Thursday, December 4, 2008

Movie Review: Twilight

I saw Twilight on Friday with my sisters and girl cousins, and it was greatly entertaining without being in any way shape or form a "good" movie. I've read the books, and for me it was a great way to see cool scenes or interesting ideas without having to slog through the million descriptions of Edward's "marble skin" or whatever.

I thought the casting was good, for the most part. Bella was so much less annoying than in the book, and even Edward was a bit more tolerable. I thought the actor did a great job with the American accent. He was an okay actor, too, when they weren't asking him to look constipated. Alice, Emmett, and Rosalie were pretty much perfect, but Jasper spent half the movie looking like a crazy person. Cut his hair and let the man show a few facial expressions. "Wooden" does not equal "tormented". Esmee was good, and I thought Carlisle was perfect. It's hard to have young, impossibly good-looking people play "parents" to other young good-looking people.
The "fast-motion" vampire movements though? Horrible. Like, I'm sure you had a decent budget. Use a little more on the effects and less on the makeup.

To sum up: it was wicked entertaining and funny, both intentionally and unintentionally, and I'm glad I went to see it.

This "Classic" Suuucked

I just finished Wuthering Heights. I know some people really love it, and after reading it I have no idea why. The names and relationships of one character to another were confusing, the plot was pretty lame, and then there are the people. What horrible, hateful, spiteful characters! I spent the whole book wanting someone to kill Heathcliff as slowly and painfully as possible. Scratch that, I wanted 4/5 of the characters to just kill each other off. Why is this a classic? Because it's unremittingly twisted?

Maybe the book's power to elicit strong feeling is some sort of mark of quality, what do I know. Anyway, I do not recommend this book. If you want a good Bronte book, go read Jane Eyre.

The Last Cavalier by Alexandre Dumas

A caveat to this review: A reviewer on Amazon said that one should be familiar with Dumas’s works before picking up The Last Cavalier. I think that advice is sound. The Last Cavalier is far from his best work (understandable, since he died before it could be finished) and being comfortable with Dumas freed me up to just enjoy the ride and be happy that this novel was discovered after being lost for so long.

The Last Cavalier. The long-lost final novel of Alexandre Dumas covering the Napoleonic era. I don’t even know where to start, really. It’s a massive book, longer than The Count of Monte Cristo even unfinished and only about half of it is dedicated to the title hero, Hector de Sainte-Hermine. The first half is mostly about Napoleon, and countless other small digressions. To be honest, that was my favorite part. I loved reading about Diana the super-avenger (and kick-ass woman!), Chateaubriand exploring North America and giving a shout-out to Lake Erie, Cadoudal the honorable royalist, and on and on. One thing that had a more personal meaning to me was the description of the port city of Saint-Malo, as I recently discovered that some ancestors of mine lived there in the 1500s.

The part of the book dedicated to Hector (who assumes a few other names throughout the book) was a little less satisfying. I couldn’t help making comparisons to The Count of Monte Cristo, as both heroes undergo a stint in prison and come out changed men. Obviously the Count will win every time. Hector also suffers a bit from Perfect-Hero Syndrome. I mean, the man should be bad or at least average at something. Still, he is charming and these are pretty small quibbles. And come on, how could you say no to such a wonderful cover!

Besides the gorgeous cover, another great feature is the preface by the man who discovered the novel. He writes in great detail how he found it, when Dumas wrote it, and the history behind the events in the book. It also gives Dumas’s outline of the whole plot, so even though the book is unfinished, the reader knows what happens in the end. As to the unfinished nature of the book, don’t worry about that. The ending is actually very appropriate and I didn’t feel that I was left at an intolerable cliffhanger.

I would recommend this book to people who love Dumas and who want to take a fun ramble through a chunk of a book. Perfect for those cold evenings in!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Book Review: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

I’m not a big fan of ghost stories. The mental images conjured by words don’t even begin to match the fear I feel when watching scary movies. I do, however, feel frightened when reading psychologically twisted stories, like The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. Maybe it’s that aspect that made The Turn of the Screw the first “ghost story” that has held my attention and even scared me some.

It's been so gloriously gloomy the last few days that I just had to pick up a ghost story in hopes that I would finally find a creepy one. I think it says a lot for the book that I picked it up around midnight and kept reading until 2, and when I finally did go to bed I prayed I wouldn't have to get up in the middle of the night to pee or anything because I would be freaked out.

The story is about a governess taking care of two young children. She's there at the house alone because her "master", whom she is infatuated with, doesn't want to be involved in the care of the children at all. Without spoiling the story, she starts seeing what appear to be demonic apparitions. James is tantalizingly ambiguous about much of what happens which, in my opinion, makes for a scarier ghost. Leaving things to the reader's own imagination ensures that the reader will think of the scariest thing he or she can.

Scarier than the ghosts, however, is the psychological aspect of it. Fairly early on in the novel the reader is troubled with doubts about what the governess is seeing, and about her own sanity. This adds more layers to the story by making the reader think about things just as frightening, or perhaps more frightening, than ghosts.

It's autumn. The air is cold, the skies are grey, the leaves and blowing around making a sound like rattling bones. Pick up a ghost story. I'd recommend this one.

Booking Through Thursday: Conditioning

From BTT:
Are you a spine breaker? Or a dog-earer? Do you expect to keep your books in
pristine condition even after you have read them? Does watching other readers
bend the cover all the way round make you flinch or squeal in pain?

I am emphatically not a spine-breaker. No no no. I hate that. I have been known to occasionally dog-ear books to mark a quote or something. That's mostly with non-fiction books or school books, books that I feel were made to get worn in. My fiction books are not handled with gloves on or anything, but I do treat them respectfully. The edges of covers tend to get a bit beaten up from being put in purses or balanced on a table, but nothing gets ripped or bent if I can help it.
I don't like seeing people bend the covers around unless it's a novel or something for school. Since most of us buy used copies anyway, they're already beaten up, wirtten in, etc.

Book Review: Casino Royal by Ian Fleming

Like any American growing up with a father and brother, I am familiar with the James Bond movies. I even had a brief thing for Pierce Brosnan at 14. So this year I figured I should read at least one of the books. Casino Royale happens to be the first in the series and gave rise to an excellent movie adaptation.

I started off really enjoying this book. Fleming is very good at conveying mood, and he has a gift for moving the plot swiftly. I would look back and wonder how so much had happened in just a few pages without me feeling rushed. I could have really like this book and wanted to read more had it not been for the “love interest”.

I wasn’t bothered so much by the woman herself. I read old books, so I’m used to the weak heroine or the useless woman. It sucks, but I’m used to it. What unsettled me was the attitude Bond took towards her. I was expecting sexism (it was written in the 50s, after all) but it was so over-the-top, edging into misogyny. Bond veered between feelings of resentment and severe dislike for this woman trying to do “a man’s job” (his quote, how original) and wanting to fuck her. Pardon my language but that’s what it was. I shouldn’t even say “veered” really, as those feelings were uttered in the same sentence or thought throughout the book. There were referenced to Bond wanting to spank her, but as a form of punishment. He thinks to himself that because he doesn’t fully know her inner thoughts, whenever they have sex it will have “the sweet tang of rape”.

I read the whole book, but it left me feeling a little disturbed, and not wanting to read more if this is what I will get. It’s a real shame, because I wanted to like these books.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

BTT: Stories

If you’re anything like me, one of your favorite reasons to read is for the
story. Not for the character development and interaction. Not because of the
descriptive, emotive powers of the writer. Not because of deep, literary meaning
hidden beneath layers of metaphor. (Even though those are all good things.) No …
it’s because you want to know what happens next?
Or, um, is it just me?

Yes and no. I have read books simply for the plot (most of the Twilight books) and I have read books simply for the language (The English Patient). The thing is, while those books were enjoyable enough, I didn't love them. I didn't absorb them and rave about them. A good book, to me, needs a combination of all of these:

Characters: At least one character has to be likable. That's why The English Patient felt hollow, and why I have such a hard time reading Steinbeck books.

Language: Language can be as indispensible as the plot. What would a Wodehouse book be without the appeal of its language? I don't really care if a book is evocative and flowery, as long as it is comprehensible and more-or-less readable. I dislike the very simple and the very embellished.

Plot: There is nothing more frustrating than a good story broken to pieces by philosophical or whale-related digression.

One last note: I have no use for "deep literary meaning", as defined by critics and scholars. Reading books not for enjoyment but for some other hazy academic reason is something I don't have any interest in doing. (I'm looking at you, James Joyce and Mrs Dalloway.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

BTT: Libraries

Whether you usually read off of your own book pile or from the library shelves
NOW, chances are you started off with trips to the library. (There’s no way my
parents could otherwise have kept up with my book habit when I was 10.) So …
What is your earliest memory of a library? Who took you? Do you have you any
funny/odd memories of the library?

I did go to the library when I was a very young girl. I remember the children's section because it had a cushioned window seat that I loved to sit on. As I got older I didn't really go to the library. I mostly borrowed books from the shelves of my teachers in school.

Now, as a college student, I go to the library usually once a week. My local library is superb, with a wonderful media section and lots of room to sit down and read. They even have a small coffee shop! Last fall I would go down to read the library's copy of The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, a book too big to tote back with me. I would sit on a bench by a window on the second story, overlooking a tree and small pavillion. It was heaven.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

BTT: Beginnings

What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you
liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you
didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?

P.G. Wodehouse's The Luck of the Bodkins is as hilarious at the beginning as it si the rest of the book. Behold:

"Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel
Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty,
hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bleak House, by Charles Dickens

Spoilers for Bleak House.

When I was 13, I read Great Expectations. It left me with lukewarm feelings regarding Charles Dickens. I found the book mildly enjoyable, like every other school book I read and then forgot about. It certainly didn't inspire me to hunt down any other works by Dickens. So five or so years later I was surprised to read a review of the beginning of Bleak House and finding it intriguing. I was even more surprised to find myself buying the book on an impulse

The biggest suprise of all, though, was that I ended up loving it.

There were so many memorable things about the book:
  • I loved that all the places and characters had names that suited them (Miss Flite is a crazy old bird lady, Mr Krook is a bad guy, etc.) except for...wait for it...Bleak House, a happy safe haven!
  • Krook spontaneously combusted!! Someone spontaneously combusted in a Charles Dickens novel. I can't even wrap my brain around how awesome that is.
  • The minor characters were amusing rather than annoying. I especially liked Mr Jellyby with his head perpetually against a wall, Mr and Mrs Bagnet who have the most solid marriage in all of literature, and on and on.

I even liked Esther, who seems to garner a lukewarm reaction from other readers. She was a little more perfect than necessary, but I quite liked her. I also really liked John Jarndyce, even if his proposal to Esther skeeved me out a little bit. Richard was amusing at first, and then just annoying. Of course you would die, you idiot. *rolls eyes*

One cool extra feature of my edition (Penguin Classics) is a timeline of sorts written out by Dickens as he was plotting the book. He wrote just one or two words to tell him what he plot points he needed to bring up, when he needed to bring them up, and which characters would be featured Here's an example:

Jo? Yes. Mr Snagsby? Yes. Mrs Snagsby? Yes. Slightly.
This is my favorite note:

Jo? Yes. Kill him.

I highly recommend this book. It's a chunkster, to be sure, but a book that you can really take your time with and savor.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

BTT: Fantasy Worlds

From the awesome Booking Through Thursday:

Are there any particular worlds in books where you’d like to live?
Or where
you certainly would NOT want to live?
What about authors? If you were a
character, who would you trust to write your life?

The first, most obvious thought I had was that I could die happy if I lived in Middle-earth. Middle-earth has gorgeous scenery, loads of history, and is populated by handsome, chivalric men and elves. Maybe I would even be an elf! Sure, it's a little dangerous, but I could count on Tolkien to either see me through tough situations with grace and courage, or at least give me a rockin' death scene.

I think I would like to experience life in the 1800s or early 1900s. It seems like a very cool time to be alive, fictionally speaking. Oh, I almost forgot! The world of Wodehouse. That is my ultimate fantasy world. The old-fashioned feel, without those pesky things like wars and poverty and sufferage and stuff. To live at Blandings would be heaven, especially if Bertie and Jeeves came for a visit. :-)

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I would never choose to live in a dystopian novel, or anything by John Steinbeck. Things just don't end well for his characters.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Breaking Dawn, by Stephanie Meyer

Spoilers, my friends!

As a story, Breaking Dawn was entertaining. The first third was a little weird with the Rosemary's baby thing (like...what?) and Bella drinking human blood from a cup was foul. I was especially over Edward's angst about, well, everything and Bella's immaturity. After Bella was vampirized, though, it picked up. I really enjoyed reading about her newfound vampiric sensations and her freaky daughter, and it was far past time her and Edward were equals.

(Speaking of Bella's daughter, is Renesmee the dumbest name ever, or what? Gave me "Albus Severus" flashbacks and giggles, quite frankly.)

The visiting vampires were interesting and fun to read about, especially Garrett the revoutionary war leftover. I kind of wish there was a battle, so we could see 'em in action.

My final thought on the Twilight series is that it's a quick, entertaining read. I probably would've enjoyed it more as a 14 year old, but what can you do? :-)

Just a short note on the "suitablility for teens" aspect: I've mentioned at the end of the first book that I was thankful for how suitable the books were for young teens. I still stand by that in terms of language and the presence of sex in the book, but I do hope that impressionable readers keep their heads when reading Bella's story. It was a little disconcerting to see how much uncontested power Edward and Jacob had over Bella. Not the power that comes with being loved, but physical power. Jacob kissing Bella by force, Edward "forbidding" her to do things, etc. etc. Of course most readers won't confuse their lives with lives in stories; they're not stupid. But I was a pre-teen girl not too long ago, and I know what it feels like to want to emulate characters in books. I just hope that all the Twilight readers are wise enough and secure enough to know that those behaviors are not romantic or sweet or healthy.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Busman's Honeymoon, by Dorothy L. Sayers

I find that I’m having a little trouble articulating my thoughts on Busman’s Honeymoon. I do know that it’s a book I highly enjoyed, and it’s a book that I will carry around inside of me. There is humor (the conversations can be quite witty) and pathos, and, of course, mystery.

It’s a beautiful story with characters that “leap off the page”. It was immensely satisfying to see Harriet and Peter finally work out their relationship and mature into some of the richest characters I’ve ever read about, and I was thrilled to have Bunter and the Dowager Duchess play such large roles. I love to read the Duchess’s wise meanderings, and I adore that she gets along with Harriet so well. Bunter has always been a favorite of mine, and it was nice that he wasn’t pushed off to the side. After all, the reader has known him longer than (I think) any other character, including Harriet. I liked seeing him adjusting (with Peter) to the life of a householder, and it was moving to read a more detailed account of his history with Peter.

A minor character that I appreciated very much was Kirk, the policeman. Sometimes I get a bit lost in all the allusions present in Harriet and especially Peter’s conversations, so it was nice to have a character helpfully point out what works they were from.

One thing that was a bit of a frustration was the sprinkling of French throughout the novel. I know no French at all, and it bugged to not understand some of the things they said to one another. I understand that at the time it was written, many (most?) readers would’ve had a passing knowledge of French, but I don’t think it’s asking too much of a modern copy to provide a translation.

That was my biggest quibble, which is a testament to how much I enjoyed the book. That and Gaudy Night are definitely going on the “favorites” list. They are both satisfying in every way, both on a character-based level and as mysteries.

Booking Through Thursday: Endings

From Booking Through Thursday:

What are your favourite final sentences from books? Is there a book that you
liked specially because of its last sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you
didn’t like but still remember simply because of the last line?

I've always had a fondness for the closing lines of Around the World in 80 Days. The narrator has just finished telling us that, although Phileas Fogg won his bet, he was left with none of his winnings. What did he gain from his around the world travels?

Nothing, say you? Perhaps so; nothing but a charming woman, who, strange as
it may appear, made him the happiest of men!

Truly, would you not for less than that make the tour around the world?

War & Peace, by Leo Tolstoy

Prior to reading War & Peace, I had no idea at all who the characters were or what the plot was. All I knew was that it was really, really long and widely considered the greatest novel evah. After reading it, I can see why the plot and characters aren't quite woven into our collective conciousness like, say, The Count of Monte Cristo. Even people who have never read it could tell you that it's about revenge. Not so with War & Peace.

First of all, there isn't really a linear, vibrant plot like Count. It meanders a bit, which makes it feel more lifelike but doesn't lend itself very well to synopsis. That's not to say that there aren't any exciting, catch-your-breath bits, because there are. Just not quite as many as other novels I've read.

I also understand why the characters aren't quite as well known. It's because there are approximately 20,000 characters. Not really, but there are a whole lotta peeps in this book. It mainly centers around two families (the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys) and Pierre Bezuhov, the weird, bespectacled loner. But all the peripheral characters are wonderfully realized as well, which is a large part of the book's charm.


As soon as I was done reading I rushed online to read others' reviews. I had been waiting for weeks to see what other people thought of the characters and the book in general, so it was nice to break my self-imposed spoiler ban. The only thing I was surprised at was the general sense of disappointment over the first part of the epilogue. True, it did read a little bit like the ending of Harry Potter, with the domestic bliss and all the children named after dead or cherished people. (Although, thank God, the little Russian children got cute names like Petya and Andryusha instead of *snicker* Albus Severus.) But the ending was just so sweet. I liked seeing my characters leading a settled, contented life. I was thrilled to see them all as grown-ups, especially Pierre. Of course he's an excellent father. I was most surprised at how well Nikolay and Marya fit. I always looked at their impending match as being a disaster in the making. They're just so different. I'm glad that poor Marya got the family she wanted, and that Nikolay stands in awe of his wife's spirituality.

This is turning out to be wicked long, and it's just too hot to keep going, so I'm ending now on the note that surprisingly, Pierre was my favorite character by the end. I just like him, the big oddball. I think it's the combination of gentleness, absent-mindedness, and spectacles. Gotta love a guy in specs.

War & Peace: DONE

Yes, folks, you heard it here first! I AM DONE WITH WAR & PEACE!!!! I'll post my thoughts sometime soon (finals are kicking my butt) but I enjoyed it. Well, all except part two of the epilogue. First, only in War & Peace would there be more than one part of the epilogue. Second, that last half had no character stuff, just philosophical digression. It took me forever to get through, quite frankly.

Three Men In A Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Jerome K. Jerome

This book took me a surprisingly long time to read, considering the fact that it's only 135 pages long. The thing is, pretty much every line deserved my full attention, either for the funny (and shockingly modern) anecdotes or the deautiful descriptions of the Thames.

The premise of the book is pretty simple: three men (the narrator, J., and his friends George and Harris) decide to take a vacation boating down the Thames. Oh yeah, and they also take J.'s dog, Montmorency. That's it. That's the plot.

The real fun is in the writing and the anecdotes. Jerome reminds me a lot of Wodehouse in that they both use language to make even the most everyday situations amusing. I mentioned before that the situations were shockingly modern. For instance, the book begins with the reason for the boat trip. Basically, J. and his friends are hypochondriacs, checking various medical books and pharmacutical ads to find out what horrible diseases they have:

It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicine
advertisement without being impelled to the conclusion that I am suffering from
the particular disease therin dealt with at its most virulent form.

I mean, people do the exact same thing today with online sites like WebMD, and this was published over 100 years ago!

There are so many more instances, like the incomprehensible (to J.) tendency of tourists to flock to the nearest graveyard to read interesting epitaphs, or the 34/26/23 pound trout on display at a public house that no less than four people claim to have caught. (Of course, the fish turns out to be paper mache.)

It's a pleasure just to read the chapter descriptions at the beginning:

Mrs. P arouses us.---George, the sluggard.---The "weather forecast"
swindle.---Our luggage.---Depravity of the small boy.---The people gather round
us.---We drive off in great style, and arrive at Waterloo.---Innocence of South
Western officials concerning such worldly things as trains.---We are afloat,
afloat in an open boat.

Does that not intrigue you??

Grade: A

As a sidenote, I've heard that there is an audiobook of Three Men... read by a certain Hugh Laurie. I haven't heard it myself, but I imagine it's pretty awesome.

Rereading The Count, Part 2

I finished The Count last night. It was much easier to get sucked back in to that story that I originally thought. It was so nice to return to an old favorite. It really was like visiting an old friend that I've thought of affectionately over the years but haven't seen in person.

Some random thoughts, and SPOILERS:

For whatever reason, I have always felt pity for Villefort, far more than the others. I still did. He just seems to have gotten more crap thrown at him. I mean, Fernand was dishonored and lost his family, but all in one blow. Danglars what, lost his fortune? And was starved for a little bit? Villefort had: his illigitimate (presumed dead) son denounce him in public at his trial, watched his wife horribly kill his parents-in-law, an old servant, and his daughter, then watched her kill herself and discovered she had also killed their son, plus there was a broken engagement and some mind games in there too. I mean, yikes. That's a little....excessive, perhaps? Maybe I just found Villefort a more appealing and interesting character than the other two.

Why is every character in this book so obsessed with suicide? Killing onself is put forth as a legitimate solution to both bankruptcy and lost love (either by death or by marriage), in addition to the regulars like crushing unhappiness and "dishonor" on the duelling field. Like, Mr Morrel, maybe your devoted wife and daughter would prefer to have you alive and dishonored instead of dead and "honorable". Lame.

One very unpleasant surprise: My book is missing a whole chapter!! Towards the end of the book, there is a reference to the Count's visit to his old prison cell. "Wait a minute," I thought, "I remember that part! But I don't remember reading it this time around." Sure enough, this version of the book is missing a chapter. I am astounded, really, because not only did they reference the missing chapter in the text, but the book is already way over 1,000 pages long. What would they remove one chapter?? Grr.

I was thrilled to find my old friend The Count as entertaining as ever, and pleased to see that I got even more from it at 19 then I did at 15.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy

I felt about this book much as I did about Pride and Prejudice: I liked it, but I didn't love it. I won't carry it around inside me like I do other books. That's fine, but I went in with higher expectations, because I've had friends of mine adore the book and the play. I think part of it was that the other book I recently read about the Terror was so good, or at least spoke to me more.
The biggest problem was that the Scarlet Pimpernel himself was not that engaging, and his daring exploits were talked about rather than seen for most of the book. It did pick up near the end, though, and the last few chapters were quite good. If the whole book had been that engaging I would've liked it better.

There was one thing that I found very intriguing, though, and that was the fact that the story is more or less told from the vantage point of the heroine. It was refreshing to read a story with a human, fleshed-out, prominent woman character. I love old books that feature daring, interesting men, but the women in those stories are almost always bland and are either swoony or Evil. The woman in this story, while occasionally lovesick, is fully human. We get to see her thought processes, her weaknesses, and her ingenuity. It's really quite a treat. Other minor characters are treated similarly. Here's a passage describing how the local innkeeper wishes to shield his daughter from what he thinks are two guests indulging in an adulterous tryst:

[The innkeeper] was all too willing that Sally[, his daughter,] should go to
bed. He was beginning not to like these goings-on at all. Still, Lady Blakeney
would pay handsomely for the accomodation, and it certainly was no buisiness of his.

Sally arranged a simple dinner...then with a respectful curtsey, she
retired, wondering in her little mind why her ladyship looked so serious, when she was about to elope with her gallant.

There are also some amusing observations of human behavior, like the two young English gentleman who, like good Britons, tried to hide their emotions and just ended up looking "immeasurably sheepish".

In sum, it was a nice enough read, but probably not one that I will keep on my bookshelf.

Grade: B-

Rereading the Count

After reading The Knight of Maison-Rouge, I had the urge to read more Dumas, so I carted The Count of Monte Cristo back with me to school. I say "carted", because it's frickin' huge at 1,462 pages long. I've read it before: the abridged version at 13 or so, and the unabridged a few years later. It remains a favorite of mine even though I haven't picked it up in years. I figured that after so long, perhaps I should reread it.

I don't know if I've talked about this before, but I am a horrible rereader. My ex-boyfriend was an avid rereader. He would finish a book and start right over at the beginning. I almost never do this. Sure, I reread favorite parts over and over and over, but rereading a book front to back frustrates me. It's just not my reading style.

Knowing all this, I was a little hesitant to try with CoMC, with, as it turns out, good reason. (Warning: spoilers) I picked it up yesterday and got through the first 20 or 30 pages fine. It was nice to meet Edmond Dantes again, and Mercedes, and Mr. Dantes senior. However...once it got to to plotting of the conspirators, my attention waned. Those nefarious deeds were necessary during the first read, but now that I know the plot, they're boring. So I skipped ahead a little. Why bother forcing myself to read bits that I frankly don't care about?

I skipped through the plots, Dantes' arrest, and Villefort's betrothal dinner. I ended up stopping at Villefort's questioning of Dantes and his talk with his father, Nortier. Villefort is much more interesting than Danglars and Fernand, and Monsieur Nortier is awesome. I forgot that the reader gets the chance to see him before he is imprisoned in his own body.

After that, it was smooth sailing. From Edmond's imprisonment to his escape, I only skipped a few pages, when Abbe Faria was explaining the history of his treasure. It makes me sad to think of Edmond's ruthlessness after his escape from prison, and I don't think the Abbe would've wanted him to act that way. It is interesting to draw parallels between Abbe Faria's "revenge" of witholding information of his treasure from the government out of disgust with humanity and Edmond's more active lust for revenge; and Faria's reconciliation with humanity through Edmond and Edmond's eventual reconciliation through what's-his-name, Mercedes' son. If I'm remembering correctly.

I hope this sustained interest continues! I do plan to continue reading, although some books I ordered last week may slow or postpone it.

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne and Mulliner Nights by P.G. Wodehouse

This vacation (the week of Christmas especially) was a big ol' book-fest. I decided to break up the reviews so I don't bore anyone too much. :-)

Around The World In 80 Days, by Jules Verne: I was wandering around Barnes & Noble, looking at their collection of cheap classics, and my eye alighted on Jules Verne's Around the World In 80 Days. As soon as I spotted the title, something clicked. You know how sometimes you get a craving for oatmeal or chicken soup or something? It was like that. It struck a chord of comfort. It reminded me of the time I spent reading a short, illustrated 'children's classic' version in the family room at Nana's house.

Reading the full version for the first time, some eight years later, was a joy. It was the perfect book to curl up with on a snowy evening, this romp around the world of the 1870s.

Around the World In 80 Days follows the adventures of the reserved but generous Phileas Fogg and his new servant Passepartout as they try to win a wager by travelling around the world know. (As a sidenote, how fabulous is the name Phileas Fogg?? Say it out loud for the full effect. I am so in love with that name.) As you've probably guessed, there are all sorts of mini-adventures along the way as obstacles present themselves, some more far-fetched than others. The improbable adventure stuff didn't really bother me, though, as it's such a fun and good-natured book. The ending is especially satisfying to me, with the last several lines being the best in the book.

Recommended to: anyone with a love for adventure stories (think Indiana Jones) or a feel-good read.

Grade: A

Mulliner Nights, by P.G. Wodehouse: I was a little reluctant to pick this one up, just because I usually prefer to read a series by Wodehouse, with consistent characters, rather than stories centered around "strangers". As soon as I read the first chapter, though, I knew that I was going to enjoy Mr. Mulliner and the odd stories he tells.

The book is centered around Mr. Mulliner, who functions as the storyteller of Angler's Rest, an English pub. His stories are all about different relatives of his, and the improbable scrapes they get into.

The blurb on the back of the book described it as "whimsical", and I can't think of a better word for it. The stories are funny, silly, and thoroughly enjoyable, and most of them contain light-hearted social commentary as well. One of my favorite stories, for instance, centers around the lovers of the mystery novel and their insatiable thirst to "find out what happens".

Recommended to: readers of P.G. Wodehouse and anyone else who appreciates light-hearted and somewhat wacky stories.

Grade: A

Reader, I Finished It

I'm really, really sorry for the lame title. I just couldn't resist. :-) At least I now know where the "Reader, I married him" quote comes from. It was one of the few on my Barnes & Noble tote bag that I had trouble placing. So, on to my thoughts! (Just a warning, this will not be smoothly written at all.)

I thought that Jane would by dry, and that Jane herself would be perhaps a bit stuffy. After all, this book was written like a hundred and fifty years ago. I should've known better, but there you go. But it was beyond not-stuffy, it was refreshing!

It was great to read a book narrated by a woman. I have absolutely nothing against male writers, and I have no trouble relating to male characters and narrators. Male authors can and sometimes do write fleshed-out, believable women characters, but more often than not the women are peripheral characters, and certainly not the narrators. It was a joy to read a book by a woman through a woman's eyes.

And an upright, relatable woman! I don't want to sound all "books these days" and launch into a tirade about fallen morals or whatever. That's not it at all. It just seems like all the "good" characters in books aren't relatable. They're too perfect, or maybe they just don't disclose their feelings and struggles as much.

I really enjoyed the rest of the story. It wasn't as charged, but it was still engaging. I liked Diana and Mary a lot, and my thoughts on St. John will come later. Of course the ending was fabulous. I had to close the book to go to the bathroom right as Jane and Rochester were reunited, and I am not kidding when I tell you that I ran down the hall to get back to the story.

I think Jane is a bit of an unreliable narrator when it comes to St. John. After all, as we find out, he is one of her only living relations and a dying man. It's natural that she would perhaps minimize or misinterpret his faults a bit. I don't see St. John as being quite so noble or self-sacrificing as she does. He seemed like a sincere and "good" man, but he was too headstrong. Doing God's will is one thing, trying to coerce someone into doing what you believe is God's will for them is quite another. Mind your own business, St. John. I am glad he didn't end up being a scoundrel, though.

So, I loved it. Amanda, I sincerely hope that you enjoy your end of the Great Book Swap of Aught Seven as much as I enjoyed mine. Thanks babe!

Reading Jane: Part 3

I know, I know, I posted my progress yesterday, but guys...this book is so good!

Since I last posted, I've been reading like a fiend, and am now two-thirds of the way done. (Jane has just left Thornfield.) I usually don't like posting my thoughts about a book before I'm done (I'm afriad I'll jinx it and the book will go steeply downhill) but I am so in love with it at the moment.

Rochester has really grown on me, although I think he can be a real jerk sometimes, like when he set out to make Jane jealous, and I can see why Jane loves him, even if I perhaps wouldn't.
But the real treasure of the book is Jane herself. She is completely awesome and I love her. She's passionate and loving, but above all, true to herself. Her morals, her will, and her sense dominate all, even at the expense of her own heart and Rochester's. I find that deeply admirable, and her scene with Rochester after the revelation of his insane wife moved me almost to tears. Great writing, great characters. (Ha, characters with character. I crack myself up.)

I'm not going to write about the insane, amoral, alchoholic Creole wife. I accept her as a plot device, but will go no further.

Reading Jane: Lowood, Thornfield, and French Mistresses

Sorry for the lack of Jane updates! I got distracted by school and other books for awhile, but I'm back on track now, and up to page 216. As before, here be spoilers.

So I am still really enjoying the book, especially the descriptive passages. I like how it feels so self-contained, as it enables me to study my new acquaintances and the surroundings without being distracted by a bunch of pesky secondary characters.

I am very happy that this isn't a tale of horrible, unavoidable misery. Lowood started off as a place of misery, but it was reformed in a few chapters, which is how it should be done, I think. That way the hardships leave their mark, but don't overwhelm the story or characters.

I was also glad that Lowood didn't take up too much of the story, and that Helen Burns kicked the bucket. I mean, sweet girl, but as a long term character she would've been annoying. She reminded me of Beth from Little Women. They both suffered from Saintly Dying Girl Syndrome (SDGS). What a tragedy.

And yay, we've gotten to Thornfield! And met Mr. Rochester and his bastard child! (Or maybe she isn't really his, since we have yet to see any resembelance between the two.) I haven't quite made up my mind about Mr. Rochester. In theory, he should be really annoying to me. He's got a bad case of the gloomies, as well as the "Fate hates me" mindset. Plus, he's kind of mean to poor little Adele. It's nice that you took her in and all, but maybe try for just a little bit of affection once in awhile.

Now, I have a confession to make. I kind of know how the book ends, and I also know that Rochester's crazy wife is locked up somewhere in Thornfield. Whether that crazy wife is the same French mistress, I have no idea. This knowlege hasn't lessened my enjoyment of the novel, but it has made me understand Rochester's gloominess a bit more. I still think he's wallowing, but this "greater understanding" is what has prevented me from being irritated with dear Edward's "woe is me" bit.

Plus, the guy is disarmingly frank, and Jane likes him, which makes the reader predisposed to like him as she is narrating the story.

Anyway, those are my thoughts so far, and I'm looking forward to continued reading.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


From Booking Through Thursday:

I would enjoy reading a meme about people’s abandoned books. The books that you
start but don’t finish say as much about you as the ones you actually read,
sometimes because of the books themselves or because of the circumstances that
prevent you from finishing. So . . . what books have you abandoned and why?

Great question. The most recently abandoned book was The Grapes of Wrath. I got to about page 60 and put it down to start another book. It's not as though I hated it or anything; it was readable enough. It's just that I find Steinbeck so...cold, I guess. His books are depressing, but that's not a problem for me. It's just that his characters aren't ones that I feel connected with, and the stories themselves are so bleak. I've read East of Eden, and while it was a good book, it wasn't one that resonated with me. I read it and recognized that it was a good book, but then I put it on the shelf and didn't pick it up again.

Other books that have been abandoned due to "lack of connection": Anna Karenina and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. I've also dropped Mrs. Dalloway. I didn't have any animosity, I just didn't care how it ended. I stopped reading it literally a few chapters from the end.

There were a few that I probably would've abandoned in high school if I had read them on my own, like:

Heart of Darkness- I consider myself a pretty proficient reader, but yikes, that was a tough one to get through. So boring.

Moby Dick- Here's the thing. The story itself is fantastic, and the writing is great. But by the end of the book there's about three chapters of pointlessness for every chapter of actual plot. I don't really care about harpoon types, or how to butcher a whale. If there had been more plot than filler, I would've liked it a lot.

There are a few that I may or may not have read on my own, like The Great Gatsby and Crime & Punishment. Gatsby seemed stupid to me (I was only 15, though, maybe now I would feel differently) but it was short and an easy read. C & P was a book that I enjoyed, but holy cow, was the protagonist whiny. [Spoiler alert!] He does his murderin' early in the book and then spends the rest of the time being mopey and getting brain fever or whatever. That's all well and good for awhile, but virtually the whole book is his kind of self-indulgent inner struggle.

Reading Jane

A dear friend of mine (you know who you are) sent me Jane Eyre yesterday, which was super awesome for two reasons:

I had been curious about Jane Eyre, a book that so many women (and men) are
passionate about, but I had also been apathetic about actually, you know, reading it and
It was a lovely pick-me-up to recieve after a long

I know said friend is excited to hear what I think of the book, and I thought perhaps it might be a good idea to do a running commentary, since with school and all it might take me awhile to get through it. Obviously, there will be spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Last night I got to chapter four. I have to say, I've been pleasantly surprised so far by how readable it is. I've never read any of Charlotte Bronte's work, and in all honesty I grouped her indiscriminately with Jane Austen. I tried to read Persuasion once, but it was such a slog that I put it down by page 30. The fact that I am now on page 35 of Jane Eyre and haven't fallen asleep is heartening.

The storyline itself, however, isn't. Heartening, that is. It's actually pretty depressing. Poor little terrorized Jane. Perhaps in some alternative universe for fictional characters she's having some porridge and commiserating with Oliver Twist.

There's not much else to say, really, as I'm still just getting to know the characters. I'm excited to read more, though, and I'll keep you all posted!

BTT Medley 2

So, y'all know that I love books. I love reading them, buying them, loaning them, the smell of them, and, of course, talking about them. That is why I love Booking Through Thursday (, a weekly meme about books. The last few weeks have had especially interesting questions (for me), so I thought I'd take the time to answer them.

One book at a time? Or more than one? If more, are they different types/genres?
Or similar? (We’re talking recreational reading, here—books for work or school
don’t really count since they’re not optional.)

One book at a time, typically. I read books quickly, so I usually don't feel the need to try and juggle two at a time. I like to fully invest myself in one story, not spread my attentions, you know? Occasionally I will read two at a time, or start a book, put it down and read another first, but that's the exception, I think.
When growing up did your family share your love of books? If so, did one person
get you into reading? And, do you have any family-oriented memories with books
and reading? (Family trips to bookstore, reading the same book as a sibling or
parent, etc.)

My family liked books, but I was (and still am) the most avid reader. My mom read to me all the time as a baby, and then once I could read on my own I read all the time. My family is split right down the middle when it comes to books. My dad, brother, and sister don't really like to read, though my dad loves to listen to audiobooks. My mom, youngest sister, and I really enjoy reading.

1. In your opinion, what is the best translation of a book to a movie? 2. The
worst? 3. Had you read the book before seeing the movie, and did that make a

1) To Kill A Mockingbird. That movie is probably the closest thing to perfection, I think. The actors, writers, and director did an amazing job keeping the spirit and power of the book. The Lord of the Rings was also a fantastic adaptation. (Why yes, I am obliged to write about LoTR in every single post discussing movie adaptations of books!)
2) The Man In the Iron Mask. It's a great book, one of my faves, but the movie blows. I doubt that the writers even read the book. Plus, John Malkovich as Athos?? Puh-leez.
3) If I read the book first, it's harder for me to like the movie. I am a bit of a nitpicker. But you know what? A good movie should be like a sibling. Same source material, but different. If that makes sense.

And as a footnote: I've been reading the Lord Peter Wimsey series on a recommendation from some wise and lovely ladies, and I must plug the series, especially Clouds of Witness. It's my favorite of the series so far, I think. The mystery is good, plus it deals with Wimsey's own family, so all the secondry characters get a lot of page time. One of the best things about the books is that they, like the Bertie Wooster series, have secondary characters that are lovable and amusing in their own right. I'm always glad to see more of Detective-Inspector Parker and the decidedly Jeeves-like Bunter.

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

I just finished this book. No, really, just two minutes ago. I don't know why I'm doing a review, since I don't even know what to say. Read it. It's geared towards "young adults", but it really isn't a "young adult" book. It's long, but quick, and wrenching but not depressing. Well, it sort of is.

It's narrated by Death, and it tells the story of a young German girl living in Nazi Germany. I don't seek out stories of Nazi Germany, but this one's only about the Nazis on the surface. Like any truly good book it trancends the time, the setting, the people. The book is all about humans. What they do to each other. What they feel about each other. How they die. How they live. What they write. How they read.

The style is a bit off-kilter, perhaps a little unsettling at first, but I soon got into it and found that the semi-frequent interruptions by Death to add a definition of a word, or a side-note, were welcome and made the book seem to go faster. It gathers momentum, for sure, without leaving the reader on a cliffhanger-ending at each chapter, or whatever else fiction writers love to do. (I hate that, by the way, being left on tenterhooks. A girl's gotta sleep, you know.)

What I'm trying to say is, I loved it. And I think you will too.

Booking Through Thursday Medley

Okay, there must be something you read that’s a guilty pleasure . . . a Harlequin romance stashed under the mattress. A cheesy sci-fi book tucked in the back of the freezer. A celebrity biography, a phoned-in Western . . . something that you’d really rather not be spotted reading. Even just a novel if you’re a die-hard non-fiction fan. Come on, confess. We won’t hold it against you! Sometimes when the kid I baby-sit is napping, I’ll read some of the trashy romance novels his mom has lying around.

Love stories? Yes or No? As I look back on my favorite books, I don’t think any of them are love stories. I’m not adverse to them, but I think the fact that I’ve never been in a relationship removes me from the emotion of it. It’s a little out of my scope of experience, so I don’t connect to it as much.

Do you use bookmarks? Or do you dog-ear the corners? If you do use bookmarks, do you use those fashionable metal ones? Or paper? Sometimes I dog-ear passages that I love, and often I’ll leave a book open, face-down to keep my spot. I own bookmarks that I use, but often I’ll use some ratty piece of paper.

Audio Books. Yes or No? Depends on who is reading it. As a rule, I don’t like audio books. I much prefer to control the pace of my reading, and my own inflections. However, I do own some audio books. I have John Hodgeman reading his book The Areas of My Expertise in his dry, deadpan way, and I have some books read my celebs that I like. Robert Sean Leonard in particular is an amazing reader. He has such a great, sexy voice and perfect inflections.

But, enough about books. . . what else do you read?? Magazines? Newspapers? Professional journals? Cereal boxes? Phone books? Purchase invoices? Homework? Everything. I was “that kid” who would read cereal boxed. I’m compulsive: if there is something in front of me with words on it, I will read it.

Do you tend to read more books written by one gender over the other? If so, which one? Men? Or women? Is this a deliberate choice? Or just something that kind of happened? I guess I read more books by men. It’s certainly not a conscious choice. I think it’s because I seek out classics, and most of them are written by men. I do have books that I enjoy that are written by women, of course.

Have you read Lord of the Rings? If so, how many times have you read it? Just once? Or so many you can’t count? If not, why not? Not your cup of tea? And, while we’re on the subject, did you see the Oscar-winning movie(s)? What did you think? I have read it, and with skimming back through and all that, I’m sure I’ve read it more than twice, probably more than three times. I need to reread it sometime. I saw the movies an embarrassing number of times. Truly, it’s obscene. I could probably quote them by memory.

Do you read non-fiction books for pleasure, not counting books required for courses or for work? If so, what areas of non-fiction interest you the most? If not, why not? What are some of your favorite books from those areas? I don’t typically read non-fiction books, for purely cynical reasons, really. I like to be immersed in a story, to accept the situation and the characters. With non-fiction, I spend the whole book wondering what actually happened and what didn’t, so I find it hard to get involved with the people and situations in it.

How do you decide to read a book by an author you haven’t read before? What sort of recommendations count most highly in making that decision? I am such a cautious person. I stick with authors I’ve read and liked, or go with the “tried-and-true” classics. Sometimes if I hear enough good things about a book from friends or reviewers I’ll try it out.

What author that you remember having read does the best character development? What book/series do you think is that author’s shining work with regards to character development? What was (were) your favorite character(s) in that book or series? Do you ever find yourself really liking a character in a book that you’re certain you would never be friends with in real life? Do you ever re-read a book to visit a character because you miss him/her? Alexandre Dumas is great at character development. If you trace the development of the characters from The Three Musketeers to their final book…it’s kind of incredible. They stay completely true to form while changing and maturing. Dumas’ plot and secondary characters leave something to be desired, but he was a genius with his beloved main characters. I really liked Athos as the fallen nobility, the brooding man of dignity, but I also liked Aramis, who was the least likeable. He had flaws and was more cunning than the other three, but he was endearing to me. The characters I like in books, and other works of fiction, are most certainly people that I probably couldn’t be friends with in real life. It’s like women falling for the “bad boy” in movies because it’s safe, except my bad boy isn’t some leather-wearing jerk, it’s usually some broody, introverted, extraordinary guy. Hellooo, Athos.

Do you enjoy reading mysteries? What’s your favorite kind of mystery? Do you like plenty of blood and guts, or do you prefer the details to be left to the reader’s imagination? Do you prefer mystery stories based in the author’s time or in previous centuries? Do you prefer mysteries based in your own country, or in distant lands? Do you like to figure out the solution, or do you allow yourself to be carried away with the story? I typically don’t read mysteries, or at least I don’t usually seek them out. The mysteries I am crazy about (the Sherlock Holmes stories, And Then There Were None, the Lord Peter series) are more about characters and their psychology than the actual mystery. I don’t like figuring things out myself because I’m truly awful at it, so if I figure it out on my own, I don’t have much faith in the hero detective. I don’t really have a preference on time or setting, I guess. I suppose I prefer period pieces, and apparently I like British mysteries the best.

Do you buy the books you read, or do you borrow them from the library or from friends or from somewhere else? Do you prefer new or used books? If you buy them, do you keep them? If you don’t keep them, how long do you hold on to them before letting them go? What do you do with them? I prefer buying books myself, for whatever reason. I used to buy exclusively new books, but now that I’ve discovered HalfPrice Books…well, you just can’t beat those prices. I’ve also started embracing books that look well-used. I keep all of my favorites, those books that are a part of me, even if I probably won’t be rereading them anytime soon. But I’ve been trying to eliminate clutter and simplify my life, so books that aren’t integral to my library and won’t be read again get sold. Usually to buy new books.