January 14th, 2012

frogs

2/50 -The Book of Tells by Peter Collet

I am already breaking the rules I set for my 50 book challenge. The three rules were: 1) it had to be fiction, 2) non-work related, and 3) something that I wouldn’t normally read.

So in week two of my challenge I present to you a book that is non-fiction, slightly related to my future career and typical of my reading habits. No one ever keeps to their new years resolutions anyway.

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Book #9 Austenland by Shannon Hale



Title : Austenland
Author : Shannon Hale
Genre : Romance
My rating : 3.5/5

Teaser : 
Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane's fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined. 
 
Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen--or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It's all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?



I proudly admit that I'm one of Austen's fans because the lady can really write. I also admit, that like Jane in Austenland, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley are my fantasies. Don't we all? So I guess the idea of immersing oneself in a Austenland as a desperate way to self-therapy yourself out of Darcy syndrome sounds really interesting. I just love everything Austen and Austenland proves very interesting and a page turner. Since the romance is also sweet, reading the book is very enjoyable. But I found myself often disturbed by the confusing stream of thoughts pouring out from Jane Hayes. I don't know whether it's because Hale wanted to show the readers the exact state of jumbled thoughts that floated inside Jane's mind or is it because the writing itself is confusing? Most of the time, I don't really understand what exactly Jane is feeling. Well perhaps she's the kind of person who can't really described in intelligible words what her emotions are. But I find it unsatisfactory that I often need to furrowed eyebrows to follow her thoughts. And I personally don't like the way she kept changing her decision about the men, especially toward the ending. If it happened earlier in the novel then it's understandable but so close to the end and still uncertain? Make a choice girl! So that's the reason for my rating. But I'm glad and happy that I got the ending that I want. One thing for certain though, it's unlikely that I'll give this book another go in the future. That being said, I think I'm still quite eager to watch the movie that's coming out sometime this year. And this is certainly not going to be the last Austenesque novels that I'm going to read. I find myself longing to re-read the original Austen novels as well. 


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Finished Reading:

Therese Raquin by Emile Zola
I liked this book quite a bit.  The first few chapters establish the setting and situation of the characters and establishes the naturalistic or kitchen sink feel.  But the rest of the book progresses as a psychological study of guilt.  At times it reminded me of bits of Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre and Edgar Allan Poe stories like The Tell Tale Heart.  It also made me think of films like Les Diaboliques and Roman Polanski's Repulsion (maybe even with a dash of Cul De Sac in it's interaction of the central relationship).  It's a fine literary novel that might have equal appeal to fans of serious French literature, psychology, crime and horror (in it's imagery).

Open Season (Joe Gunther Mysteries) by Archer Mayor
Most of this book was an engaging and enjoyable read for me.  It involved a cop investigating a series of incidents and their possible relationship with a closed murder trial from a few years previous and also features a mysterious man in a ski mask.  I liked the engaging first person narration and most of it was a gripping crime thriller that evoked both Karin Slaughter and Raymond Chandler for me.  Towards the end it started to go off the rails a bit in my opinion and it had a disappointing resolution (although the final scene with Ski Mask) was fine.  Not bad, but I would have liked a far more satisfying ending and I also feel it lost it's crime noir feel to something more general action thriller towards the end.  I guess it felt like the story and conspiracy promised more than it actually delivered.

Total Books Read This Year: 2

Now Reading:

Le Ventre de Paris (1873) by Emile Zola
This is the next book in my Kindle Emile Zola collection, but it's actually the third novel in a series he wrote.  The story is set around a market place and introduces the setting via a starving and fatigued young fugitive man who returns to the city after an absence of a few years.  It's depiction of various characters and how they intersect reminds me of both Jean-Paul Sartre's 'Roads to Freedom' trilogy of novels and the recent Melanie Laurent starring French film 'Paris'.  So far it's been interesting, but so far I'm only on chapter two and each chapter so far has felt almost book length in it's own right.  There is a lot of talk and description of food (and the making of it) but the politics of the time (Napoleon III) and the lives of different characters have featured quite a bit too.

The Anti-Vampire Tale by Lewis Aleman
Despite the "you think you know about vampires but you don't" type of first person introduction, this story so far has been fairly familiar vampire territory.  It's sort of The Terminator with vampires and has some of the familiar elements you might have found elsewhere, whether it's TV shows like Buffy, Angel or True Blood (which I know is originally based on a series of books) or things like Interview with the Vampire, Twilight, Blade or The Lost Boys.  In other words if you like various versions or interpretations of vampire stories (particularly of the modern and hip kind) you might enjoy yet more of it here, but don't expect anything too "anti" what you've seen before or anything particularly innovative.  It's set in New Orleans and there are vampire villains who are creating something called "the new blood".  There's also the typical misfit young girl who gets drawn to a mysterious and magnetic vampire who makes all the women swoon.  The tale is told from at least three different first person narrations so far.  It's nothing particularly special or engaging to me so far, but I got it on Kindle at Amazon UK for 0.72 so at least it was cheap and it is at least readable if fairly generic overall.

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

I have finished the second book of 2012 today, the City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare, the forth book from the Mortal Instruments series (young adult fantasy literature).

I must say the the existence of the forth book itself came as a surprise to me. I was perfectly content with the end of the story that book #3 provided. Well, maybe not perfectly - being a crazy fan of the series as I am of course I longed for more. 
Therefore when I learned (quite by accident), that there will be six books in series instead of three I was both excited and terrified. Excited for obvious reasons (mostly more-Jace- <3-excitation). Why terrified? It felt as if someone told me that there will be new Lord of the Rings book and reasoned it with "Remember how that evil ring disappeared in the fire of that mountain? Well it didn't" Which would be wrong on so many levels, I can even imagine.
Anyway, what I am trying to say here I was afraid it will be forced rather that natural. And on top of that I was absorbed by the scary thought that it will put all the happy endings in jeopardy.
Which of course it did.

So how was it?

As expected from Cassandra the writing is still flawless. The perfect balance between suspense and humor. You must know that what is truly great about Cassandra Clare's books is her witty sense of humor. The last three books have been a constant source of sarcastic remarks and comments ever since I read them. Seriously I use the quotes on daily basis during conversations. Luckily only one of my friends has read the book so the rest of them seem to think it is my own witty attitude. But i don't feel guilty, Cassandra, since you leave theme laying there for me to steal. This book was no exception in this matter, at least three quotes have already made it to my facebook status ;)

However the most accurate thing I can say about this one is that it was an easy read. Which seems to be a good thing - it literally takes no effort to finish this book in no time at all. I just feel that it was somehow too easy. Sadly, it lacked depth.  Didn't make me wonder about the mechanics of love and friendship and the price of having either of them, while the previous books certainly did. 

Overall, for me this books seems more like a bridge between the first three books and the ones that will follow - opening some loose ends, allowing new plots to unravel . I am looking forward the two next books with anticipation.. and with hope that reading them will not make wish I had just sticked with the initial three.
book and cup

#5 The Sittaford Mystery - Agatha Christie (1931)

A seance in a snowbound Dartmoor house predicts a grisly murder...In a remote house in the middle of Dartmoor, six shadowy figures huddle around a small table for a seance. Tension rises as the spirits spell out a chilling message: 'Captain Trevelyan! dead! murder.' Is this black magic or simply a macabre joke? The only way to be certain is to locate Captain Trevelyan. Unfortunately, his home is six miles away and, with snow drifts blocking the roads, someone will have to make the journey on foot!

I usually like the Poirot and Marple books the best, but this one with neither of the great Christie detectives on duty - is a marvelous read. I was happily curled up under a blanket most of the afternoon with this one.
In The Sittaford Mystery we have the ingredients of a truly atmospheric old whodunit. A fabulous setting - a wintry Dartmoor just before Christmas. Mysterious characters who are obviously not telling the whole truth, an escaped convict from Princetown, a feisty young woman fighting for her man, a seance and lots of seemingly unbreakable alibis. I certainly didn't guess the culprit - it came as a huge surprise - which is somehow always far more satisfying than working it out. Great stuff, and perfect weekend reading.
cabana

Books 1-5

For once I actually finished a challenge last year.  Granted it wasnt this one but after several years of starting and falling short on this one, I finished something I promised myself I would and it gave me renewed energy.  (I wanted to see all of the movies on the American Film Institute's most recent Top 100 list, in case you were curious.)
So this year, per usual, I started out motivated.  However, I've come out of the gate running, or rather reading, like I haven't in years.  Thanks to some easy going saturdays, I have the following offerings; all are recommended.

Books 1-5:
 
Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks.   I usually love Sparks because he's a comfort read and usually has something that is less than predictable in the predictable plotlines.  This one didn't strike me as a favorite but it didn't make me feel as if I wasted my time.  A typical Sparks read.

Love In A Nutshell: Janet Evanovich and Dorien Kelly.  I'll read anything if it's written by Janet Evanovich.  In school, I'd have even read my text books if her name would have been on the covers.  This isn't her typical Stephanie Plum line, more sappy love mystery which is her style though. I think what I liked best is that it felt familiar, as half of the book took place approximately a mile from my house.

Five People You Meet In Heaven: Mitch Albom.  Years ago this was made into a TV movie that I watched so I was familiar with the plot and idea before I read the book.  Alboms words were kind of a formality, as I could still see the characters and actions in my mind's eye.  Decent read, quick read, and a novel idea (no pun intended) that is still done in a way that doesn't step on the toes of religious doctrine or ideals.

Open House: Elizabeth Berg.  I stole a series of books from my mother in law and this and the next book I took purely because I do judge books by their covers and it didn't look dull.   The idea is that Sam's husband left, and left her with her house and 11 year old son.  While dealing with this new separation and being alone, Sam not only deals with the psychological issues that arise but a few other curveballs, including taking in roommates.  It wasn't a heavy read, intresting because of the honest and genuine approach to writing.

Lastly,
The Recipe Club: Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel. Longtime friends Lilly and Val become penpals due to their infrequent ability to visit each other.  Because they both enjoy baking, in addition to their letters, they exchange recipes that their parents try, friends offered, or from menu items they enjoyed.  The book starts with the girls attempting to repair a long-held rift, then travels back to their early writing days up to the rift and how they finally mend.  Through all the trails and troubles of their preteen through college years and different personalities, it was an interesting book to follow and the epistilary format makes the book quick to read. And I've collected a few recipes that sound good too!
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girl in boots reading

Book 131 (2011): blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris

Since late November I've been unwell and placed on a medication that interfered with my ability to read. As a result I didn't reach my goal of 150 books for 2011 and did not write up the balance of my 2011 reviews. Will attempt to catch up in the next few days.

Book 131: blueeyedboy .
Author: Joanne Harris, 2010.
Genre: Contemporary. Psychological thriller. Post-modern. Internet.
Other Details: Hardback. 410 pages.

'Once there was a widow with three sons, and their names were Black, Brown and Blue. Black was the eldest; moody and aggressive. Brown was the middle child, timid and dull. But Blue was his mother's favourite. And he was a murderer'.

This ambitious novel uses the format of blog entries on a site that closely resembles Livejournal (though called webjournal in the novel). It explores the fluid nature of identity on the web and the nature of fiction, fantasy, truth and lies.

Harris takes the idea of the unreliable narrator into a new dimension and as such it is a novel that requires concentration to cope with the various twists, turns and sleights of hand within the narrative as the reader peeks over the shoulder of blueeyedboy to read his public and private blog entries as well as those of other members of his internet tribe.

As always with Joanne Harris the writing was beautiful as she examines a darker side of the internet. I applauded Harris' willingness to challenge expectations of those readers who associate her mainly with lighter novels such as 'Chocolat'.

This was a reading group selection last autumn. It received a mixed reception from group members as some had expected a more straight-forward narrative or found it difficult to relate to the focus on the internet. Its format would be more familiar to Livejournal members and I also feel that it will appeal to those readers intrigued by the way in which the internet can facilitate mind games and uses of disguise.

Personally I found it a brilliant novel and loved its ambiguity and complexity.

Joanne Harris page on 'blueeyedboy' - Joanne talks about the background to the novel and there is also link to extract.