come...

It's a debut novel and I think it shows a little bit (more telling than seeing). Still, it was a good read and I'd be happy to keep on reading this author.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, August 25, 2008

An admirable lady

In a change of pace, I read a YA biography of missionary Amy Carmichael. She's always been someone I admired: she spent her whole life in service to others. Most of her life was spent in India, saving untouchable children and sharing the love of Jesus.

When I look at a woman like Amy, one who gave up her comfortable life in Victorian England in service of Jesus, it challenges me. How can I make a difference?

They won

I've thoroughly enjoyed watching the US men's volleyball team play...and win gold! Great job, gentlemen. Sean didn't play too much, but did do an excellent job subbing in to serve. In honor of the team, my hottie today is a guy who did get to play a lot: Rich Lambourne, the libero.

There may be better photos of him out there but all I could find were mainly action shots like this one. Rich is #5.

They are excited to be winners! Yay! Anyway, thanks to him, I now know what a libero is (a defensive and passing specialist who wears a different colored jersey).

So until 2010 (when hopefully my old roommate and I will be there in person), farewell to the Olympics--it's been so nice spending wayyyyy too much time with you every day.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


I find when I go into a book with certain expectations, I'm generally let down. Lately I've read wonderful reviews for Elizabeth Bunce's A Curse Dark As Gold--a YA fantasy. Supposedly it's a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin...and it is, in a way.

What a lovely cover. The book also had a pretty font--the same one that Libba Bray's trilogy used (I could go look it up but the book is across the room and while I love fonts, I don't care enough to tell you the name of it).

The story doesn't follow the tale of Rumpelstiltskin...there's no king and no girl locked away. I really wanted to read a retelling/revisioning of that plot...but this book takes elements of that story and kind of makes it into a retelling...

There is a mysterious weaver named Jack Spinner who offers his aid to Charlotte and Rosie Miller, two sisters. The Miller girls take over their family's mill after their father dies. The mill is rundown and the girls are constantly fighting overwhelming debt. Although Charlotte doesn't want to deal with magic, she must; eventually she realizes there is a curse on the mill. She is then forced to determine what she will sacrifice in order to save the mill--and the people who work there.

There's also some romance--but Charlotte was so annoying in that relationship (seriously girl, just open up and tell him about your troubles!) that it didn't do much for me. Most of the secondary characters were interesting and decently developed.

This story had so much potential. I'm not sure if it was my mood or the book itself, but I never become fully engaged in the story. Still, it was well written. And I really did like the book's font (it had little diamonds for periods!). I'm just going to rate it for myself.

Rating: 7/10

Friday, August 22, 2008


My nervous book binge can stop; I got the job I wanted. Now, it's just nerves about the first week or so of work. I hate being in uncomfortable situations and starting a new job is so awkward. Where do I eat lunch? Can I surreptitiously check my personal email? What do I wear? Oh, and there's the little part where I think this job will actually be challenging--which seriously will be a first for me. I normally am incredibly bored at work (which is why I must be able to check my email!). Anyway, this new job doesn't have an hour lunch break like my old one, so the number of books I read will go down. So sad.

Anyway, I picked up a Velda Johnson book for $1 at a local used bookstore. She evidently wrote (still writes?) gothic mysteries. Masquerade in Venice, published in 1970, features Sara Randall, an American spinster. She's about 24 and after the shady death of her employer, she goes off to live with her great-aunt in Venice. Mystery abounds.

Oh, and did I mention that her ex-fiancé somehow finds out that Sara is living in Venice and rents a room in the house??? Oh, and that he and Sara are fighting/still in love but he SLEEPS WITH HER COUSIN EIGHT TIMES because (and this is my summary of his quote): "You didn't actually expect me to stay chaste even though I'm here in Venice STAYING WITH YOUR FAMILY all so I can win you back? Well, sorry, you've been too mean to me and I have needs that your slutty cousin can fulfill." My only response? OMG. Sara, find yourself a better man.

Masquerade in Venice is basically a standard gothic novel. I didn't expect excellence and I didn't get it--but it wasn't an awful read, either.

Rating: 6/10

Go U-S-A

I am so enjoying my DVR--I've been able to thoroughly enjoy USA Men's Volleyball...EXCEPT when the match GOES OVER the recording time limit. Arghghghghhhh. Anyway, they won and are going to the finals! Yay! Go Sean and the rest of the boys!

Sometimes the ball comes at the guys so hard that it knocks them over--and some of those guys are like 6'9". Wow. Imagine what it'd do to me--I'm 17 inches shorter!

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I read that Rob Thomas is considering making a Veronica Mars movie. Unfortunately, I had to agree with New York Magazine's take on the idea--while it does have a cult following (me, for instance), I doubt it'd be a successful movie. However, Serenity did just fine and how much of an audience did Firefly have?

Basically, I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Nerves = Reading

I'm waiting to hear back about two jobs and the suspense has been eating away at me for the last week. In order to distract myself, I've been watching a lot of Olympics (go men's volleyball!) and reading constantly.

Here's what I've read since Monday:

The Dead Sea Cipher by Elizabeth Peters -- A stand-alone mystery featuring biblical archeology, spies, romance and classic Peters writing. It was fun, easy reading and suited my mood perfectly. I like that I can trust Peters for a good vintage read.

Rating: 8/10

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry -- This book for children (but probably appreciated more by parents) pokes fun at all sorts of classic clichés--nannies, orphans, abandoned babies, missing get the idea. It was thoroughly enjoyable.

Lowry added a darling (silly word, I know, but it is darling!) glossary and a bibliography of books she satirized at the end. Here's her description of Toby Tyler; Or, Ten Weeks With The Circus by James Otis: "An orphan named Toby runs away and joins the circus, but it is not a happy experience. His employer is a villian named Mr. Lord. The only one who loves him is a monkey. But the monkey dies." I've never heard of this book, but I want to read it!

Rating: 8.5/10

Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle -- It features twin sisters who practice magic. The girls are living in pre-Victorian England and are, of course, wealthy. They are about to go into their first season when their governess is kidnapped. They plot to rescue her but titled gentry, pretty dresses and society distract them. To be honest, this book didn't do that much for me...familiar plots, silly love problems, etc. It's definitely a YA book.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, August 18, 2008

Volleyball awesomeness

Isn't it sad how you can forget happy memories? This week, while watching the Olympics, I was reminded of a happy college memory.

For some reason, my friends and I watched the 2005 NCAA National Men's Volleyball Finals. Why? I have no idea other than it was on ESPN and had tons of good-looking athletic men playing. My favorite athlete was Sean Rooney from Pepperdine. His skill helped Pepperdine win the league...and my heart. Just kidding. Anyway, somehow I had forgotten about him for the last three years--until I saw him play for Team USA Men's Volleyball in the Olympics. I was shocked--how had I FORGOTTEN about Sean?!? So to make it up, I've watched all the USA men's volleyball matches for far (admittedly fastforwarding until Sean plays). Sean now has a "gimpy knee" according to a newscaster, but whatever, he's still amazing. Go #2!!

Haven't the Olympics been awesome so far? I'm fortunate enough to live far north enough to get the Canadian channel (CBC) so I've been able to enjoy more than just NBC and USA's coverage. I've been loving my DVR, too....and I've watched more TV this week than in the last two months combined. Yikes.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I read Neil Gaiman's Stardust last year, before the movie came out. I really enjoyed it--it was a fairy tale, romance and adventure all tumbled into one.

Isn't this cover gorgeous? My copy is the movie edition but I like this cover much more.

The story follows 18-year-old Tristran Thorn, who promises his beloved Victoria that he will fetch a fallen star for her. If he does, she will do whatever he wishes. Tristan must go into the land of Faerie and brave witches, enchantments and murdeous kings in order to fetch the star and bring her (yes, the star is actually a girl) back to his love. The ending is delightful and ties the plot together nicely.

It's definitely appropriate for a YA audience but adults will like it just as much. For me, it's a comfort read--easy, delightful and worth savoring.

Rating: 10/10

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Regency magic

The description of The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett caught my eye:
"In this enchanting debut novel, Galen Beckett weaves a dazzling spell of adventure and suspense, evoking a world of high magick and genteel society—a world where one young woman discovers that her modest life is far more extraordinary than she ever imagined."

And this description: "Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë and H.P. Lovecraft collide in Beckett's periodically entertaining debut."

Magic and Regency? Count me in.

The story follows three sisters who live in a land like England--but one vastly different and magickal. After tragedy strikes, the oldest sister, Ivy, is forced to become a governess. It is at this house (that whole plotline resembled Jane Eyre far too much) that her fate entangles toward magick even more. There's also romance, intrigue and secondary characters that make the story make the story even more interesting.

Overall, I liked it. My only comment would be that it reminded me of too many other books--a Jane Austen novel, Jane Eyre and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. So, perhaps there was a lack of total originality, but as T.S. Eliot said, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different."

I'm not convinced that Beckett reworked those books into something new, but I still liked the book. One of my favorite aspects was his (or she? I haven't been able to find any gender uses in reference to Beckett, so I have no idea) use of language--it definitely felt like a Regency work. The book is the first in a series, so I'm assuming the second one will follow the middle sister, Rose. But who knows?

Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My rating is ironic, yet true

After I added The Eight by Katherine Neville to my wish list, I started seeing it everywhere. At bookstores, on random websites, blogs, etc. I thought it was a bit odd, especially since the book is 20 years old. As the cover proudly proclaims, it is an "INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER."

Overall, it was good. The story shifts between the 1790s and 1970s--it follows two women who are playing "The Game." Basically there's this chess game that has been in existence for thousands of years and holds a secret too powerful for ordinary people. Both women are playing the game and yet are connected through time. The story crosses over the world and history.

While the changing perspectives and years sometimes were a jarring shift, the book keeps your interest. Both plotlines are interesting. I'd recommend this book for fans of The Da Vinci Code or an academic thriller.

If you'd like to read it for free--and online--visit here before August 18 and download it.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, August 11, 2008


I've realized that my four of my five last posts or so have been 6.5. I think I'm in a rut. In my defense, none have warranted a 7...except maybe The Lace Reader...but a 6 was just too harsh. Hmmm. Well, I guarantee my next review will not be a 6.5! I'm partway through the book and it's good. You'll just have to wait and see what it is...

Drama, drama

I liked Anna Godbersen's The Luxe when it came out last year. So, I was somewhat eager to read Rumors, the sequel.

This pic doesn't do the cover justice. The model's dress spreads out and covers the back of the book, too. Here is the first book's cover, just to give you an idea:

Gorgeous! I wish I lived in an era where I could wear a dress like that...although, naturally, I would also be very rich because let's be real; no poor or middle-class person could ever afford that luscious dress.

The Luxe series follows two sisters, Elizabeth and Diana Holland, as they navigate New York society in the very late 1890s. The pretty, used-to-be-rich-but-now-secretly-poor girls both love guys they can't have and suffer the consequences.

In the first book, Elizabeth ends up faking her death and running away with the stable boy, Will. They end up happy together in California (which was a weird place for them to go, but whatever). Diana realizes that she loved Elizabeth's ex-fiancé, Henry, who is one of the reasons why Elizabeth faked her death. Yeah, somehow she just couldn't break off the engagement, so instead she sends her whole family into mourning. Her mother was forcing her to marry Henry so they could be rich again. Anyway, Diana and Henry finally find out that Elizabeth is alive--but everyone's arch-enemy, Penelope, knows Elizabeth is alive, too. Penelope schemes, blackmails and extorts Diana and Henry--because she wants Henry for herself. Everyone's plans go awry and basically no one ends up happy at the end of book two.

****Spoiler**** Seriously, the ending is not happy. Will freaking DIES. He and Elizabeth finally get married and he gets shot that same day. Good thing I accidently peeked ahead and saw that or I would've been really ticked. And Henry marries Penelope! Both sisters are now alone and thwarted in their love. I just don't see how the ending in the third book, Envy, will be that great. Penelope and Henry divorce? Penelope dies? Diana falls in love with someone who will actually stand up for himself (let's hope so)? Elizabeth spends the rest of her life mourning Will (a la Rose in Titanic)? Hmmm. I guess I'll have to find out. *****

Rating: 6.5/10

Happy Olympic Monday

Since tennis is live today in Beijing, let's feature an American tennis player: James Blake.

He seems like a really nice, good guy. I know my father would approve my dating him. (And James is friends with Andy Roddick! Score!)

Good luck, Mr. Blake!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I read it!!! and loved it!!!

The suspense was killing me and so I broke down and bought Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer. And I am so happy I did.

I did not read any reviews of BD before I read the book because I didn't want to have any influence on my opinion. I'm glad I did because there's quite a few negative reviews on Amazon. I'm actually a bit sad at how many people seem angry at the ending. I have no idea why--it was a freaking HAPPY ENDING, people! It was as if some reviewers wanted a great tragedy....why, you crazies? Why?

The story picks up with Bella preparing for her wedding and honeymoon--and then a few chapters later, the story takes a totally unexpected twist. A new character is introduced that transforms the rest of the book and shapes Bella's destiny. Plenty of closure is given, as necessary.

Here's what I liked about the book: Bella finally becomes Edward's equal. She's not whiny or indecisive. That was also a major complaint about the series--but no longer. She's matured greatly from the girl in Twilight. She can handle the challenges her new life is presenting her. And finally she and Edward can be truly together (and Jacob gets his happy ending, too! Seriously, I gasped out loud when he imprinted but I love how it works out).

We all know that I really admire Meyer but honestly, I liked the ending. It was thoroughly happy. It's an author's right to end a series how she likes--if she wants it to be perfectly happy, isn't she allowed to do that? And seriously, how do you think the legions of teenage girls who live and breathe this series would handle a tragic ending? I read an interview with Meyer and she's had the ending planned out for years (literally). The story is fantasy; happy endings can occur in fantasies. Real life can suck; I want my books to be joyous.

Here is an excellent review of the book from All About Romance Novels. It sums up my feelings nicely.

Rating: 9.5/10

(Spoiler: the only reason why I'm giving it a 9.5 instead of a 10 is the last 100 pages or so--the story is building up to a fight, which I wanted, but then it just doesn't happen. It was a bit anticlimactic. Other than that, it was soooooo good.)

Thursday, August 7, 2008


I wasn't a huge fan of The Lace Reader but I have to admit that I thought about the book the whole day. That is definitely a sign of a quality book (or one that has a really unsatisfying ending).

I'm just a mess in general because I really want to read Breaking Dawn. However, I'm on a budget and as pathetic as it sounds, I don't want to buy BD yet when I know I'll be able to buy it in a month or so for $5. Thankfully my best friend is mailing me her copy! Thank you Mary!!!

I read Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran earlier this year and picked up its sequel, Rosewater and Soda Bread, at the library.

Pretty cover, yes? Yes. The inside was a bit messier, however. The story is about three Iranian sisters and their new life in Ireland. There's plenty of delicious food and magic realism. What was lacking was a coherent plot. This sequel featured several plotlines but none were fully developed.
The romance was shaky, the girl who shakes up their life just kind of fades away and "threats" to the sisters' way of life were mentioned and then just dropped. It was so odd. I really liked the first book but this one just didn't match up to it.

Rating: 6.5/10

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


I tend to be someone who trusts book reviews. So when I read in BookPage that "If you choose just one novel to read in these waning days of summer, it should be the lovely and terrifically paced The Lace Reader," I decided to read it. My conclusion? I wish I had been reading Breaking Dawn.

Alright, so The Lace Reader wasn't really that bad. Here's the plot, straight from the BookPage review: "Towner has returned to her hometown of Salem after her beloved Aunt Eva drowns in the harbor while out on her daily swim. It's a suspicious death: a volatile local evangelist had lately been accusing Eva, who ran a local tea room and could tell people's fortunes by reading images in lace, of witchcraft.

Towner's homecoming is a reluctant one. She's spent years in Los Angeles to avoid Salem, where her twin sister committed suicide and her eccentric mother remains on an isolated island, operating a modern-day Underground Railroad for abused wives. Coming home brings Towner face to face with painful secrets that still haunt the Whitney family."

The narrator, Sophya "Towner" Whitney, is a liar. The first sentence establishes that. She's tricky, though; you don't know what she's lying about. If you're like me, you forget she's a liar and believe everything. And at the end, when a HUGE twist is revealed, you're in shock and then don't really understand the whole novel. Seriously, the twist is that huge. Hints of the truth are there, but you'd never put it together.

My main issue is that I don't understand Towner. Does she know the truth and is just suppressing it? She was institutionalized and had shock therapy--did that twist her mind? I can't go into detail without ruining the twist but her reality seems so real. What, then, is truth?

The story is set in Salem, MA. The author creates excellent atmosphere and her writing is very...stylized. I don't think this is the only book you should read this summer, however. If you like unrealiable narrators and postmodern works, read it. (Let me clarify this: I don't mind postmodern work. I just think the twist in this book so contorts reality that I needed more explanation and truth. That's all.)

Rating: 6.5/10

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Random facts

Did anyone else know that Sophie Kinsella wrote under the name Madeline Wickham? Evidently she wrote like seven novels under that name. I guess it's not secret knowledge, but I had no idea that she had written several other novels in the past.