June 30th, 2010

El Corazon

184. Big Secrets...

Big Secrets: The Uncensored Truth about All Sorts of Stuff You Are Never Supposed to Know
by William Poundstone

Started: June 29, 2010
Finished: June 30, 2010

I loved these books as a nerdy kid so picked them up again on a whim when I saw them at the library yesterday. Some of the material is fairly dated now but it was still a fun, light read overall. 224 pages. Grade: B
Total # of Books Read in 2010: 184
Total # of Pages Read in 2010: 46,499

Book 30

Ice Cold - Tess Gerritsen

An ex of mine always read Gerritsen, a former physician turned thriller author, on airplanes. After breezing through this in a few hours, I can see why.
There is a true tension to the plot of this book, when straight-laced medical examiner Maura Isles decides to be spontaneous at a medical conference in Wyoming. Her whim is to agree to accompany an old college friend on an overnight trip to a ski lodge with his teen daughter and some friends.
Things get bad when the group get turned around and crash on a mountain road in the middle of a snowstorm but they get even worse when they find a small settlement, created by a religious cult, that appears to have been abandoned in the middle of a day, for no reason.
The story skips between Maura trying to figure out what is happening around her and her friend, a Boston cop named Jane Rizzoli, trying to figure out what happened to Maura.
There are enough twists and hints to keep it entertaining and sufficient death and mayhem to keep the adrenaline going. It's hard to put down, and the ideal read when you have a few hours to kill.
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Book 40 for 2010

The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells. 513 pages

I enjoyed this one a lot.

Nicholas Valiarde's adoptive father was framed and executed for the crime of necromancy. Now Nicholas is involved in a complex web of plots to have the nobleman who engineered this convicted of a capital crime he didn't commit (as oppposed to the many he did). In the course of one part of his plans, he crosses paths with the mysterious Doctor Octave, which is when things get really complicated....

Set in the fictional world of Ile-Rien, this is a sort of fantasy version of Victorian London with a Holmes-esque flavour and a generous dose of magic added.  The plot is satisfyingly complex, the fictional world is wonderfully well constructed and the characters are sympathetic and believable. This book would make a brilliant film, if only they didn't mess it up.

There appears to be an entire trilogy set in the same world, so I shall be hunting that down as soon as I can.

Books read in May: #73-82

73. Eugenia Kim, The Calligrapher's Daughter: Historical fiction (early 20th-century Korea). I liked it.
74. Rosie Rushton, The Dashwood Sisters' Secrets of Love: Chick lit, young adult. I was disappointed, especially when comparing it to Sense and Sensibility.
75. Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot: Play. I found it interesting and definitely worth reading.
76. Cheryl Sawyer, The Code of Love: Historical fiction (Napoleonic Wars). Loved it and have already bought more books by Sawyer!
77. Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man: Mystery. I liked it and would recommend it to fans of film noir.
78. A. S. King, The Dust of 100 Dogs: YA. I really disliked this book.
79. Kristen Britain, Green Rider: Fantasy. It's a little derivative, but I still enjoyed it.
80. Nick Hornby, Juliet, Naked: Fiction. I liked it a lot!
81. Kate Noble, The Summer of You: Romance. It was very disappointing and predictable.
82. Danielle Ganek, The Summer We Read Gatsby: Fiction. For a bit of escapism, I thought it was pretty good.

(Cross-posted to books and 100ormorebooks.)
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Books 51-55: Killer Angels, Darkangel Trilogy, YA, Austen

51. The Golden Rat by Don Wulffson (168 pages) reread for teaching. My kids really enjoyed this exciting, engaging historical murder mystery.

"He had grown up believing in America and the individual and it was a stronger faith than his faith in God. This was the land where no man had to bow. In this place at last a man could stand up free of the past, free of tradition and blood ties and the curse of royalty and become what he wished to become. This was the first place on earth where the man mattered more than the state. True freedom began here and it would spread eventually over all the earth. But it had begun here. The fact of slavery upon this incredibly beautiful new clean earth was appalling, but more even than that was the horror of old Europe, the curse of nobility, which the South was transplanting to new soil. They were forming a new aristocracy, a new breed of glittering men, and Chamberlain had come to crush it. But he was fighting for the dignity of man in that way he was fighting for himself. If men were equal in America, all these former Poles and English and Czechs and blacks, then they were equal everywhere, and there was really no such thing as foreigner; there were only free men and slaves. And so it was not even patriotism but a new faith. The Frenchman may fight for France, but the American fights for mankind, for freedom; for the people, not the land. Yet the words had been used too often and the fragments that came to Chamberlain now were weak. A man who has been shot at is a new realist, and what do you say to a realist when the war is a war of ideals?"
"Honor without intelligence is a disaster. Honor could lose the war."
52. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (374 pages) One of the most brilliant, moving, extraordinary, and beautiful novels I have ever read, The Killer Angels details the events of the Battle of Gettysburg from the perspective of the men who fought it. Union soldier Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is a professor turned soldier that will make a brilliant tactical move out of desperation, a move that not only will win the battle but perhaps the war. Chamberlain is fighting the war to destroy the aristocratic South that has no business owning slaves in the democratic United States, but is also fighting to understand his feeling toward the black man and his role as a soldier. On the Confederate side, James Longstreet is fighting a war he doesn't believe in, knows he cannot win, against his own men and own army, using tactics that he knows will result in massacre and failure. And he can't even quit. Longstreet's ideas are decades ahead of his time and are considered cowardly in this age of Romantic chivalry and honor. This is the story of two armies clashing in an epic battle. One a homogeneous army of white, protestant men fighting for disunion, for their "rights", homes, and honor. They fight with morale under a leader they adore. The other, an army deeply varied in customs, religion, language, and color, fighting for the union of the country under the ideal that all men are created equal. This powerful, fascinating and very readable novel brings to life and understanding this momentous, chaotic, complex period of history, brings to life the men who fought this war, brings to life what went through their tortured souls and minds with staggering brilliance. An amazing novel. Grade: A+

53. The Pearl of the Soul of the World by Meredith Ann Pierce (301 pages)
The brilliant conclusion of the beautiful and amazing Darkangel Trilogy sees Aeriel finally facing the White Witch who enslaved her husband, Irrylath, who is massing an army. Aeriel must claim both her destiny (unraveling the Ravenna's mystery) and her husband's love or her entire world will end. Emotionally powerful as it is stunningly beautiful in its deceptively simple gothic and dream-like imagery, the conclusion to the Darkangel Trilogy is just as strong as its predecessors and cements this as one of the greatest series of the fantasy genre. Grade: A

54. Austenland by Shannon Hale (196 pages) Jane is obsessed with Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy and the idealized versions of Austen's romantic Regency stories. To help herself overcome her fantasies, she chooses to go on holiday to resort of pretend Regency living. There, she finds herself caught between a Mr. Darcy-type and the more real gardener. Hale's writing is decent and enough to keep the attention, but lacks great wit or realism or depth of character or observation. Perhaps if she had kept her narration more omnipotent. The plot is entertaining enough (with a couple of clever twists and a good premise that allows her to examine the very Austen themes of reality and fantasy), but--like Jane herself--hard to engage in when so much is fake. Refreshingly, the novel knows exactly what it is and the short comings of its protagonist. A decent light read. Better than any other Jane Austen rip off, save the satirical and brilliant Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Grade: B

55. Beastly by Alex Flinn (304 pages) In this urban, teen retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Kyle, a handsome, popular prep-school snob, is transformed by a witch into a hideous beast. Abandoned by his father, Kyle hides himself away in a beautiful house, gardening his roses. When a drug-dealer breaks in, Kyle takes his daughter as his prisoner. Will the bookish, plain Lindy be the one to break the spell? Decently written tale reworks the fairy tale well for the audience and setting, along with clever reference winks and a strong teenage voice, but lacks any depth of character or any refreshing twists to bring new meaning to the tale or genre. Grade: B-

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Title: Long Night Dance
Author: Besty James
Year of Publication: 1989
Genre: YA, fantasy
Pages: 199
First Line: "It was a crazy place to have built a house, on the western cliffs where the wind was incessant, but Ab Drem had gotten the land cheaply in trade."

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Kat is more her father's housekeeper than his daughter. Just like all Upslope women, Kat is required to stay close to the hearth and as far away from Downshore and its savage people as possible. Kat must remain respectable -- and that means covering her read hair, finding a husband to care for, and never singing, swimming, or dancing.

But Kat knows there must be more to life -- she can feel it in her heart. She can hear the call -- the sound of drums beating, drawing her to the forbidden beach. When Kat can no longer resist the call, she discovers what she thinks is a fatally injured seal washed up on the shore. Instead, she has found a Rig, one of a charmed race of mythical seal people. The only way to save this mysterious man is to defy her father and her community and seek aid in Downshore. But does Kat have the strength to stand on her own?

Source: Back of book

Review: Betsy James focused so much, I think, on the way her words sounded that she ignored the rest of the book. Plot was underdeveloped, characters were relatively flat, and the point of the book was totally lost. I have read another book about selkies (the "mythical seal people" or "Rigi" in this book) called Seven Tears into the Sea and it was much better. I may read the sequel to this if I have time, only to see if it's any better. All in all, I was disappointed. Too many things were missing from this book.

Worst part: Betsy was more trying to write pretty phrases than actually get a good story out.

Best part: I liked Nall's name. That's...that's about it.

Grade: D

Other Books by This Author: Dark Heart and others.

48 / 50 books. 96% done!
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42-44 and the beginning of a new 50 book challenge

I have now come to the end of my 50 books in a year challenge and will be starting over on the 1st July! To see an overview of all the books I have read in a year, go here.

42. The O'Sullivan Twins by Enid Blyton

WARNING: SPOILERS In case any of you want to re-read them too!
I don't remember reading this one (as a young child) at all but I found that I didn't enjoy this book as much as the previous (The Twins at St. Clares) because they all seemed to turn nasty! It was like bully-fest at St Clare's. It's funny how the 1950s seem really different to nowadays - we seem to take bullying a bit more seriously. Of course, there's no real physical violence (it is a children's story after all) but I did find myself getting angry at some of the characters. In particular, a girl called Erica did some mean things, but instead of talking to her and explaining that was she did was wrong (and she was genuinely feeling sorry), giving her a second chance (lessons about forgiveness etc), the students excluded her completely ("I'd like to pull her hair out!") and the teachers suggested she go home and start afresh in a new school, instead of telling the girls to treat each other with respect. So, now she has left St. Clare's. Seriously, what is up with that? I suppose it just shows the differences between the 1950s and 2010, but I guess I just prefer boarding school stories where the girls ride horses and have midnight feasts, instead of bitch about each other constantly (as I had enough of that in secondary/high school!).

I didn't expect children's stories to make me feel so angry xD

My Rating: 3.5/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5

43. Summer Term at St Clare's by Enid Blyton

The last term of the first form at St Clare's... a few odd things happen in this book. One of the girls gets kidnapped by a gypsy (Blyton's words, not mine) and they considered not letting the police know so the school wouldn't get any attention by the media.

It's interesting how there's more focus on being intelligent, sporty, plain-looking whereas nowadays you would not get insulted at school by other pupils for not bothering to do your work or making sure your hair looked nice - those sorts of people would be the popular ones in school, as oppose to the intelligent people. I wonder if that was true?

It's still a cute series though even though it's obviously outdated. I have a feeling I haven't read as many as I thought I did; I figured I'd read the whole St Clare's series, but I think that must've been the Malory Towers series instead (which I also bought!).

As with the previous book, another girl is being kicked out for doing something nasty (-ish) (see quotation above) instead of explaning the importance of, you know, getting on with life. She gets kicked out for not being well liked as opposed to cheating on her French test.

"I am not going to keep you at St. Clare's after this term, of course. You will never be liked by any of the girls now".

My Rating: 3.5/5
Amazon Rating: 5/5

44. Second Form at St Clare's by Enid Blyton

This is the fourth book of the St Clare's series and it is much like the others: midnight feasts, lessons, concerts, mean girls, sports (lacrosse and tennis)... so there's not much to say really!

"I wish Alison worked as hard in my classes as she does in yours," remarked Mam'zelle, in her rather harsh, loud voice. "Ah, her Frence exercises! But I think, Miss Quentin, she really does work in Drama."
"Oh, well she simply adores me," said Miss Quentin, easily. "I can always make her type work. She'll do anything for a smile or a kind word from me - like a dear little pet-dog"."

44 / 50 books since ~June 2009. 88% completed!

Previous reviews at my journal.