Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The City of Fallen Angels - John Berendt: A Review

Title: The City of Falling Angels
Author: John Berendt
Pages: 398
Date Finished: July 30, 2007
Rating: 3.75/5

Greetings from Taos, New Mexico (where I'm freezing my Texas butt off!!) But at least I've been getting some good reading done. It’s been so long since I've read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil that I can't really compare the two, but from my memory, I didn't like this one quite as much. Berendt travels to Vencie a few days after the opera house, The Fenice, mysteriously burns down.

After talking with a number of Venetians and getting a taste for the local flavor, Berendt decides to extend his stay (apparently for several years? It is not made clear how long). The main focus of the book is the burning of the Fenice - whether causes are negligence or arson, whether the Fenice will be renovated to the state it was before the fire, whether the politics will drive a spike between the moneymakers, the moneylenders, and those who just want the Fenice to be restored to its original splendor.

But while the story of the Fenice cannot seem to fill out a full-length book, Berendt uses up the rest of the text to tell the stories of the Venetians themselves; many of these stories are colorful and often-times related back to the Fenice, but sometimes the connections are rather weak. It seems as though Berendt searches out these colorful characters, and I wonder how indicative they really are of normal Venetians (such as the characters from MGGE are of Savannah). Regardless, many of the stories are interesting. I read the first quarter to Hubby on the way up here, but he became disinterested because of the story moving here and there and everywhere. The thread about the Fenice was especially confusing perhaps because the story only came up occasionally; I much preferred the sections where Berendt discussed the Venetians themselves rather than the political events surrounding the Fenice.

Among the cast of characters - Ezra Pound and his long-time lover Olga Rudge, who has unknowingly been duped into "giving away" all of her letters to Pound to a sketchy foundation; the Curtises, one of the first American expatriate families to live in Venice who sadly have to sell off a portion of their Palace on the Grand Canal; the Rat Man of Treviso who has found a successful recipe for rat poison and many many more. I enjoyed reading all of these people's stories, and Berendt is at times an enchanting storyteller, but there just wasn’t as much cohesiveness as I would have liked. I would recommend this book to people who like history – especially social history as this book is more about character study than anything else.

July 2007 Books

July wasn't quite as good of a reading month as June was in terms of number of books (well, I think that June was probably an anomaly), but I still had some really good reads for this month. Besides, page to page the numbers are pretty close. As usual, the link will direct you to my thoughts on the particular book:

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini 5/5

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides 4.25/5

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling 4.5/5

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling 5/5 (still spoiler-free thoughts)

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott 3.5/5

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt 3.75/5

Total Books: 6
Total Pages: 3,096
Average Rating: 4.3

Friday, July 27, 2007

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott: A Review

Title: Little Women
Author: Louisa May Alcott
Pages: 388
Date Finished: July 27, 2007
Rating: 3.5

I haven't been this glad to be rid of finished with a book in a long time--probably since I was reading The Portrait of a Lady. In retrospect, I liked the first part of the book, but I think that is just in comparison to the second part of the book because while reading the beginning I was often annoyed. Urg!

Little Women, as many of us know, is the story of the March girls: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. I think the book spans roughly fifteen years, so the reader gets to know the four very different girls and how they have grown and matured. One of the qualms I have with the book is the pedantic nature. That's fine and good and all, but it was just too damn sweet. Every chapter (at least in the beginning and again in the middle of the second half) seemed self-contained and formulaic. One of the girls has a folly that is corrected at the end of the chapter. The parts that did flow together and weren't quite so preachy, though, were wonderful. I enjoyed reading about the girls and seeing their characters develop. Despite this horrid review, I did really like elements of the book and as a whole.

Recommendation: I think I am an anomaly here. I could only take one chapter at a time and sometimes it was a struggle just to make it through the chapter. The same thing happened, though, when I read Anne of Green Gables a few years ago. My guess is that I just loved these movies/specials so much when I was little that the story was so etched into my brain that I was impatient with the heavy language. *SPOILER* Besides, it pisses me off every single time that Jo and Laurie don't get together. Yes, I get it, but whatever. :)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Best Moustache - Twirling (BTT)

HOLY THURSDAY BATMAN! I can't even remember the last Thursday that I was actually in town! So yeah...its Thursday! Which means tomorrow is Friday and then Saturday and hubby and I are headed to Taos for a week and a half. So, in honor of Thursday, here is today's BTT:

Who’s the worst fictional villain you can think of? As in, the one you hate the most, find the most evil, are happiest to see defeated? Not the cardboard, two-dimensional variety, but the most deliciously-written, most entertaining, best villain? Not necessarily the most “evil,” so much as the best-conceived on the part of the author…oh, you know what I mean!

This is such an interesting question--one that is going to take some deep digging.

I think that Bradley Headstone from Dickens's Our Mutual Friend is a great villain, but on the same token so is his "match" Eugene Wrayburn. I love love love this book (I can hear all my fellow grad students groaning!). Ok, now that I'm thinking this one over, Eugene seems much more villainous than Headstone even though I like Eugene more as a character. But he is conniving, conceited, deceptive, taunting--in comparison Headstone who should be the villain is just pathetic. OH, just go read the book!! Dickens writes such great characters in this novel.

Who do you think is the best villain?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Rockin' Girl Blogger

I've been feeling so unsettled (due to travel) and unaccomplished (due to lack of reading) lately, that I was thrilled by Stephanie's nod to me as a Rockin' Girl Blogger! My response was, "Sweet!"

In the spirit of things, I'm nominating these four ladies as Rockin' Girl Bloggers as well:

CJ at My Year of Reading Seriously caught my attention with her admirable plan of dedicating her year of reading to her mother. She writes great reviews, but shares some other great thoughts and tidbits as well.

Alyson at Bibliophiles Anonymous, like me, is relatively new to blogging. We share a lot of the same interests in books and other things which makes her blog a fun read.

Lisa at Books.Lists.Life and I "met" while we were both reading A Thousand Splendid Suns. Her passion and warmth really caught my attention and I've been keeping an eye on her blog ever since.

Mailyn at Pixelated Faeirie Dust is Rockin' because, well, she is. Her blog cracks me up and is a must see!

I'm pretty new to blogging, so I'm sure there are many others out there just waiting to be discovered! But thanks, ladies, for giving such "Rockin' Girl Blogs" to read.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling

 Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Author: J.K. Rowling
Date Finished: July 23, 2007
Pages: 759
Rating: 5/5

I think in a few weeks or so I'll write a proper review, but right now all I want to say is Beautifully done. I couldn't expect any more (and wouldn't expect any less) from this book.
That's all for now--I just don't want to limit myself on what I can say without providing spoilers...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling: A Review

Title: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Author: J.K. Rowling
Pages: 652
Date Finished: July 19, 2007 (re-read)
Rating: 4.5/5

I had fun with this one. If you've read my complaining posts recently, you know that I've been taking a lot of road trips with hubby. A few months ago I read to him for a few hours while we were driving and have since then made it a habit. It took many many hours (and 4? different trips) to finally finish this monster of a book, but we did!

This HP is not my favorite. My favorite is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (book 5). Regardless, this one certainly works to propel the adventure forward. What I like about these latter books is how heavily they rely upon one another. Maybe its just because its been so long since I've read the others, though, but these all seem a little more connected. But also what I really like about the latter books is the deeper look into the characters and the development of good and evil. Rowling has created a magical series, and I will be sad when the 7th book is finished (only 200 pages left!!). Not much of a review, but what else can really be said at this point? I'm sure there will be lots to say about book 7...

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides: A Review

Title: Middlesex
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Pages: 529
Date Finished: July 18, 2007
Rating: 4.25/5

So, I'm thinking that maybe I read this book at the wrong time. It had every reason to be fabulous in my book, and I would certainly rank it in the top 5 for this year, but I think that if I had sat down with this book a few weeks ago (when I had copious reading time), I would have ranked it a little higher--but I must be true.

The story is about Calliope/Cal who announces at the beginning of the book that she was born twice, first as a girl and second as a boy. Thus ensues the saga of the Stephanides family over three generations beginning with Desdemona and Lefty in Greece all the way to Calliope's transformation at the age of 14. Cal is a wonderful storyteller--amusing, engaging, endearing, he really wants his story to be told. Thus comes the problem I had with the book--its too freaking long! Again, I'm probably saying this because of my reading time (or lack thereof due to househunting and various travels across Texas--which are not about to end unfortunately).

With that said, this is a great book and I think that it has a little of something in it for everyone. I'm not sure yet if I would recommend it to my mom (for some reason that's how I usually base my recommendations) mainly because of the sexual nature of the novel. I think, though, that it's hard not to take an interest in this matter. Some of the questions that arise are incredibly interesting--and will continue to be hot topics I'm sure. Whether or not gender is inherited or learned, what place to transgendered or transsexual individuals have within society, and on and on. I appreciated the perspective that Eugenides provided, and I will be looking to read more of his work in the future.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Eight Things I Love Meme

CJ posted a list of things that she loves on her site, so I thought I would follow suit since I've been very frustrated with my reading situation lately. Hubby and I are planning on moving to Dallas at the end of the month (yeah!!!), but that means that with all the traveling we've been doing and will be doing I haven't gotten much reading done. I'm halfway through both Little Women and Middlesex, and in the car trips I have been reading Harry Potter 6 aloud to hubby, but I really wanted to finish Vanity Fair this month...but its just too damn thick!! I know its only a week into the month, but I'm growing very anxious that I've only killed one book (stupid challenges!!).

Sorry for the rant, and without further ado - here are a few things I love--not in any order (CJ listed 8, so that's what I'm going to stick with):

* I love the caramel on top of a Starbucks Caramel Frappachino even though I know its sinfully bad for me.

* I love getting so immersed into a book that I lose myself to the emotions that the story pulls out of me. I love starting a brand new book and the anticipation of where the story will lead.

* I love perfectly sunny days, a great song on the radio, and driving with the windows down through the beautiful Texas country (yes, even here in West Texas) belting out the words to the song as loud as I can.

* I love that my hubby "gets" me and still loves me in spite of me. :) I love my hubby also, but I think that should go without saying. Maybe not...love love love him and am thankful everyday for him and his love (wow, that's a lot of love).

* I love that I can go months without seeing my best friends and still pick up exactly where we left off. One of my favorite things is laughing till my sides hurt with an old friend.

* I love driving north on I45, reaching the hill in Palmer and seeing the Dallas Skyline off in the distance. For some reason knowing that I am almost home always puts a huge smile on my face. I love that I am a Texan (no, not by birth but by choice). I love the Texas Hillcountry, I love my Texas Aggies, I love floating down the river on a hot sunny day with great friends and family, listening to Texas Country music and drinking an ice cold Miller Lite. Ahhhh...

* I love my wonderful family and how we understand each other without even having to say anything. I can't wait to be closer to them all in just a few weeks (Dallas here I come!!).

* and finally, I love my freedom to be who I want and do what I wish. Yeah!!

All this love is making me feel much better about my dismal reading prospects. Feel like spreading the love??

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini: A Review

Title: A Thousand Splendid Suns
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Date Finished: July 3, 2007
Pages: 370
Rating: 5/5

YES! I have been waiting for this book, and finally, after waiting ever so patiently, here it is. (Mailyn, I was not a pretty crier last night...very very ugly).

Hosseini, in this follow up to The Kite Runner, delivers a beautiful story about two women in Afghanistan. The first part of the novel follows the story of Mariam, and illegitimate child of a wealthy Herat man. The second part of the story tells of Laila in Kabul, an educated girl with liberal parents. While these two sections of the novel are good, it is the third section where Hosseini begins to weave his heartrenching story as the lives of these two women intersect in a most unlikely way.

A few times a year I will read a story that is so rapturing, that tugs on my heartstrings so violently, that shakes the core of everything that I know to be true; A Thousand Splendid Suns did all of this for me. While this is not the best written book I've read this year, it is the one that has affected me the most. I read a few reviews that mentioned that the story spans too long of time (about 30 years in 370 pages), but I wouldn't have wanted anything different. My feeling is that what is left out of a book speaks as powerfully sometimes as what is put into the book.

Recommendation: I would recommend this book to everyone. In fact, I'm taking it to my Dad's this afternoon so that he can read it and pass it on. Hosseini knows how to write a powerful story, and I am confident that he will do so again and again. There is so much that I still want to say about this book, but just go--now--to the bookstore/library and read it for yourself.

On another note, I would also like to recommend another book: The Storyteller's Daughter by Saira Shah (a memoir). Shah is a British journalist of Afghan descent; when she is in her late teens/early twenties, she decides to visit the country that her father spoke so lovingly of when she was a child--a country that no longer exists. While she is there, she also filmed the documentary Beneath the Veil (I believe this is a BBC production), which I would also recommend if you can get your hands on it. There are a lot of similarities in these two books, especially in some of the stories that are told. But I think that this goes to show that Hosseini is writing a fiction that is very much a reality. My tears are not for some fictional women who have touched me, but for real women who have sacrificed so much.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Classics Challenge

July 1-November 30, 2007
Yes, I am weak. Very weak. I'm also thinking about doing the Something About Me challenge as well, but I think that might be down right masochistic.

So, Kathrin at Crazy Cozy Murders is hosting the Classics Challenge. Here are her rules:
  • 3-5 classics between July 1 and November 30, 2007

  • Have fun. :)

After some deliberation, I have come up with the following list:

  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott


  • Middlemarch by George Eliot

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

  • Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

All because I'm crazy, very crazy...

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